Tuesday Triptych

psycho

For Life

I stepped in for a quick rinse, afterward. I told him this: just a quick rinse. When he stepped into the shower a few minutes later, I said: “Oh. I didn’t think you were coming in.” I said, “Hahaha, I’m actually done. But I’ll stay in with you for a while, if you want.”

“Well, yeah, I had to pee. I went into the other bathroom. After debating about whether we were at the point in our relationship where I could just pee in the same bathroom.”

“Oh, HELL no, I said.” And then, “I mean, for that matter, why wouldn’t you just pee in the shower? Or are you going to claim to be one of those people who has never, ever peed in the shower? Funny enough, a friend of mine was telling me just this week that she found out her fiance has never once peed in the shower. She completely freaked out. She’s going around saying to everyone: ‘What kind of person has never once peed in the shower? What does that SAY!? Am I making a gigantic mistake here?’ So, like I said, are you going to claim to be one of those people?”

“If I answer that,” he said, “then we are mated for life. For. Life.”

 

DANGER

A while back my friend Judy said to me – about the restaurant in my cool new neighborhood where we had just been seated: “You realize every place we’ve gone to looks exactly the same, right?” To which I replied, of course: “shut up.”

In fact, I hadn’t realized.

Photo by Clayton Hauck for Longman & Eagle

Photo by Clayton Hauck for Longman & Eagle

“Yeah,” Judy went on. “Every one of them is medium-size-cozy, has a tin ceiling, at least one brick wall, a beautifully-staged and lit bar, dim-ish lighting, and ample wood somewhere in the decor.

“Shut up,” I said. But then: “You’re totally right.”

These are, in fact, my happy places. Throw in a little bit of industrial chic, or maybe some artfully mismatched furniture (my favorite being what I call Vintage Funeral Parlor), and I walk through those front doors believing with all my heart that a wonderful wonderful experience will be…experienced.

My eyes will drink in the sumptuous visual scene, the place will buzz and hum with all the cacophony of life being enjoyed, and a thoroughly unsullen youngster will ebb and flow from my table with all variety of things to be sipped, nibbled, slurped, tasted, and S A V O R E D.

I will feel warmly enveloped by my fellow humans – a soul among souls – while they maintain a comfortable distance. I will feel the tension slip from my muscles. And I will be filled with an odd sense of hopefulness – as if the fact of people gathering, enjoying cocktails invented and mixed by devoted artisans, breaking break together, laughing heartily, bending their heads closer to share an intimate thought – means that it can all be OK.

He and I had tried to come to this restaurant the previous week, when we left in the disgrace of not knowing that by 6:30 pm, the wait time would be well over two hours. We tried again, slightly smug in our arranging the entire day to get there fifteen minutes after they opened – at 5:15 – to discover the wait time was a manageable 20 minutes.

“Why don’t you wait at the back bar,” they suggested. “We’ll come and find you when your table is ready.” I ordered our drinks from a guy who had two well-inked sleeves and a beard that looked exactly like my son’s did after his 5-month hike of the Appalachian Trail. A woman complimented his hat, which I knew would fill him with pride and delight. In other words, the beginning could not have gone any better.

Sheesh, when did it even start?

Dunno, exactly. Somewhere in my woozy dreamy perusal of the brick wall and candlelit bar, somewhere in the middle of one of his mesmerizingly elongated stories, I slipped into that old Gary Larson cartoon about the dog:

cartoon

The room slipped sideways. All I heard was: blah blah blah DANGER, blah blah DANGER blah blah blah blah DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER DANGER DANGER.

Something about him bringing a knife to a gun fight. And ending up getting shot. Of course. Trying to be all heroic. But all I could think was: “What kind of a guy carries a KNIFE? What kind of a guy gets involved with people who carry GUNS? [Metaphor alert]

Run, I told myself. Run fast, run far, run now.

With the room all sideways, I could no longer see him as the same man who was in the bathroom, in the shower.

I’m sixty-one years old. My vision has all the wear and tear of those long years.

 

Mighty Fine

When did every. Single. Thing. Become . So. Hard.

When did it all start coming so fast that that there’s no chance, no chance at all, to catch up.

How did I get to be this person whose idea of the perfect future is to find a fine front porch with two old rocking chairs, and set about the business of sitting, gazing contentedly into the landscape. Maybe after an hour or so, I would say:

“Mighty fine day.”

And you would say:

“Sure is.”

Another hour or two later, I might say:

“Don’t get many days this nice.”

And you would say:

“Sure don’t.”

rockers

 

 

Touche

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In its first incarnation, my novel which ended up as You, in your Green Shirt, began as a memoir, entirely non-fiction. Over a process of years, two agents, many publishers, a lot of thought and two complete rewrites, I determined that the material – the sum total of story, voice, and intent –could be better served if I abandoned the “facts*” and allowed the characters free reign to tell their tale.

Still very much in a new and experimental place, my current thinking is that A January Diary might benefit from a similar break from reality. Thus (I’m always looking for an opportunity to use the word thus!!), following is the first foray into the realm of the constructed reality known as fiction for A January Diary.

Touche

It was after the first time we – hmmm, should I say made love? Had sex? Fucked? It’s best when it’s all three, all at once.

Should I fault myself for not remembering the details? Of the actual sex, I mean. Other things, I recall with the clarity of a photograph that sits right in front of me. One that I can stare at, examine over and over, discover new and more new. There was the Very Serious expression on his face. His extreme thinness, combined with his heights – he’s a blue person! I thought. One of the blue people from the movie Avatar!! The shocking cold of his foot afterward, as he traced it along my calf.

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There was the languid and lovely movement from the breathless, voiceless sinking into one another’s bodies that immediately followed, to the murmured first words, to the return of full sentences, to the eventual time when we woozily sat on the edges of the bed and regarded our widely-strewn clothing.

By the time all of our clothing had found its way back onto our bodies, we stood fully upright and regular conversation had resumed. He was saying that he really needed to get started on his Medicare stuff, grumbling about the whole pain-in-the-ass of it. I said that I was counting the days until I qualified. Why, I said, do you have any idea what I’m paying for my health insurance right now? Being a Company Man, the kind with paid-for health insurance, of course he had no idea.

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I threw out the monetary figure, which elicited a visible level of shock and horror. He actually paced around his hallway a little, trying to wrap his head around the sum. Ha! Saw my opening. So with a totally straight face I said: well, this is as good a time as any to segue into something I really need to talk with you about. You can probably understand now why I have an ad up on Craigslist – I’m advertising for an arranged marriage for health insurance.”

Without a second’s hesitation he said: Hell, I’ll marry you. Let me call the benefits office right now and get the info. Lemme just go grab my phone.” And with that, he walked away, pretending to search for the phone.

Touche, I thought.

Touche, indeed.

wedding

The First Time I Died

papoose

The air was hot, and dry, with a burning white sky ablaze from the sun. There was no wind. It was so utterly unmoving that the scene was completely silent, like being in the movie theater when the sound suddenly snaps off and the picture continues in the dark, silent cave. “Have I suddenly gone deaf?” I thought, and I looked around to see if anything was moving – a branch, a lizard, a bird – something I might be able to hear.

The young woman wore full native dress. A skirt that went all the way to the ground, a long sleeve shirt with the sleeve bottoms rolled to reveal inches and inches of bracelets. Her waist-length braid had been bound with a thin leather strap. She turned to glance at me when I approached the edge, briefly, then looked back down. She did not say a word. She did not say hello, which I thought was odd, because almost everyone says hello to a four-year-old child, especially one who is approaching the edge of the Grand Canyon.

She sat very near the edge. But she wasn’t sitting, actually, she crouched, as if it wer the most relaxed position in the world, and she wove her basket. I watched the quickness of her hands, young hands, and I thought she might be very young despite the baby beside her. A papoose. I was proud of myself for knowing the word for an Indian* baby who was bound up in a beautifully adorned little cocoon. The baby was wide awake, but utterly silent, his calm black eyes focused far away.

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I thought they must be miserably hot. In my 1960 shorts and sleeveless blouse, I couldn’t imagine how they seemed so——————

My foot slipped. At first there was just the scrape of my saddle shoe’s heel against the dry dirt. Then the grate of my calf. I felt the skin rub away and felt the first tiny droplets of blood rise to the surface. But after that I was in free fall. My feet flew out from under me and I was face to face with the hot white sky, falling, and falling.

My back hit first. I felt the sensation, the pain I suppose I would call it, for less than a second. It was like the wind being knocked out of you, except I knew that it was not the wind. I was instantly surrounded by the blackest darkest night, but within the black, an ocean of spark-like bursts flew from my body in all directions at once. I died.

I lay in bed for a long time before I believed that I could breathe.

I have died many times in my dreams. This was the first.

scott-snibbe

scott-snibbe

scott-snibbe

*The term “Native American” was not in widespread use at this time.

 Graphic by Scott Snibbe

Lucky Sweater

“Lucky Sweater” is the third entry from A January Diary, which is very much an experiment in writing.  Each of the entries from Diary is meant to stand alone, to evoke impressions much the same way as a poem does.  When the entries are taken together, as a whole, they tell a story — of sorts — in the way a gallery show of visual art tells a story, without the connections being explicitly drawn. Well, we’ll see how it goes…

anthro1

It’s not like I chose. More like it chose me. I didn’t even have the idea, wasn’t walking around on the constant outlook, scanning the landscape of my life in a perpetual hunt.

But when it caught my eye, something made me look again. And with that simple second glance, I knew. This was it. Truly it. The critical armament. The charm that could tip the balance of the scales.

I ordered it. It wasn’t something that I would wear, ordinarily. Though I do tend to be a fan of Anthropologie’s boho uber chic extravagant exorbitant tatters, the fashion sense can tend towards the jejuene and seem to be designed for those size 0 and under. Still, the deep emerald green. The sparkling brooch that held the two sides together; it perfectly teetered the line between vintage treasure and cheap trash. The refined softness of the lambs wool. The three cotton flowers, in muted earth tones, appliqued across the cardigan’s front, sequins randomly strewn onto them.

“I am exactly what you need,” this sweater shouted at me. And I believed it. “I will carry your water, give your weary head a strong shoulder to lean on, rock your weary body and sing you a lullabye. ” Yes, it said all that and more. ” I will wrap you in soft warmth. I will be with you every moment. I will hear the beat of your heart, and I will know all that it feels. I will keep your child safe. All that time that you wait, I will keep her safe.”

I wore the sweater only one other time after that. A group of friends from the neighborhood wanted me to join them at a local Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day. And since that marked a far cry from my usual, I figured it made sense to wear a sweater that fit the same description. Besides, it was the only item in my wardrobe that was sort-of green. And even though a dramatically over-served bar patron spilled an entire pint of beer on it while becoming increasingly overly friendly, compelling the bartender to leap over the bar, hoist said patron over his shoulder and deposit him on the curb; well, I didn’t really think the sweater was a factor. That’s not luck, good or bad, that’s just St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.

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Angels

angel

Entry #2: A January Diary

The plane was nearly empty. When my mother switched seats to talk with my aunt, I had the entire row of three seats to myself. She probably thought that if I were by myself, I would fall asleep, as my older brother had done, his knees drawn up and his freckled face squished against the seat back. His long skinny legs – like my mother’s- showed a mile of bright white sock before they disappeared into his pants leg.

My grandmother was dying, and we were racing across the country to see if we could make it in time to see her, while she was still “her.” My other grandmother had died three months previously. I missed her terribly and talked with her every night while I lay in bed. This other grandmother, the one who had just suffered a stroke, had always been more distant, in every way. She was a stranger who visited infrequently, made my mother send me to my room when I had disobeyed, and thought a disgusting menthol cough drop was a reasonable peace offering offering that I should leave me deeply grateful

Way below us was a solid floor of dazzling, puffy clouds, like a miles-deep bed that would catch us if we fell. The sinking sun shone on them like it does on a new winter snowfall, making tiny lights dance in front of your eyes from the blinding white. I believed those tiny white blue yellow bursts of light were angels. The same ones you could see in the very middle of the night if you stared very, very hard at the nothingness of the dark.

I spent a lot of time wondering if my grandmother would look like her older self as an angel, the way I had known her, or like her younger self. I wondered if she got to choose. I tried to picture her based on the one picture I had seen of her as a young woman, plain and clear-eyed and strong, her arm around her big sister.

I rested my forehead against the airplane window – wondering what in the world it was made from that could be strong enough to hold an entire airplane together – as the sun dropped below the cloud floor. The light changed to an in-between that was neither light nor dark. It was nothing. I felt perfectly suspended, floating with no effort, in an endless world between light and dark. I was eight years old, and I thought : Death. This is what death is like. Exactly and completely…nothing at all. The angels are all around. And you float.

winged

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Bottom two photos: Winged Victory, also known as Nike