Friday, December 14, 2012
I think of all the people whose lives this changes - those who witnessed it, the family and friends of the victims, people across the nation and in other countries who can't help the raw emotion that flows at hearing such utterly painful news.
This isn't something that one can chalk up to the whims of Mother Nature. It isn't something that can be explained away in any kind of fashion. It is inexplicable, unimaginable.
My first thought when I heard of it was of parents who have already done their Christmas shopping. I know that is one of the things that will drive them mad with grief, when they go to the closet to get a coat and see those packages that will never be opened. Although I have had to grieve the loss of many loved ones, I cannot fathom that kind of grief.
Nor can I imagine trying to come to terms with something so vile, so heinously senseless. How does one ever get past it? How does one ever find a point where they can say, "That was then and this is my life now." I don't know.
This is without consolation. There are no words of wisdom. There is no solace to be given. There's no finding justice in any of it.
A friend of mine (here in Washington), after following the news all morning, said that she just wanted to pick her daughter up from school and hug her and hug her and never let go. I understand that. Completely. I want to hug every person I love and never let go.
But the cruelty of the Universe dictates that we continue living. So we do.
We honor this tragedy by reaffirming our vows to be better people, to love deeper, stronger, and sweeter. Maybe we don't snark at our mates for forgetting to take out the trash and instead just hold them for a few extra minutes, because the trash will always be there and need to be taken out, but they won't always be there to hold. Maybe instead of snapping at our children for spilling their drink because they didn't pay attention, instead we'll patiently wipe up the mess, kiss them on the cheek, and let them know it's just a spilled drink and it doesn't change the rotation of the planet on its axis. Maybe take a few minutes from the hectic blur of the day to phone a couple of friends - not because we need to talk, but just because we need to tell them we love them.
It's not that we're searching the rubble for a lesson to be learned, but that we're lighting a candle to find the way out of our own darkness. And it's a big darkness, and it's a tiny candle.
So, take a deep breath before you speak and when you do, make your voice gentle. Fill it with love. Hold them close, all of them, all your loved ones. Because the time for letting go, no matter how near or far, always, always comes too soon.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Seriously. I'm not sure there is a worse question on the face of this earth.
When I graduated high school, there was no way I could have told anyone that I saw myself as a florist five years down the road. I'd never done a thing with flowers. It wasn't even an ambition of mine. It was a job that got dropped in my lap a year later and I thought it would be fun to learn.
And had someone asked me halfway through my floral career, I wouldn't have said, "Gee. I think I see myself as a nanny in Maryland. I'll be taking care of two boys and their dying mother. And, oh by the way, I'll be in a stale marriage."
People make up all kinds of ridiculous answers to that question, because it is dictated that it must be answered. But have you ever heard anyone tell the truth? Has anyone ever said, "Haven't the foggiest clue." Has anyone ever said, "Golly gee, but I think in five years I'll have worked my way through a few different substance addictions and I'll be sleeping off the latest binge in an alley somewhere."
Nobody knows the answer to that question. It is, in fact, unanswerable.
Just over five years ago I started this blog. It was my way to wade through the soul gunk that was left over from losing my beloved mate, John earlier that spring. It was my way to discover just who I was and who I wanted to be and who I should be. It was my way of reconciling with the Universe, of putting my self back on the map, so to speak. I had no idea where it was going, much less where I wanted it to go. I just needed a place to land. I needed a warm fire in the vast wilderness. I was desperate for a place to sit and think and be. Truthfully, I had no idea I'd find it here, amid friendly strangers, on the internet. Go figure.
Had someone asked back then, back when I was a sad woman scraping together a living as an accountant, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Well, first they would have gotten the look for asking that question. I honestly don't know how I would have answered. I know what I wouldn't have said. I would not have said what has actually come to pass.
I would not have said, "I see myself working as an artist. I will have moved twice, once to live on the side of a mountain where I will find the peace that I need. And I will move again to a small town with a view of that mountain when I meet my new love. He will be tall and funny and have arms that hold me like I was born to be right there inside them. I will have a huge circle of supportive friends that I hold so very dear and some of those very people I won't have even met face to face. But I will love them fiercely nonetheless."
I would never have said all that, or anything like it.
See, here's the thing. For a while now most of us have been aware of the "It Gets Better" campaign. It's a great idea, however, "better" is what you allow it to be. Because, let me tell ya, along with the "better" - those shiny, glorious moments that are doled out like gumdrops by a sometimes stingy Universe - it also can get sad, and funny, and hurtful, and crazy, and pretty, and harsh, and a whole lot weird. What's important to know it that all of it is okay. Knowing that, knowing all of our experiences are necessary, that's what gets better.
What really gets better is that you end up knowing yourself, your triggers and reactions, your loves, your dislikes. You find out, after being tested time and again, just how incredibly strong you are. More than anything, you will find out that it is just fine that you're you, exactly as you are, exactly where you are. You are you. And that... that is perfect. Once you discover this, the Universe will open up to you. Impossibilities become realities. Unknowns reveal themselves. The rest of it, all the chattering monkeys (as the Buddhists would term it), quiets and settles back or even disappears altogether.
Here's the really great thing. Once we allow ourselves to start being our authentic selves, all the right people show up at just the right time. People wander into our lives, almost as if by magic, holding nothing but love and support. People that we recognize by the very nature of their being. Certain strangers will make you want to say, "Oh! It's you... finally. Where have you been?" I kid you not, that is exactly the line that went through my mind the first time I met Steve.
It doesn't just get better. It gets weirdly wonderful.
The key? Here it is: We can't change what is past. We can't constrain the future. We can only be present.
If we are, if we are truly present, then every moment is a gumdrop.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Last week Gina emailed me and asked me how I’d known. I lied. What choice did I have? I told her that the truth of it was, the memory had slipped away, like fine sand through a sieve. While it’s true that I've lost most of my childhood through that sieve, there are a few nuggets that didn't fall through. I mean, I can very clearly recall what happened the summer that I was 8 years old. Ironically, my sharpest memory is the one you’re least likely to believe, and I didn't tell Gina because I knew she wouldn't believe me either.
In August of 1970 Michigan experienced the hottest stretch of summer on record. Humidity draped everything in a sweltering, wet blanket. Cicadas screamed at a near deafening, constant pitch. It was too hot to stay inside, and too hot to be outside. Even so, my mother pushed us out the door with the command, “Go play!” Her way of assuring that if she cleaned the house it would actually stay that way for fifteen minutes. We didn't dare argue.
I wandered over to Katie’s house with my ever present companion, my doll, Abigail. Abigail had been my charge for four years. She had belonged to my older sister, Joan, before that. Joan was born a tomboy and in a fit of pique at my mother forcing her to wear a dress, she abused poor Abigail. She poked out one of her pretty blue eyes, tore out all but a small mangy patch of hair, and left her with a dent in her left cheek deep enough to hold a dime, and tattooed all four of her limbs with purple marker. When I was four, my mother was gathering things to give to the Salvation Army and Abigail was part of the heap. “Mommy! You can’t just send her away!” I cried. My mother leveled me with one of her looks and said, “Oh, for crying out loud, Bethy, what are you whining about? That thing is a piece of junk!” Whining, according to my mother, was a mortal sin. I tried for a calmer approach. “Can I have her?” My mother rolled her eyes and turned her back. I took it as a sign that the doll was mine for the taking. So it was that I adopted Abigail, and just in the nick of time. That winter I nursed her through the worst bout of scarlet fever in recorded history. I patiently applied cloths to her forehead, gave her sips of water, swaddled her and paced the floor while cooing to her for hours.
Four years later I had her in my arms as I walked up the driveway to Katie’s house. Katie wasn't my favorite person to play with, but she was the only friend I knew who wasn't away on vacation. I knocked on the door and her mother answered, wearing nothing but a bathing suit and the scent of martinis. She soundlessly pointed a finger and directed me to their backyard. I could hear Katie giggling at something as I rounded the corner. She was crouched in the grass in the shade of the trees. Dara was across from her, They were playing with their Barbie dolls. They both looked up as I approached, Dara with obvious annoyance. I smiled shyly anyway and asked, “Wanna play?” Katie, hesitating, started to reply, “Well…” But Dara interrupted with, “We already were playing! Nobody invited you.” I stood there, lip already starting to wobble. That was all the signal they needed to go into full bullying mode. Katie said, “Yeah, we don’t want you here. Take your dumb crappy doll and go home.” Insulting my beloved Abigail brought the tears on full force, which only fueled Dara. She hollered, “Yeah, go home to your mommy, Bethy, you big cry-baby boogery butt!” At that age, it was an impressive insult. Calling someone a butt was bad enough, but adding something as disgusting as boogers was just downright mean. I turned and ran from the yard, holding Abigail to my chest and sobbing all the way.
I wasn’t about to go home though, at least not right away. I knew better than to go inside on my mother’s cleaning day, and I certainly knew better than to complain to her about anything as trivial as what had just happened. I would get the Quit Whining speech again and a week‘s worth of extra chores as punishment for possibly carrying a speck of dust into her pristine house. I decided Abigail needed a walk through the woods. At least it would be shady in the woods. Plus, I could avoid walking past the McCreery’s house and having their mutt bark and chase me the length of their chain link fence.
I was the equivalent of a half a block into the woods, still sniffling back tears, when I tripped over a tree root and fell flat, knocking my left knee against a rock and sending poor little Abigail flying at least ten feet. It was adding injury to insult. To this day I feel justified for simply scooping up Abigail and sitting in the dirt bawling my eyes out. My face was a mess of sweat, matted hair, dirt, snot and tears when I heard his voice, “Hey. Hey, kid. You okay?” I whirled around on my butt and looked up at a boy who appeared to be around 12 years old. “Nu.. ya.. nuh.. I…” I felt a fresh trickle of tears escape down my cheeks as I tried to choke back a sob and clutched Abigail as if she, rather than gravity, was holding me to the earth.
The boy came over and crouched down about two feet away from me. “Hey,” he started again. “Hey. Don’t cry. Hey. Are you hurt?” I sniffed hard, trying to calm the tears. He waited patiently for my reply. When I had myself mostly under control again, I said, still stuttering from all the crying, “I’m… I’m ok-k-kay. I b-bumped my knee, b-b-b… I’m…” Here I let out a watery sigh. He sat down cross-legged. “What’s your name?” I told him it was Bethy and asked what his name was. “I’m Puck,” he said. I couldn't help but giggle. “Like a hockey puck?” I asked. Puck grinned at me, “No, like a mom who wanted to be an English Lit teacher, but who got married and had kids instead.” He shrugged as if to say it was water that was long under the bridge.
Puck tilted his head, nodded toward the bundle I was still clinging to and asked, “What’s that?” Pulling the tiny blanket back off of Abigail’s disfigured head, I said, defensively proud, “This is Abigail. I ‘dopted her.” “She looks like she’s in rough condition.” I explained that my sister was the abusive parent from whom I’d rescued the dear urchin. I was still futilely trying to wipe away the remnants of my tears, but all I was managing to do was smear more dirt around on my face. I knew my mother was going to take one look at me and make me scrub in the laundry tub on the porch before I was allowed in the house. I brushed the hair off my forehead and out of my eyes and took a closer look at Puck. As I did, he smiled at me. It didn't occur to me to question why an older boy would be so nice to me. Those were more innocent times.
“So, why were you so upset?” he asked. I told him what had happened at Katie’s house, pausing every time there was a hitch in my voice so that I could take a breath and not start crying again. I ended the little story with how I’d fallen over the root and how I felt like the whole world was being mean to me. Puck nodded, but gave me a somewhat patronizing smile at the same time. He said, “The whole world isn't being mean to you, Bethy. You’re just having a lousy morning. And it’s too hot to have a lousy morning. You know what though? Years from now you probably won’t even remember this. Heck, just forget those girls. Who needs ‘em? It’s no big deal.”
I was quiet. I was used to being chastised for being overly sensitive. After all, I was a card carrying member, maybe even the president of my mother’s Quit Whining Club. But I got the sense that he was saying it out of niceness, that he was trying to soothe me and tell me everything would be okay. That was something I wasn't used to, so I didn't say anything. He let the silence sit between us for a minute or so, then he took a deep breath and went on. “Can I trust you with something?” I nodded. “Swear on a stack of Bibles?” I nodded vigorously.
Puck said, “I have my own story to tell, but… well… just be cool about it. Okay?” He didn't wait for me to answer before continuing. “See, I’m not really here.” My eyes widened and I stared at him. “Be cool. Just wait and hear what I have to say. Okay?” This time he waited for my response. I nodded, slower this time, not cautiously, but with absolute sincerity. “Alright,” he said. “I’m not really here. I. Uh. I died last year… and… well. Nobody knows. Well, you know now, but nobody else.” He stopped, gauging my reaction. My eyes must have been the size of saucers, but I was calm. I raised my hand halfway up, palm out in the classic “hang on a sec” gesture.
“You.. you’re a… a ghost? How did you…?” I couldn't finish the question, but I had to. I somehow sensed that he needed me to ask. I swallowed hard, cleared my throat, and tried again, “How did you get dead?” Puck clamped his lips together as if he didn't want the words to come out until he was satisfied that they were the right ones. After what seemed like minutes, but was probably only seconds, he said, “My dad. My dad was always using his fists on me. He was never happy that I was more like my mom. I’d rather read than do just about anything else. Well, one night he beat the shit out of me for reading what he called ‘that queer boy story’… Catcher In The Rye. He didn't know that it was my mom’s book and that she had let me borrow it, and I wasn't about to tell him and earn a beating for her, too, when she got home from her shift. Maybe even my sis when she got home from her date - just for good measure, y’know? I didn't want them getting hurt, so I just took it. Usually he stopped after a minute or two, but something really had him going that night. He just kept hitting me and he knocked me right into the edge of the kitchen table.”
“After that, it was kind of like watching a movie. I saw him wrap me up in an old blanket, watched him scrub down the kitchen. He carried me out to his truck and drove out here to the woods. I watched him shovel dirt as he dug a hole. I even watched him as he put me in the hole and shoveled dirt over me. The strange thing is? I wasn't angry at him. I didn't feel much of anything at all, except maybe a little sad.”
Puck paused there. I couldn't think of anything to say except, “So, you’re really dead? Like… dead dead?” Puck nodded. “Yeah. Dead dead.” He looked down at the ground. “He buried me right over there,” Puck said as he jerked his head to the left to indicate a spot about fifteen feet from where I’d fallen. He was quiet for a few minutes. So was I. After all, what was I supposed to say? We let the silence settle and I picked twigs and dirt out of Abigail’s blanket. Finally he said, “Hey, Bethy?” “What?” “Can you help me?” “Um,” I shrugged. “I guess so.”
“See, my mom and my sis think that I ran away from home. Nobody knows I’m dead. Nobody knows where I’m buried. Nobody knows about my dad. I need you to tell someone. Anybody, any grown up. Please?” Puck held my gaze in his. “Please?” I told him I would try, but that I didn't think anyone would believe me. “But you’ll try?” “I’ll try.” Puck thanked me and then said something odd. I mean, the whole thing was odd if you think about it, but what he said next is really what shook me and stayed with me all these years. He said, “You’re greater than you think you are. Don’t ever let anyone make you less. Ever.” With that he disappeared. All at once. He was there, then he was gone.
I walked home very slowly, thinking about what had just happened, wondering how I was going to tell anyone. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. When I got home my mom took one look at my scrapes and my tear streaked dirty face. For once she let me blubber it all out. When I got to the part about Puck, her face changed. It wasn't a look of disbelief, it was a look of confirmation. It turned out that Puck’s mother had been on the news asking anyone who had information about her boy to call the police. Even more, apparently, Puck’s father was well known around town for being a class A dirt bag. My mom called the police. The police questioned me, but all I would tell them was where they could find Puck’s body. I didn't tell them his ghost had sent me on the errand. I guess with me being only 8 years old, they didn't push me too hard. Puck’s body was found, and enough evidence to put his father away for a couple of decades. He was killed in a prison riot seven years later.
Anyway, a few weeks ago Gina, Puck’s sister, tracked me down on Facebook. After some preliminary niceties and talk about the old neighborhood, she messaged me and got down to business. She wanted to know how I’d known where Puck’s body was. I told her I didn't remember. She wouldn't believe me if I did tell her. I never told anyone but my mother about that day, and only that once. I don’t even know why I’m telling you. I guess maybe it’s time for me to unbury some things.
Abigail sits on the corner of my desk as I type this. It’s a perch she’s enjoyed for a number of years now. My husband doesn't understand it. He thinks it’s unnerving the way she stares out of her one remaining eye. But I love her as dearly at 51 as I did at 8. She’s the only one I've ever trusted with all my darkest secrets and she’s kept them all. She’s kind of like a sieve that way, catching the important nuggets and keeping them from washing away forever.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Crosshavenharpist gave me this prompt: The truth of it was, the memory had already slipped away, like fine sand through a sieve..... I gave David Wiley this prompt: a candle, toenail clippers, and a box of milkduds
Friday, November 2, 2012
I flipped through a few pages, hardly anyone really looking familiar to me, discovering the younger faces of some of the people I'm acquainted with on facebook now. I looked at the signatures inside the back cover. There it was, that old standard that has been scribbled into every person's yearbook since time was new: "Don't ever change."
Don't ever change. I get what the intent is, but it's a sentence that reads... well... like a prison sentence. Don't ever change. What a terrible thing to saddle someone with! Don't ever change. Bah.
As children we are taught, in so many ways, "Follow this path and don't deviate." Again, I get the intent, but it's such a difficult concept to grow out of.
Don't ever change. Follow this path and don't deviate.
I say, change. Change all you want. If you're not happy where you are, if your life isn't what you want it to be, if you are not who you want to be - change.
If you don't want to go where the path is leading, find a new path. Hell, carve a new path!
Here's the advice I wish someone had written in that book all those many years ago:
Change. Grow every day. Experiment, play, live in wonder. Seek out adventure. Let life take you in its great big embrace and show you how amazing you are. Be alive in your experiences and they will change you, make you better, stronger, intelligent and intuitive.
There are many paths waiting for you out there. Each path will land you exactly where you need to be, so don't be afraid to wander down any of them or all of them. This isn't a test and there's no grand punishment, no right or wrong, it's just life. Let the adventure of living it be your compass.
Stay true to yourself, whoever that self becomes and wherever that self may go. You are a treasure just the way you are and you'll be equally precious every moment of your life, simply because you are you. You are uniquely you. It's a great big world out there and I can't wait to see who you become in it.
Of course, that never happened and it's probably never going to happen in anybody's yearbook. We don't often allow ourselves to change much less foster it in those we love. But we should... we should.
Change. You are loved regardless. Deviate from the path. You are loved wherever you go.
You are uniquely you and I can't wait to see the world with you in it, stretching boundaries, carving new paths, filling every moment and every corner with the essence of your unique self. I am writing this in your figurative yearbook for all time. I am giving you permission. I am telling you.
Change. Go for it.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Sure, it was a completely morbid thought. Not that I'm ever above having a morbid thought. But, my great joy in being an artistic writer type is that I get to have all kinds of thoughts that I can weave into my work. All the insanity, none of the guilt.
Anyway... without further ado...
Tuesday, October 30
"You rat bastard!" Sonja shouted. "You know I hate heights!"
"That's just your fear talking. You know what fear is, right? False. Evidence. Appearing. Real."
"I'm going to divorce you for this."
Fifteen feet above her, Trent clipped another carabiner on his line. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You have to get to the top first. C'mon. It's only another 200 feet."
Sonja looked up the sheer rock cliff. "Fuck y..." The words lodged in her throat as Trent's body flew past her toward the ground.
Moments later Sonja stumbled into the kitchen wiping tears and sleep from her eyes. Trent looked up from the magazine he was reading as he sipped his coffee. He saw the look on her face. "Oh, baby. Again?"
"Again," she said. "This time we were climbing a cliff. You were above me and then you fell. I don't know why I keep dreaming shit like that. Where's the anxiety coming from?"
"I don't know. You know I love you. I'm here for you. I'll always be here for you."
"I just don't get it."
Wednesday, October 31
Sonja squeezed her eyes shut and gripped the railing as tightly as she could. She said, "You're evil, you know. How did I let you talk me into this? I'm totally freaked out right now."
"What's there to fear?" Trent asked. "This is perfectly safe."
The ferris wheel jolted to a stop and their gondola swayed slightly at the top. "Oh, my god. That's it. I'm leaving you for a man who likes to stay at ground level."
"Oh, c'mon, baby. Look." Trent stood up and started doing the chicken dance on his side of the gondola. "See? Harmless." He flapped his arms.
"Stop th..." Sonja watch in horror as Trent toppled from the side of the gondola just as the ferris wheel lurched into motion again.
She woke, sure that her scream of terror had, at least, been real. But she could hear Trent out in the kitchen, pulling mugs from the cupboard as the coffee pot chugged along. She scrubbed at her eyes, then grabbed her bathrobe from the end of the bed and pulled it around her as she stood up.
She stopped in the kitchen door, looking at Trent's back as he stood looking out the window and waiting for the coffee to finish. She thought about not telling him, but he would know she was troubled. He always knew. She started with, "I love you."
Trent turned, a smile on his face, "I love y... baby, baby, baby..." He rushed to take her in his arms. "I'm so sorry you're going through this. What a horrible thing for you to go through."
Sonja didn't respond. She only rested her head against his chest and listened to his heartbeat.
Thursday, November 1
Sonja stayed in bed. She just didn't have the heart to get up, didn't want him to see it on her face again. She lingered long enough that Trent came into the bedroom, carrying two cups of coffee. He handed her her mug without saying a word. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed next to her. He put his mug down on the end table and reached out to take her free hand.
That sat like that for a few minutes, holding hands, Sonja taking sips of the coffee and trying to dispel the last of the dream she'd just had. It was a dream much like the others. This time they'd been stringing Christmas lights on a high, steep gabled roof. Their banter was all about her fear of heights. Then he was gone.
Sonja shook herself from her reverie as she felt Trent squeeze her hand. She tried to give him a wobbly smile. He said, "Baby, you can't keep going like this. You need to find out what this fear is all about and deal with it. It just isn't rational."
Sonja smirked. She was almost pissed off at him for calling her out on her slice of crazy. She knew she was only pissed because his words were exactly how she felt about it. She let out a heavy sigh. "Well, it's not very fucking kind either."
Trent squeezed her hand again. "You have to let it go, baby. Just let go."
Thursday, November 1
Trent kept holding Sonja's hand as the doctor checked her chest with his stethoscope Only when the doctor stood up and cleared his throat did Trent look at him.
"This is it, huh." Trent said it as a statement rather than a question.
"I believe it is," replied the doctor. "You know, she's fought this cancer so hard, but her body just can't do it any more. Her system is failing, she hasn't eaten in a week. She hasn't been lucid since, what... Monday night? She's trying to let go, I think, but she's fighting it too."
"Is there anything else I can do for her?" asked Trent.
"Just keep holding her hand. Keep loving her. Keep talking to her. If you can do it, give her permission to go. I'll leave now, but the nurses know how to get in touch with me and I can be here in 10 minutes."
The room was quiet but for the hissing of the oxygen being fed to Sonja and the occasion click as the pain meds were automatically pumped into her veins. Trent continued to hold her hand and brushed his thumb gently across the back of it. He crooned an exit litany to her, softly, almost a whisper, "I love you, baby. I always have, I always will. You will always be here with me. So, it's okay to go. I'll be okay. You can let go. Just let go."
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Katri gave me this prompt: Fear isn't rational or kind.
I gave Lance this prompt: He opened the door and along with a cold gust of wind, she came in.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
She had been writing furiously for over an hour, breaking more than five pencils in the process. Despina flung the most recently broken pencil to the floor, plucked a new one from the table and continued writing. She had to get this down. It wasn't just that it needed to be let out, although it did, but it also needed to be written for the record. She paused, looking out the small window, wondering how a day could be so gray without there being any rainfall.
Despina shook her head and muttered, “No. No sidetracking. Have to… have to… do… this.” She gripped the pencil, ignoring the cramp in her hand, and started a new paragraph.
“I realize, for anyone who ends up reading this, that I probably sound insane. I've certainly been told that I’m insane, but only by those who, I believe, do not have my best interest at heart. I have threatened and been threatened, lied and been lied to. I've cried, cajoled, contacted every authority I can think of, and yet, I don’t feel anyone has listened to me! Not properly. At best I get a nod and an “oh dear” before I’m passed off to some other agent. At worst, I’m physically restrained.
“That’s why I am writing this. I don’t know who will see it, if anyone will see it, but I can’t stop trying. If you’re reading this, I am not crazy. I only want to see my daughter again. Or if that is simply impossible, I want someone to tell her that I love her and that I've been desperately fighting to be with her. To have her with me.
“Five years ago they took her away with no explanation. They just came and took her, ripped her from my arms. Now they tell me I’ll never get her back and I’ll never see her again. Why? I've yet to hear a reason that makes any kind of sense to me. I've lost everything in the process. My relationship crumbled. All my relationships crumbled. Even my own family ignores me. I lost my job, lost my home. Everything.
“A year ago I was on the streets, sleeping in doorways, begging for meals, and taking pictures. Like Paul Simon sang in an old song, I saw “angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity.” The world pulsed around me, as if I’d been swallowed by some great beast. According to the worker who threw me out of a McDonald’s, I spent forty five minutes talking to the light that refracted off of an ice cube on the table. I have no recollection of this. Even so, I say I am not now, nor was I then, crazy. I think I was just on overload in every possible way.”
Despina let out a guttural scream as the pencil lead broke. She flung it into a corner and reached for another one. “Interruptions. Always those. Never any… any… what’s the fucking word? I don’t know. It doesn't matter. It’s just a word, a word, a bird song, a night long, a cloudless moment of gray being normal. What am I saying? I need to write. Write on the white and all will be right.” Despina let out a choked half sob, half laugh at her little rhyme. “Write. Write, write, write.” She closed her eyes to recapture the moment. “The word is grace. Never any grace.” At this revelation, she laughed outright. She began to write again.
“Grace was her name. My daughter’s name. It wasn't the name I had picked out for her, but she came out of me with such ease, such grace that… well, you get it. It was a good name for her. Everything she did seemed to come so naturally to her. Even as a little girl everyone could see that she was gifted, intelligent, beautiful. She had the kind of poise that most adults envy. She was Grace. And when she was eleven years old, Grace was taken from me. Pulled from me. Sucked out into the night and never seen again.
“I could say I hate them and you’d understand that, wouldn't you? But, I don’t hate them. I can’t. I have no room for that kind of wild rage. The frantic worry that I carry constantly takes up all the extra room in my head…” Despina paused and tapped the pencil against her lips. She turned and looked into the mirror, shocked that she looked so old and unkempt.
On the other side of the mirror a nurse shifted slightly in her chair and made a few notes inside a chart just as a doctor walked up to her station. They were silent for a moment, the doctor surveying the gibberish scrawled on two of the walls inside the room. It wasn't even a language he could decipher, at least not yet. It was just a series of squiggles and circles and lines.
He frowned, turned to the nurse and asked, “No medication for the past three days, right?”
“Yes, that’s right doctor. She hasn't eaten in 48 hours, has barely even drank anything, and she hasn't slept in… let‘s see… 32 hours. She just writes, or whatever you call that, and mutters to herself. Of course, it‘s all on tape, but I can‘t make out any words when she talks.”
The doctor sighed, “We’re going to have to put her back on her meds. She’ll kill herself if she keeps this up. I was hoping that a little freedom of expression would somehow awaken her at least a little. If we could just get her to a point of acknowledging what happened…”
“Doctor,” the nurse interrupted. “Clearly her mind is fractured. We can’t even get her to the point where she will recognize that her daughter is dead! How will you ever bring her to the point of acknowledging that she was drunk and thought she was shooting a burglar and not her daughter who had just come home from a movie?”
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Eric Storch gave me this prompt: She had been writing furiously for over an hour, breaking more than five pencils in the process…
I gave Michael this prompt: The first cold, crisp day of Autumn always reminds me of...
Monday, September 17, 2012
"What do you mean? I have. I've forgiven myself for all kinds of things!"
"Well, the big stuff, at least..."
"It must be for everything. Absolutely everything."
"But, I... I mean... I don't get it. I've tried."
"Well. You know what that little space troll said. 'Do or do not. There is no try.'"
"Really? You're quoting Star Wars at me?"
"I'm saying that you have to forgive yourself. Completely. You have to love yourself. Fully. How can you really forgive and love others unless you first practice that principle on yourself?"
"But I do love myself. Despi..." She interrupted me, shaking her head and wagging her finger.
"No, no. Not despite everything. Because of everything. You don't get to pick and chose. Nuh. Don't cry. Have another piece of cake. I made it special just for you."
I looked at the plate she handed me. On it was a map of the world with one of my eyes where the compass should be. I looked up at her. She smiled and nodded. I nodded in return - I got it, Grandma. She faded out of the dream.
I woke up enough to roll over. Right into another dream.
I was in the driver's seat of my old truck, a TV actor (I don't know his name, but I recognized him) was in the passenger seat. "Where to?" I said.
"Just head across the country. Just drive."
"Cool. Road trip! Uh. But I only have about $100 for gas. That'll maybe get us into Wyoming, but..."
"It doesn't matter. Just drive. It's the journey that signifies, not the destination. It's always about the journey, ya Dodo... don't we always figure it out along the way? Don't we always manage? Just drive."
We headed down familiar routes to I-90, taking back roads through Carnation, Duvall, Fall City and North Bend. I headed East on I-90. It was a bright, sunny day. The trees looked like they were on fire, the color of the leaves was such brilliant gold and red. The Cascade Mountains loomed like giant teeth before us, and it wasn't long before we came to a point in the road that tunneled through the mountains. The sign about half a mile before the tunnel read, "Everywhere is HERE to someone. Buckle up."
The actor and I grinned at each other and said simultaneously, "Be here now." Laughed and then again simultaneously, "Ram Dass." And laughed a little harder.
It was the laughter that woke me up... to a morning that smells like coffee and fog... and promise.
Posted by Barb Black at 9:28:00 AM
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Alas, true to form for the Northwest, as August arrived, so did some semblance of Summer weather. I sat on the deck sipping an icy cold Chardonnay on a particularly sultry evening, trying to catch any stray breeze that might wander by, listening to the swallows chatter at each other and watching them dive for their dinners. The scent of cedars and freshly mowed lawn hung heavy on the air, along with the warm scent of my own skin and the very faint odor of distant cigarette smoke.
In an instant I was swept back to a childhood evening, the memory as clear in my head as if I was watching it on TV. In this memory, I'm maybe eight years old. I'm sitting at the picnic table in the backyard with my father. It's about mid-evening. I'm wearing my bathing suit and my hair is still damp from a swim in the pool. The air is muggy and I can hear crickets chirping and locusts buzzing. Dad is smoking a cigarette and I'm eating a popsicle. In all likelihood, my mother sent me outside with the popsicle so I wouldn't drip sticky syrup all over the house. What's really distinct about this scene though is that it is a moment, a very rare one at that, of absolute peace.
Maybe that strikes you as odd, that I'd be so focused on the peace of a moment, but it's actually profound. I grew up in a household that, even when it was quiet, it was anything but peaceful. My mother was uptight, overly concerned with appearances, and more worried about keeping a house clean and in order than any real issues. My dad was at worst a raging alcoholic and at best frenetically funny - even his humor tended to land just this side of something manic. Don't get me wrong, I love my parents. I'm just trying to help you understand what it means to me now to recognize the importance of The Picnic Table Incident of 1969 for what it was.
It damned near knocked me flat to descry that moment. It was beautiful. It's easy to talk about difficulties, about the trials and tribulations that we go through and how we triumphed regardless. It seems to be less important that we recognize the finer moments and give them air. What a shame.
The finer moments are what make it a life that's been lived rather than a life that's simply been experienced. The finer moments are always there. Waiting. There is beauty in the ugly. There is quiet in the chaos. There is light in the darkness. There is love in the pain. If only we would look.
Posted by Barb Black at 11:41:00 AM
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Prompts are listed at the end of the story.
Nessa locked the door behind her. She set the mail that she’d brought in on the old buffet that they had turned into an entryway catch-all, then tossed her keys and cell phone into the wicker basket that sat in the middle of the buffet. To the left was the stack of library books that she had forgotten to take with her this morning. Making a mental note to get that chore done tomorrow before they were overdue, she carefully hung her jacked and purse on the antique coat hooks in the foyer. Nessa picked up the stack of mail again, headed toward the kitchen where she poured herself a glass of wine, then carried the mail and wine into the den.
She settled into her favorite chair, an antique wingback that they’d bought during a weekend jaunt to the Poconos. They’d actually almost fought over it. She loved it, Ted didn’t. She still loved it, and supposed that Ted had gotten used to it. She closed her eyes and took a sip of the wine as she kicked her pumps off, sending them tumbling under the coffee table. She took another sip of the wine before setting the glass on the table, then began to sort through the stack of mail.
Bills, she thought, bloody boring necessity. It always amused her that so much of her internal conversation was done in a British accent. She briefly flipped through the Land’s End catalog. Nothing new there, but then they send one out every week, it seems. There was postcard of some distant tropical locale from her mother and aunt who were off cruising the world. At the bottom of the stack was a mystery envelope. Well, it’s not that much of a mystery, really… it’s obviously Ted’s handwriting. But it was fully addressed to her, although lacking a stamp - not really Ted’s romantic style. Nessa shrugged and ran a nail under the flap to open the envelope. She pulled out the letter and began to read.
We’ve been married for nearly 15 years. When you came home, you hung up your jacket and purse in the foyer, dropped your keys and phone in the basket, grabbed the mail and some wine and headed to the den. There, you kicked off your shoes, took a few sips of wine and started looking through the mail. See, my dear? I know you very, very well. Maybe even better than you know yourself. Definitely better than you think I do.
I know that our marriage is in trouble and I know why. Do you think I didn’t notice the minute you began to pull away from me? You feigned exhaustion and rolled away from me rather than our usual snuggle. Thing is, you didn’t go right to sleep - I know your breathing patterns well. You stopped making eye-contact with me and jumped if I spoke your name. You bought new lingerie and outfits, but didn’t wear them when we went out together. I noticed when you began changing our sheets on Tuesdays instead of Thursdays, and that you were always freshly showered when I got home on Tuesday, claiming that you‘d had a rough day and simply wanted to freshen up.
I also noticed that at my birthday party three months ago, you and Evan completely ignored each other. Shortly after that Evan begged off our usual Wednesday golf outings. In fact, he stopped calling at all and when I would call him, he’d supposedly just be headed into a meeting. That was when I began to follow you. I needed to put an end to my suspicion. It couldn’t possibly be what I was imagining, could it? Sadly, miserably, it was. I saw his car parked a block over from our house on Tuesday afternoons. I followed you and saw the two of you hugging and kissing before you went into the restaurant. The weekend of your business retreat, I booked the flight right after yours and spent most of the weekend watching you and Evan by the pool, holding hands, laughing. I even, quite stupidly I’ll admit, bothered to bring a pair of binoculars and watched the two of you together in your room. Imagine my surprise that you appeared to like that particular position in bed - you never enjoyed it when we were together.
Evan. You’ve been fucking Evan, Nessa. The best man at our wedding. My cousin, my best friend. I think what makes me angriest is that you’ve turned me into a goddamned walking cliché. I could forgive your infidelity and your seeming nonchalance about it. What I can’t forgive is that I’ve been betrayed by the two people I loved most in this world and that it makes me look like such a complete idiot. An absolute dupe. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve had plenty of time alone to think, don’t you know? I just can’t forgive it.
I know you’re probably reading this letter with something near a feeling of relief. The husband knows. Good. Let’s just deal with this and move on. You’re probably even already calculating in the back of your mind how to settle the house, the stuff, etc. But… ah, not so hasty, m’dear. You see, you created this little mess and it’s about to get a little messier. I thought I’d offer you a taste of how immobilizing and debilitating it is to be betrayed by your spouse and your best friend.
Your 401k is gone. I forged the documents to cash that in. I’ve wiped out our bank accounts. Yes. The near million in liquid assets that we’ve accumulated is now safely residing, um, let’s just say elsewhere. Settle down now. That’s not even the big news. The big news is that there is a pressure sensitive bomb wired to your chair. It will go off as soon as you get up. I know you’ve left your phone in the hallway, as always, so there’s no way for you to call for help. So, you have a choice. You can sit there and die slowly of starvation, swimming in the stench of your own filth, or you can stand up quickly and get it all over with.
Maybe you’re thinking that Evan will stop by to check on you if haven’t been in contact for a while. I wouldn’t count on that. Evan, another person whose habits I know very well, has… left for warmer climes. I fear he won’t be returning. Oh, by the way, your boss was very gracious when I asked him to give you the next 10 days off so that I could surprise you with a second honeymoon. He said to be sure and let you know that he hopes you’ll enjoy the trip. As do I, Dear. As do I.
I loved you,
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, November Rain (k~) gave me this prompt: The letter held something important, something that made moving difficult.. I gave Wendryn this prompt: raspberry tarts and a missing hairpiece
Posted by Barb Black at 5:04:00 PM
Thursday, July 26, 2012
I have to admit, when I first saw the prompt I'd been given I thought, "Oh, no way. Nuh uh." I live in what people refer to as "Rainland" and I'm supposed to write about someone seeing rain for the first time?! It took a while for me to see the character and to understand why he'd never seen rain before. But I'm really glad I discovered him, because I think he's an interesting fellow. With any luck, you'll think so too.
Until I was 11 years old, I was raised somewhere in the vicinity of the Mojave Desert. I say raised, but that really paints too pretty of a picture. I was kept. I was kept hidden.
Back in 1967, when I was just a little over two years old a man I only know as Dwight kidnapped me from a park about an hour east of Seattle. It happened in one of those small seconds when my mother looked away, caught up in conversation with another neighborhood mom. I don't remember any of this, I only know it after the fact. Dwight kidnapped me to satisfy his wife, a woman I only know as Star.
That was way back before police had everything computerized and before Amber Alerts, and all that good stuff that helps people find criminals now. It was easy for Dwight and Star to just choogle on down the road, baby boy in tow. Besides, people had bigger things to worry about that year - war, riots, hippie freaks wandering around strung out on drugs. The whole world was chaos. A missing baby wasn't going to turn the world upside down.
Dwight and Star had no trouble crossing two state lines and driving halfway through California. They had already taken up residence on a piece of land that hosted nothing but an old house, chicken coops, goats and Joshua trees. Of course, I never saw any of this the whole time I was there. I was never allowed out of the old root cellar where they kept me.
Now, you could say, "Oh, poor Luke." But it's not necessary. For all those years, I didn't know any differently. My whole life was a dingy, dusty cellar. The only real light I ever saw was the hot Mojave sun filtering through the single filthy 6 X 12 window near the ceiling. And anyway, back then I wasn't known as Luke. I was known as James. Evidently Star had a real thing for Sweet Baby James Taylor. So, she called me James, or Jimmy T if she was in a particularly good mood.
Star wasn't so bad. I think in some ways she was as much a prisoner there as I was. Dwight was an odd mix of plan-for-the-apocalypse and laid-back hippie. He didn't much bother with me. I think a lot of the time he forgot I existed at all. He was either trying to scrabble something together out of that hard land, or working an odd job, or getting stoned. I was Star's pet and she could deal with me. Everything was copasetic so long as Dwight didn't have to lift a finger where I was concerned. That's the feeling I got from him anyway. And that was okay with me.
Star taught me to read. She'd sneak books home from the library for me. When she couldn't manage that, she'd bring one of her own books down to the cellar and have me read from that. I was eight years old when I read Oliver Twist, nine when I fell into a vortex of Steinbeck novels. I couldn't get enough of his books. The Dickens stuff was fine reading, but that world was foreign enough to be another planet. The Steinbeck stuff, however... well, I don't know. He just had a way of making it sound like his world was just upstairs and outside the door.
Not that I ever went upstairs, much less out the door. Later I was told that I'd been taken on a fine day in May. It wasn't until June 13, 1976 that I ever saw the great outdoors, and that was a confusing, scary day.
Star had brought me breakfast, cheerios with raisins and milk, just like always. She sat with me for a while and let me read to her from a goofy book about rabbits. It was called Watership Down. It was really a pretty good book and a definite departure from the usual classics that she'd bring me to read. I don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do remember that when the rabbits would go crazy with terror, they'd call it "going tharn." I remember when the planes smashed into the trade towers, I watched people running through the streets - wide eyed, lost, disbelieving - it came back to me then. Look at all of 'em going tharn.
I've gotten ahead. By years, it seems. Yeah. So, Star and I were in the cellar and I was reading to her. All of the sudden we heard Dwight slamming in through the screen door upstairs, hollering his head off. I couldn't really make it all out, something like, "They come... bastids... here... fucked... we're fucked." And that was all mixed together with him bellowing Star's name in between. I looked at her and I remember her face in that moment. It was the first time I ever saw someone's whole face say goodbye. Her eyes were glazed with tears, her mouth shut tight like she was trying to hold in words, nostrils flared, and cheeks flushed. She jumped to her feet, bent and gave me a kiss on the forehead - a kiss so fast and soft that it felt like a tiny feather had brushed my forehead. Then she was up the steps.
That was the last I ever saw of Star, of either of them, although I couldn't tell you how many days or weeks it had been before that when I'd last seen Dwight. The next thing I knew, there was a whole lot more scuffling and noise upstairs. Lots of voices, and I can't remember ever before that hearing any voices except for Star's and Dwight's. I sat down there for I don't know how long. Finally the door opened and an ATF officer came down the steps. He stopped short when he saw me, mouth hanging open for a minute. Then he turned and yelled up the stairs, "Holy shit! There's a kid down here!"
So, for the first time in a little over nine years, I saw the outside world. I didn't see much that first day. They shielded my eyes because it was so bright out there. I remember squinting at the brightness even with an old t-shirt wrapped around my head. They brought me to a hospital where I was examined and kept for observation. Somewhere along the way the officials determined that I didn't really belong with Dwight and Star. A little more research and a week later, they figured out who my real parents were.
The whole time I stayed in the hospital. Kind nurses came and went and brought me all kinds of food to tempt my appetite. A volunteer came by with a little cart full of books. They were all too juvenile for my reading level, but I grabbed a stack anyway. It was something to do. The whole time I didn't talk. I wasn't afraid to talk, I just felt like a foreigner, like somehow the noise that would come out of my mouth wouldn't be the same language. It's difficult to explain.
Finally a nurse came in and announced that there were a couple of people who were anxious to see me. I nodded, indicating she could let them in. A woman walked in first. She had hair the same color as mine, and eyes the same shade of sea green. She had her hand clamped over her mouth and tears ran down her cheeks as she took faltering steps toward the bed. The man holding her elbow was tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, but I recognized the shape of his face as my own. The nurse and the social worker who'd followed them in came to the other side of the bed. "These are your parents, Luke." It was the first time I'd been called by my true name that I could remember. So began the slow process of rebuilding my place in the real world.
It was still another week before I spoke to anyone. I remember it well because it was a notable day in history for a lot of reasons. It happened to be the Fourth of July, the year of America's bicentennial. It's also the first day I can recall rain. My folks and I had gone to a parking lot that looked out on Mt. Si in Northbend, WA. Mom had packed a picnic and we had blankets and pillows and Dad's old transistor radio. We were listening to some rock n' roll tunes - I couldn't get enough of that stuff. After virtual silence for so many years, the beat made me feel grounded somehow, as if the bass thump was coming right out of the earth and into my shoes. Mom had just dished up some strawberry shortcake, having made it her mission to "fatten up our boy." The fireworks started at the old high school. Dad had explained them before we'd left the house, but they were prettier than anything I could have imagined.
Dad tousled my hair and I turned toward Mom, holding out my dish in a more-please gesture. That was when I felt it hit the top of my head. I flinched and dropped my dish. Again, something wet and cold slammed into my neck. Suddenly it was everywhere. I looked from one parent to the other, horrified, terrified. Mom understood first. "Luke... shhh.... shhh... it's just rain. Just a little rain..." The first word I spoke to my parents was, "Rain." I understood the word. I'd read about it enough in all the books Star had brought me to read. "Rain," I said again, and held my hand out in an attempt to catch it.
I jumped off of the tailgate and began to spin around. "Rain.... rain.... rain...." I laughed then. My mother joined me, mimicking my rain mantra, spinning along with me. I think I saw tears in Dad's eyes. Maybe it was a trick of the rain and the streetlight, but I like to think they were tears.
That was 36 years and a different lifetime ago. I don't think I was too damaged by Dwight and Star. A lot of my early childhood is just a blur that I don't really remember except for reading all those books. Every now and then some character in my dreams will call me James and it takes me a minute upon waking to recall that my real name is Luke.
What's funny is that although I spent much of my childhood in the desert I never saw any of it. Even so, I've never had any kind of motivation to ever want to leave the Pacific NW. It really doesn't rain here as much as people think, but it does rain more than they'd expect. I love the rain. I've never tired of it, even on my worst days. I welcome the rain every time. And I'll tell you something else, I'll die just as happy if I never see a goddamned desert.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Tara Roberts gave me this prompt: You live somewhere where you've never seen rain. You visit somewhere new one day where it is a common occurrence. What is your reaction to seeing rain, fall from the sky, for the first time? Joy or fear?. I gave Grace O'Malley this prompt: I guess we managed to dodge the bullet that time...
Posted by Barb Black at 3:19:00 PM
Thursday, July 19, 2012
But, the other night in my dream was different.
We greeted each other, not as long lost friends, but at least as acquaintances from a similar journey. We sat in a field, a couple hundred yards from that old train station in Győr. She had a beat up old wicker basket from which she pulled a blanket for us to sit on, a loaf of that good, crusty, rustic Hungarian bread that I miss so much, and a bottle (yes, a glass bottle) of fresh milk.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. The scent of sun-warmed hay on the air was almost palpable. It felt like I ought to be able to slice through it with a butter knife and spread it on that beautiful bread. The gypsy woman pulled a hunk of bread off the end of the loaf and passed it to me, then pulled a hunk off for herself before setting the loaf down again. We ate, still in silence, chewing bits of bread that we plucked from the pieces, and passing the bottle of milk back and forth. I remember thinking, meals don't get finer than this.
She turned to me, finally, and asked in a broken mash of Hungarian and English, "You were a girl then, a school girl. What do you do now?"
"I'm an artist and a writer."
"I did not ask what your occupation is. I ask what you do."
Slightly confused, and thinking that she was probably equally confused, I answered, "Well. I make art. And I write."
"And I cook, bake."
With a barely discernible nod, "And."
"Um. And I read. I, uh, love my mate. Well, I love everyone, but him especially. I procrastinate. I laugh. I cry. I care, I worry, I think. I look at clouds and stars and the wind rustling the leaves."
I threw my hands up as if to say, what do you want? "I do a lot of things."
"Yes. All these things you do. All of these are you and you are all of these things. You are greater than the sum of the parts you are made of. And now it is time."
"Time?" I asked.
"Time." She gestured in the direction of the train station. "Time for you to go."
"Where you will."
I stood up, thanked her for the bread and milk. I turned and began to walk toward the train station, then stopped and turned back to her. "Will I see you again before another thirty four years goes by?"
She smiled enigmatically. "One thing more. Breathe in."
I took a deep breath.
"Nuh." She nodded. "Now you have taken tiny pieces of the entire Universe into you. Breathe out."
I let the breath I was holding out with a whoosh.
"Now you have given yourself to the entire Universe. In breathing in and breathing out, we are never apart. No one is apart."
"That sounds Buddhist." I said.
She shrugged. "All the same." And she waved me away with a flick of her hand.
I walked toward the train station. A conductor waited by a doorway to the train. He tipped his hat to me and asked, "Hova mész?" Where are you going?
I smiled at him, gave him my best gypsy shrug and replied, "Mindegy." All the same.
Posted by Barb Black at 1:36:00 PM
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
My hackles went up. It reminded me too much of my Mom asking if I was ever going to get a real job. Regardless, I stayed calm and asked, "What do you mean by regular writing?"
"You know, they philosophical kind of stuff you used to write. The day in the life of Barb stuff. I mean, I like your fiction things you've been posting, but they're not the same."
The answer is, I don't know. I honestly just don't know. There are a lot of reasons why I've strayed away from the so-called philosophical stuff, not the least of which is that I was getting really tired of listening to myself. Probably the most of which is that I've been enjoying the hell out of writing fiction. Besides, who am I to be telling anyone else how they ought to live? No, unless I get really inspired, or feel the need to say something, I'm sticking with fiction for the time being.
Oh, and did you know... I do have another blog: The Workshop At Black Ink Pad Designs. I try to post to it at least once a week with helpful tips and tricks for doing arts and crafts. I haven't been as faithful to it as I'd like to be, so I want to devote more time to that too. And, let me tell ya, technical writing wears me out! Plus... (*cue drum roll*)... I am now on the Design Team at Blockheads Paper Arts. As part of the design team, there are commitments and requirements in terms of creating art and blogging about it.
Although my fictional pieces are anything but (I hope) morality tales, I feel that if you're paying attention you can get all kinds of "Barb stuff" out of it. I write what I know. The people who've influenced my life, good or bad, combine to make up the characters that I (try to) bring to life. The situations my characters find themselves in are often situations that are very close to those I've been in.
The difference is, fiction gives me the opportunity to explore, to take that big What If? and scratch the hell out of it. It's the writing equivalent to doing artwork. And I just plain love it. For a long time, people have told me to write a book. I've always I wanted to, but had my doubts that I could really draft something that big. Now, especially after the past couple of months, I can see it. Even better, I can feel it.
So, the philosophical ramblings are on a back shelf for now. But... hang around at the table. You never know what'll happen here.
Posted by Barb Black at 4:48:00 PM
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Happy Thursday! I'm at it again with scriptic.org. When I first received this prompt (details at the end of the story) I kind of collapsed in my chair, thinking, "Huh. How the hell am I going to work that into something?!" And then I saw the farmhouse in my mind. The story just kind of tumbled right out of it - darker than what I normally write, but, damn, what a fun write it was!
It's also a longer story than usual, so pour yourselves a cup o' whatever and sit back.
Après vous, Dear Readers...
Ora wrote in his journal, “Sold 12 White Leghorn pullets for $45 and one yearling cock bird from breeding stock for $7.00. Tithe $5.20.” Then, he closed the books on September and turned over to a fresh page and, in a neat, tiny script, wrote October, 1919.
The opening strains of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, tinny and far away floated through the air.
Underneath the October, 1919 heading, Ora wrote in bold capitals: SIN WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.
Again the opening strain of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir sounded.
Maggie blinked, startled. W’fuck? What was that all about?! She looked down at the cookbook in her hands and dropped it on the kitchen table as if it were on fire. That was a hell of a daydream. She looked out the dining room window. There was her Chevy, parked near the barn as always. That assured her that it was at least 1995, and the obvious mileage on the old beat up rig told her it was well past that. It was probably 2012, just like it had been when she woke earlier that morning.
Maggie went to the sink and with shaking hands splashed cold water on her face. Then she cupped her hands under the faucet, filled them with icy cold water and drank. Feeling better she looked out the window again. Yup. Truck’s still there. Get a grip, woman! It was just a dream. She looked back at the table. The only thing on it was her old Betty Crocker cookbook. She remembered that she had pulled it from the shelf to look up the recipe for apple pie. That was all. The rest of it was the dream about the old man and the chickens. And tithing, Chiquita. Don’t forget the tithe. Yes. The tithe. What an odd thought to insert itself in a dream. She hadn’t even been to church in at least twenty five years, didn’t remember when she’d last heard, much less used the word tithe.
Restless, Maggie wandered around the old farm house. It was really starting to come together. She had purchased it just two weeks ago. The place had sat vacant for a decade so she was able to move in right away. Now all her belongings were unpacked and it was starting to feel like it was hers, like it was home. The realtor had seemed surprised that she wanted it. “Are you sure? It’s a long way from the city. And it’s such a big place - what will you do with all that room?” Maggie had assured her that she wanted the peace and quiet. She wasn’t the kind of artist who took her inspiration from obnoxious city noises. In fact, the hustle and bustle gave her what her baby brother called cranial constipation.
Maggie thought that the place was just right for her. She had a beautiful room on the top floor with lots of natural light coming through the South-facing windows where she could do her art work. She had a smaller room on the top floor where she could write. Plus, there was another bedroom up there for guests, presuming she ever had any. The kitchen was a huge old-fashioned country kitchen with an attached dining room. The living room was a decent size too, and her bedroom, the original master bedroom, was off of that. The bathroom took up at least a sixth of the ground floor and had the original claw-foot bathtub still in it. Why would anyone not want to live here?!
Suddenly, Maggie remembered hearing Kashmir earlier - her cell phone ring tone. She pulled her phone from her pocket and flipped it open. One missed call and a message. It struck her as odd that she had missed the call - she had it set to vibrate and ring, because sometimes when she was deep in the throes of creating or writing, it took a lot to grab her attention. She hit the message button and listened, “You have one new message. Message received at 10:45 AM.” Derek’s voice followed, “Heya Sis! You must be lost in the rabbit hole again. Put down the paintbrush and call a bruthah back, will ya?” Maggie smiled. Her “baby” brother was one of her best friends. She pulled up his number and hit the call button.
“Yo yo yo… wazzuhhhhhh?” he said into her ear.
“God, Derek. That is so nineties!”
“Hey. We can’t all be creative geniuses. What’re you up to?”
“I was thinking of making an apple pie. I bought a half bushel of pippins from the guy who owns the orchard out on Rt. 2. Want to come for dinner? I can throw some chicken and corn on the grill.”
“Sounds great. I haven’t seen your new place since you moved in. Love to see what you’ve done with it. I’ll bring grape juice.”
“Make it a velvety Malbec and you’re on!”
“Done! See ya six-ish?”
They both hung up. Maggie went out to the truck and pulled the basket of apples out of the back of it. It was a relatively cool, crisp day. Not cold, not yet, but enough to let her know that Autumn was coming. It was her favorite time of year - the colors, the cooler weather. Nothing fueled her creativity like an Autumn day. She set the bushel of apples on the porch just off the kitchen, picked eight of them off the top and carried them inside.
Before she started on the pie, she went into the living room. She flipped through a stack of discs and plucked one from the middle of the pile. Maggie grinned. Just the thing to get the woolies out of my head. She plopped the cd into the holder, pushed the cover shut, and cranked the volume a little. Stevie Ray Vaughan lit into Cold Shot. Maggie waved her middle finger in the air, laughed and said, “Take that no-sin-will-be-tolerated!”
Back in the kitchen she got out the big stainless steel bowl and started peeling apples and cutting them into slices for the pie. She always cut up more than she knew she needed because once she’d doused them in cinnamon and sugar, it was just too difficult to resist snacking on a few of them - the excuse being that just wouldn’t all fit into the pie shell. Munching on one such chunk and nodding her head in rhythm to Mr. Vaughan (who was now rocking it with Little Wing), Maggie pulled another big bowl out of the cabinet, got the flour from the pantry, and a stick of butter from the fridge. She found pie making ultimately soothing. Just as she dumped the flour into the bowl, she felt the telltale uncomfortable twinge in her belly. Damned period. But no wonder I felt a little whacked out this morning. She wiped the flour off her hands on a kitchen towel and went into the bathroom.
Ora stood at the kitchen sink, squinting out the window and sneering. He could hear the chickens raising a ruckus and he knew why. It was another coyote, he was sure of it. He muttered, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He hollered to his daughter, “Ruthie! Bring me my shotgun! Devil’s bitches are in the hen house again! Ruthie!!!” When there was no response from his useless daughter, he stormed into his bedroom, grabbed the gun off of the wall rack, double checked to be sure it was loaded, then stormed back out through the kitchen. “I will deal with you shortly!” He hollered at the kitchen ceiling. “Sin will not be tolerated!” He opened the kitchen door and ran at a half jog toward the barn. Ora had built the chicken coop on the backside of the barn where it would get more shade. The coyote was hunkered at the edge of the brush, about twenty feet from the coop. It’s muzzle was bloody and there were feathers all around. Ora raised the rifle.
Maggie heard a loud bang just as pain pierced her right shoulder. “Ow! Goddamn!” She looked around her, perplexed. She was sitting in the dirt about twenty feet from her truck. Her dad’s old hunting rifle was about a yard to her right. How in the world… this is just… I don’t… Maggie heard something plopping onto the dirt. She looked up to see a hole that went through the grill on her truck and through the radiator. Fluid was leaking out of it onto the ground. I didn’t just… did I?… oh bitch in a buzz saw! I shot my own fucking truck?! What the hell is wrong with me?
Maggie sat in the dirt, hung her head and cried. She knew something was so wrong with her, and just when everything should be so right. I wish Derek would get here sooner rather than later. Maggie’s eyes went wide. Shit! The pie! Is it burning? Maggie jumped up and ran into the house. She didn’t smell the pie baking at all. She went into the kitchen and heaved a sigh of relief. Whatever had happened to her, had happened before she’d made the dough.
Maggie went into the bathroom to wash her hands. She pulled a washcloth out of a stack on the shelf, ran it through cold water and scrubbed at her face. She ran the cloth through the water again and this time held it across her eyes. She sighed, feeling the cool compress easing the heat from crying. Then she went back to the kitchen and, with far less joy than usual, finished making the pie.
Two and a half hours later, she was curled up on the sofa, with an Annie Proulx book in her lap. The pie was out of the oven, the chicken marinating, and the corn was peeled. Everything was set and on hold until Derek arrived. Maggie turned a page, reading but not absorbing. She realized that she’d read half a chapter and had no idea what was going on with the characters. Movement caught her eye and she looked out the big picture window to see Derek’s car turning in the dirt drive. She went outside to start the grill and to greet him.
Later, as they were taking their dishes to the sink, Derek said, “Good grits, Sis. But I have to say, that’s got to be the quietest meal I’ve ever had. And you look whipped. You want to tell me what’s up?” Maggie heaved a heavy sigh and leaned against the counter. “You’re going to think I’m crazy…” Derek was quiet as Maggie poured out the day’s events to him.
“I don’t think you’re crazy. I mean, don’t they always say that crazy people don’t know they’re crazy? You were just very rational about everything that’s happened. You know, you’ve been through a lot in the last year and a half - divorce, you left your ten year career with Aside Graphics to do your own thing, bought this house and moved within a week. Those are big stressors, you know. I think you should call Dr. Figueroa in the morning and make an appointment for a thorough check up as soon as possible. Oh, god… your truck…”
Maggie waved that away. “The truck is the least of my worries. She was kind of on her last legs anyway. But… I mean… Jesus, Derek! I was wandering around out there in a total fog with Dad’s old shotgun! If that’s not crazy… I don’t… I just…” She shook her head. “You’re right. I’ll call Dr. Fig in the morning.”
“Are you okay on your own tonight? I could stay…”
Maggie shook her head firmly. “No, there’s no need. I’m going to crawl in bed with the heating pad. My period just started and my belly hurts, I’m exhausted. I know I’ll be out before my head hits the pillow. But thank you.”
Maggie packed up some of the left over chicken and pie for her brother. He hugged her and promised to call in the morning. She was shutting off the downstairs lights before his car turned out onto the road. She took the heating pad from a nook in the bathroom, plugged it in next to her bed, crawled into bed with it and was sound asleep in seconds.
Ruthie’s eyes were downcast. “Papa. I… I’m… bleeding.” She swept her hand across the tops of her thighs. “Down there.” Ora stopped his pacing back and forth in front of her, and lightning quick, raised his hand and backhanded her across the mouth. Ruthie rocked back on her heels, but didn’t cry out. “So you’re just another sinning bitch… just like your mother was.” He backhanded her again, this time hard enough to knock her to the floor. “Sin will not be tolerated! I will purge it from you, daughter! I will lead you through the burning fire until you are made clean, by Jesus!” Ora grabbed the kerosene lamp from the table and brought it down hard on Ruthie’s stomach. It shattered, throwing flame and fuel all over the kitchen, instantly igniting Ruthie’s cotton dress. The flames caught and spread immediately. Ora’s pant legs were aflame. Mindless of this, he continued beating Ruthie with the broken lamp, all the while screaming, “Sin will not be tolerated! Sin will not be tolerated!” The fire crawled across the floor and began to lick it’s way up the walls. “Sin. Will. Not. Be. Tolerated!” The blows he gave Ruthie punctuated each word. Flames stretched up the walls and began to tickle the ceiling.
Derek pulled up close to the barn. I was just here. Now she’s gone. Everything. Gone. I should have stayed. It echoed in his mind, should have stayed, should have stayed, should have… He stood by the barn for several minutes, staring at the charred remains of his sister’s house. Should have stayed. As he stood there, something fluttered in the bushes next to the barn and caught his periphery. He walked over to take a closer look. It was an old book of some sort. He pulled it out from where it was caught in the branches of the bush. The leather cover was old and worn. He opened to the first page. In tiny neat script was written: A Full Accounting of Prayerful Living Farms by Ora Anders, Year of Our Lord 1919.
Derek flipped through the pages. It was mostly a ledger of some sort, accounting for chickens bought and sold, household expenses, and tithes given to a church. He came to the page marked October 1919 and his blood ran cold. There, in large scraggly capitals that were divergent from the earlier neat script, was written: SIN WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. Halfway down the page after that were the words, again in the neat script: One coyote killed. One chicken lost to Satan‘s bastard. One shotgun shell used. About an inch below that, again in the angry looking capitals: RUTHIE TURNED. PURGE NECESSARY. SIN WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!
Derek pulled a pen from his pocket. He licked his thumb, and with it, flicked the ledger to a new page. His lip curled into a sneer as he squinted and wrote in a neat, tiny script: Hell’s Bitch taken care of for good. Buy new lumber. Rebuild. Replace chicken that got ate up. Sin. Will. Not. Be. Tolerated.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Jester Queen gave me this prompt: "Ora wrote in his journal, 'Sold 12 White Leghorn pullets for $45 and one yearling cock bird from breeding stock for $7.00. Tithe $5.20'. Then, he closed the books on September and turned over to a fresh page and wrote 'October, 1919.'" I gave SAM this prompt: Simon and Garfunkle sang, 'We walked off to look for America...' What do you think they found?
Posted by Barb Black at 12:46:00 PM
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Emily set the spoon down on a paper towel that she’d neatly folded into quarters and placed on the counter. She turned slightly, and said over her shoulder, “Tea’s ready.”
The old woman sat at the kitchen table, leaning slightly to the left with her arm propped on the walker that stood next to her chair. “Lovely. Add a good sized dollop of that Jameson’s.”
“Gran!” Emily feigned astonishment. “It’s barely even 10 a.m.!”
“Fuck that. It’s Ireland somewhere, and I may need a little liquid courage to tell you what I’m about to tell you. Besides, I’m ninety-goddamned-one. I think I’ve earned the right to drink whenever I want to in whatever little time I have left.”
“That you have, Gran.” Emily couldn’t help but smile. The woman was her hero, no question about it, no challengers anywhere in sight. She tucked the bottle of whisky under her left arm, then picked up the two mugs and brought them to the table. Sitting down across from her grandmother, she uncapped the whisky and poured in a hearty shot. When Gran winked at her, she then made a great show of pouring an equal amount of it in her own mug. Gran smiled her pleasure and nodded at the woman who’d once been the tiny baby she’d crooned to sleep. It seemed like yesterday. It seemed like a home movie that had belonged to someone else. Ninety-goddamned-one years old had a way of doing that to memories though.
The two sipped in relative silence, punctuated only by the necessity of smacking their lips and letting out an “Ahh” as the whisky hit them with its heat. Finally Gran slapped her hand on the table and said, “Nuh! Enough procrastination. I promised to tell you the story, so tell you I will. Keep in mind, you‘re the only living soul in this family to have heard it. The only other person who ever knew what happened was your Great Uncle Jack, and his part died with him back in ‘95, angels and roosters pr‘tect his soul.”
“You have my word, Gran,” Emily replied. “All I know is something happened back in ‘66. Mom remembers spending a week with Grandpa Jim and Uncle Jack’s parents, something she claims never happened other than that one time. She just remembers a week of being told to sit up straight, eat her vegetables, wipe her feet, and keep quiet.”
“I’m glad that’s all she remembers,” said Gran. “She was my eldest, but at twelve years old, she didn’t need to know anything about what happened.” Gran paused and stared into her mug for a minute, collecting and sorting memories and bits of the story. She took another long pull from the mug before she continued. “Yup. She was twelve, your Uncle Ted was ten, your Aunt Annie was nine, and Uncle Ray was seven. By then we were living on Lake Shore Drive. Your Grandpa was working the fishing boats. He’d be gone for weeks on end, then home for maybe a week before heading out again. Those weeks he’d spend resting, drinking, bribing the kids to go to sleep early so he could have at me.” This she said with a knowing smirk. Seeing Emily blush, she continued, “Oh-ho-ho… you kids don’t think you wrote the book on having fun in the sack, do you? He was a handsome, strapping man, and we were both blessed with healthy libidos.”
Gran let a wistful silence drop between them for a minute then, almost as if to herself, “What’s it been? Twenty seven years? I still miss the man every day. I miss his grin, and I miss the way his massive hand would cup the back of my neck when we kissed.” Gran sighed.
Emily shifted in her chair. She wasn’t uncomfortable with this intimacy. In fact, she was glad to hear that her grandmother had had such a wonderful love life. However, she was more than a little anxious to hear The Story. She watched Gran carefully. She didn’t want to tire her. Gran must have sensed Emily’s slight disquiet. She waved her hand in the air next to her face, as if brushing away old cobwebs.
“Yes. Lake Shore Drive. 1966. Your Grandpa had just left on another fishing trip after having been home for a week. I dropped the kids off at school and went on to do my errands - the grocery store, the butcher, the cleaners. I got back to the house and a fella, name of Jerry was waiting by the garage. That was no big deal. Your Grandpa was gone so often that he had hired Jerry on a few occasions to fix things in the house that he didn’t have time for. I figured he must have called him to do some odd job and forgotten to tell me. I opened the garage door and he offered to help me carry in the groceries. I was happy to let him help. Once everything was in, I offered him coffee and some blueberry muffins I’d made that morning. He thanked me but said no. He seemed uncomfortable being in the house. I tried to set him at ease and asked if Jim had called him to fix something. That seemed to make him even more uncomfortable and he didn‘t answer right away. I don’t know why my hackles weren’t up - I guess I was just too preoccupied with what I needed to get done that day. It wasn’t until I felt his knuckles on the side of my head, throwing me to the ground, that I realized what… what was…”
Gran paused. Raising a wrinkly, leathered hand to her equally wrinkled face, she scrubbed at it as if trying to remove decades of filth. Emily let out a shuddery sigh and said, “Gran, you don’t have to…” But Gran, eyes still closed, raised her hand in the universal sign for stop. Emily clamped her lips shut with an audible noise that sounded like she was trying to swallow the word hub.
Gran looked up at her, managed a slight smile, and said, “It’ll be better once it’s out. You’ll see. But creepin’ Jesus in the dark, child! Pour me another shot of that Irish Joy Juice, willya?” Emily obliged and helped herself to the same. Gran took a sip, grimaced a little, and then grinned. “How do you kids say it… that’s some good shit!” They both laughed until Gran once again waved her hand in the air as if clearing away cobwebs.
“Back in those days, women didn’t talk about rape. It was still seen by most folks as something shameful that happened because women somehow asked for it. I remember, when the door slammed and I knew he was gone, I wept. I wept because I was so glad to still be alive. The whole time I kept thinking, ‘I have kids. I can’t leave my kids.’ And I think that maybe saved me. It called on something steely and strong in me. I don’t know how long I lay there on the floor, but eventually I sat up. I was in rough shape - he’d hurt me pretty badly. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have called anyone. As it was, the only person I could think to call was Uncle Jack. He was still with the sheriff’s department then. I didn’t even have to tell him what happened, or to come right away. He knew when he heard my voice that it was bad. He showed up ten minutes later, said he’d left the lights and sirens blazing until he got into the neighborhood.
I must have looked pretty bad. Jack took care of everything. Everything. He cleaned me up like I was a little baby. Held me like a little baby when I fell apart sobbing. He cleaned the house and put away the groceries I’d brought in. He picked up the kids from school and brought them over to his folks house. All he told the folks was that I’d come down with a late-in-life case of the measles and the doctor said to keep the kids away for a week until they ran their course. Nobody questioned it. He came over every day and fed me. But, hell’s bells, wasn’t he relentless about asking me what happened and who did it."
After a couple of days I finally broke down and told him. It wasn’t that I was trying to protect that piece of shit in any way. I think it was that I just couldn’t bring myself to speak his name. The next day when Jack came by, I was sitting in the old rocker. He came in, took my hands and got down on his knees like he was going to propose. All he said was, ‘The cause of your pain is no longer an issue.’ I must have seemed a little confused because he gave me that look that you give a child when you’re trying to tell them something for their own benefit. He tried again, ‘You don’t need to worry. Everything’s been taken care of. Everything. Understand?’”
I understood. Back in those days Everett was just a little nothing town. Not much to it at all. It would have been easy to “lose” someone on one of the nearby old logging trails. Easy to lose them in such a way as they’d never be heard from again. I have a hunch that Jack and some of the other deputies took Jerry for a hike in the woods and… he simply got lost is all.”
Here Gran leveled Emily with her classic Get This Straight look and continued, “A little more than eight months later your Uncle Tommy was born. No. I know what you’re thinking. But, no. Your Grandpa wasn’t the father. I always knew almost right away when I was pregnant, and I know I wasn’t pregnant when Jim went back out to sea. I know when it happened. But I never told your Grandpa. I never told anyone. And Jack only knew his side of things. He might have suspected, but obviously, he was a beautifully discrete man.”
When Tommy was born, I doted on him. I know everyone thought it was because he was the baby of the family, or that I loved him more, or some such nonsense. It wasn’t that at all. If I gave him more of myself than I did to my other kids, it was because… well… I just felt like a child who’d been spawned in such evil as all that needed something extra to carry him through this life. I wasn’t about to let the horror of one morning ruin the life of an innocent.”
“There you have it, Lovely Girl. The Story. Now I guess I don’t have any secrets at all to take with me to the grave!” Gran chuckled. She sat up straight and put the mug to her lips and took in the remaining whisky in one big gulp, then sucked air in through her teeth before she let out a forced breath.
Emily said nothing for many moments. She sat looking across the table at the old woman. She could see the wrinkles shift slightly, as if a veil, and she saw the strong, energetic, beautiful young woman that her grandmother had once been. She saw the fierce determination flash in her eyes, and the humor, always the humor. Gran raised an eyebrow at her as if to ask, “What have you to say to all this?” Emily pondered the many things she could say right now. She could say that she was honored to have been the one to whom the story was told, that she thought her grandmother was an amazing human being, that she felt blessed to have come from such good stock. A million things to say ran through her mind at a frenetic speed. What she managed to get out, through a half-choked sob, was, “I want to grow up to be just like you!”
Gran laughed. Gran laughed so long and hard that it sent her into a coughing fit. She wiped at her eyes with a crumpled napkin and took a few deep breaths. “Ohhhh. Hooo. Lord love a duck, Emily. I do believe you’re already there.” She reached across the table and took Emily’s right arm by the wrist. “Everything you’ve ever needed, everything you need, is right here,” she brought Emily’s hand up and made her touch her own head. “And right here.” She placed Emily’s hand over her heart before letting go of her wrist. “Believe me, Honey. It’s all there. Everything else is just the business of life.”
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: Lake Shore Drive, 1966. I gave Jester Queen this prompt: All it needs is a little elbow grease.
Posted by Barb Black at 5:35:00 PM