Friday, May 19, 2017

Self Portrait, 3rd Person

The haunted child has a pigeon
on each shoulder.  The birds
are not haunted.  They do not know
fear.  The child knows
a thing or two:  times tables, state
capitals, the words that get her home
when she is lost.

The beautiful child carries a shawl
but it means nothing.  Her beauty
means nothing.  She rushes through a forest,
bare feet cushioned by pine needles
and arrives at the back door
of a little cottage.

The curious child, mouthy and distant,
wears white cotton, and fidgets like a woman
in pain.  She can see the very thing
you believe to be hidden.  She doesn’t want to.  
It’s just that, as soon as she achieves

silence, the vision arrives.  

The sad woman can’t help the aging.  She can
still bend over, she can still smile and remove her bra
as if to music.  When she smiles knowingly,
it means she knows.  When she flutters her hands,
it means she used to be a bird.

The pigeons on her shoulders, let’s say
they represent imagination.  Let’s admit
that they fail.  Let’s confess
that we don’t even know what success
of the imagination would look like.

And the woman, we must agree
that her tears aren’t real. But they could be,
if we weren’t watching.  She conceals her eyes,
but not from shame.  Out of dignity, aggressive
self-possession.  You should thank her.
But don’t wonder what it means.  She won’t
tell us.  Don’t ask.  Shhh.  Don’t say a word.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 26: selfless self-esteem

Selfless Self-Esteem

After 40 years of struggling to achieve a healthy body image, I think I've found a viable mental strategy that might get me there. 

The almost 15-year-old girl who lives next door is (among other things) beautiful, tall, willowy.   She will not have the short/dumpy body issues I did/do, but she *will* have her own.  As someone she sees as a role model, I owe it to her to show acceptance of what it is to be me at my age and to look this way.  Maybe acting comfortable will lead to feeling comfortable.  

Selfish selflessness.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 25: Greek tragedy

Greek Tragedy

The Place:  Detroit, Cooley High School, 1965

The Characters:  A 17-year-old girl, a 17-year-old boy

The Set-up:  The girl was attracted to the boy because his family was religious and listened to classical music.  The boy was attracted to the girl because her parents threw parties, drank, smoked, and listened to loud tunes.  

The Action:  A pregnancy, an elopement, and a marriage that was a misery of miscommunication, mixed signals, conflicting goals, and opposing objectives.  And four children.

The Climax:  A swampy divorce, ill-fated remarriages.

The Chorus:  The four children--Damaged, Affronted, Provoked, and Dead.

Monday, May 8, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 24: unintended personality test

Unintended Personality Test

There are those who want to hold my arm whenever I start walking and those who forget I can't see until I stumble.  Some fear I will be an easy victim, while others just enjoy getting to use my handicapper placard when I'm in the car.

My obese, plagiarizing, pathological-liar friend feared that I would embarrass myself while eating in a restaurant by missing my mouth and smearing food on my face.  My sister grieved that I might not be able to see her face.

Kids enjoy testing me and delight in finding the lacunae where I can't see them.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 23: the blueprint myth

The Blueprint Myth

It's easy to imagine that if not for certain choices (sometimes made by others), my life would have developed as it was "supposed to," that I would have reached my potential (whatever that is or was).  But the original blueprint has been modified, completely overhauled.  Sometimes, through the overlays, I can see the faint lines of the original and it is tempting to think that I can somehow get back to it.

Those decisions that rearranged my life:  I didn't foresee how completely they would alter my design.  I have no choice, however, but to live in the house I helped to build.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 22: (sad dance) and wonder

(Sad Dance) and Wonder

I didn't have the words to say good-bye to the baby brother whose birth I had celebrated with my 8-year-old happy dance and whose life I had tried to enhance and protect.  There is no longer a life to enhance (sad dance), so I protect the memories.  These words I'll keep.

When Scotty was 4, he admitted to my friend Carolyn and me that he had a crush but would not reveal the name.  What's it start with? we asked.  He said, "It starts with a 1."  Only after much cajoling could we learn the name of this numbered love:  1der Woman.

Friday, April 21, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 21: door


"No one let Kristy outside," stated the sign taped to the door I had finally found in my attempt to escape a college party featuring a complex net of past, current, and future lovers.  Startled, I stood there considering.  Relief from social anxiety was so close!  Would it count if I let myself outside?

Eventually, I smiled.  Eventually, I learned there was a cat named Kristy (didn't get to meet her).  Eventually, thankfully, I also outgrew that initial way of thinking which allowed me to believe that a sign handwritten by unknown people could stop me from going through a door.

Monday, April 17, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 20: spider legs

Spider Legs

She was more attractive than Tammy Faye Bakker, but shared Tammy Faye's cartoonish make-up strategy: thick black spider legs for eyelashes and slashed-on rouge and dark lips, lined outside their natural borders.  Her persona was sexier, more sly, more laced with a conviction that every man she met could be seduced, but she and Tammy Faye Bakker both smirked with righteous judgment and conveyed a smug superiority that just barely concealed a writhing insecurity.  Perhaps that insecurity was as terrible for my stepmother to live with as she was for me to live with.  I sure as shit hope so.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 19: love is a drug

Love Is A Drug

Pregnancy and childbirth bathed my brain in oxytocin, refiguring it down to the reptilian amygdala, carving very specific Lionel and Owen grooves.  As I nursed and cared for my babies, those grooves were periodically re-flooded, creating a perfect addiction.  

But people bond with and care for babies all the time without having gestated or birthed them.  Turns out the act of nurturing an infant and participating in daily care can also refigure the brain.  This is how I know that my first 'baby groove' was laid down by Scotty, whom I fed and comforted and diapered and carried on my hip.  My brain hurts.

Monday, March 20, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 18: mind games

Mind Games

Only rarely did she actually hit, but she liked to SMACK her hands next to their faces or rears and they would cry out anyway.  

She didn't like him in particular; that was obvious to anyone.

Before school, she would place him in the hallway and tell him not to move, not to get in anyone's way.  Then, with a few minutes to spare, SMACK!  "Get ready for school.  Now!  Don't miss the bus."

Racing around, grabbing food, breathless at the bus stop, stinging eyes.  

What does this do to one's mind?  Seriously--to the neural pathways and connections?  Definition of a mind fuck.

Monday, March 13, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 17: crime and punishment

100 Days of 100 words, day 17:  Crime and Punishment

My stepmother:  "I just kicked my own son out of the house for doing less than what you did."

What I did:  tracked down my mother in Detroit after not seeing her for five years.

What he did:  Burgle houses in the subdivision across the street.  Flood a home by placing a running hose in the basement window when the owners were on vacation.

I was not allowed to tell my siblings about my mom.  What must they have imagined that I did?  I tried not to care.  I made my face a blank.  I was leaving for college in two weeks.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 16: "It's definitely not leukemia"

"It's Definitely Not Leukemia"

These are the words we were relieved to hear the doctor say.  It's still serious, but my Baby B just has to live carefully for a few months until his platelets recover.  However, nothing takes away that couple of days when we weren't sure, when we wanted to cover him in bubble wrap, when I wished him back in my uterus.  And there's another feeling I don't know how to explain or accept:  guilty relief?  The opposite of schadenfreude.  Some of the other families in the waiting room heard a different sentence.  I would not trade, but empathy taints the relief.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 16: sleepwalker


Usually I can tell because he's disoriented but last night, after waking me at 11 and leading me into his bedroom, he made so much sense:  "You see, when I wake up in here and you are asleep in there, that's a recipe for nightmares."  I laid down next to him and promised to stay until he slept.  "But then I'll wake up again, no you:  Nightmare."  So I said I would stay for a really long time, until I knew he was past nightmares.  Next morning I told him I stayed until 2:30.  "But why were you there?"

Saturday, March 4, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 15: bargaining, part two

Bargaining, Part Two

Something I have always known hit me again recently:  This is it.  No redo.  No CTRL-Z.  Can't try it another way, another time.  This time I'll go it without the blindness.  This time I'll protect my brothers and speak up until someone listens.  I'll rewind and take my writing more seriously.

I suppose this thinking represents regrets.  Can regrets serve any purpose?  I need to accept that who I am, who I can never not be, was created by the life lived.  Real acceptance will be believing that it is not only enough-- it is good.

Monday, February 27, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 14: That Feeling When...

That Feeling When

That feeling when you're having a polite conversation because you have to and the furtive eye movements of your conversation partner convey that he would rather be a part of that group across the room and you would just as soon be talking to someone else also but goddammit we're going to stick this out even though you're using the time when he's talking to listen to another topic and when you're talking he's formulating opinions about that discussion over there until suddenly he just gives up mid-sentence and joins the other conversation but wait a minute:  I'm not the boring one here!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 13: bargaining


If bargaining is a stage of grief, I have been stuck there for 30+ years.  Like bargaining in relation to the finality of death, mine involves impossibilities.  I'll accept my growing blindness if my eyes are a prettier color--say the shade of green my siblings got.  Or:  Okay, I'm carrying a few extra pounds.  I just want them to be there instead of here.  There's always a balance in these mental machinations, as in a carefully calibrated mobile.  But it's preposterous!  What am I grieving?  Being born in this body?  As opposed to what?  Get to acceptance already!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 12: a light mood

A Light Mood

When the boys were newborns, Keith asked a friend, a renowned child development specialist, if she could distil her years of research and observation into one piece of advice for us.  She said the most important thing is "a light mood in the home."

When the boys leave the dinner table because they are doubled over with laughter, or say things like, "in this family, we get strong abs from laughing," I feel like I am winning as a parent.  When I think of the mood in the home where I grew up, I feel like a fucking miracle.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 11: dead bodies

Dead Bodies

I have carried two beloved pets to burial, wind-fluttered fur causing irrational hope which the dirt quashed.

My friend Greg wasn't embalmed or officially 'prepared.'  His mouth sat slightly ajar as if he were about to speak.  I spent hours in the room with his body and his people, until I knew in my body that he was no longer in his.

I saw my brother in a casket after he had been 'prepared' for viewing  His mouth was sewn shut, eyes glued down.  I rumpled his hair.  He wouldn't be roused.  I couldn't believe it.  Still can't.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 10: spanking


It only happened one time and it was because I walked around the block.  I had not broken the rule ("Don't cross the street"), but had apparently broken the spirit of the law by getting so far away and, even worse, I took my little sister with me.

I remember looking at the floor, blood rushing to my head, and thinking the four-year-old version of:  What the fuck are you doing?, while little sister looked on, sucking her thumb, big eyes, probably horrified but also likely feeling schadenfreude since she entered the world convinced that I always got preferential treatment.

Monday, January 9, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 9: Carolyn's grandma

Carolyn's Grandma

Carolyn's grandma played aggressive Yahtzee and she played for money.  She gave me and Carolyn a dixie cup of starter change.  She would re-roll all 5 dice, sometimes twice, and still win almost every time.  She got large straights right out of the cup and Yahtzees on the second roll.  How, in this game of chance?  Carolyn's grandma believed that she would get what she needed and she got it.  While I was counting my 2s and fretting over my upper-level bonus, she seemed to direct the dice as she wanted.  Carolyn's grandma took all my change that summer and it was worth it.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 8: anxiety


Not worry about a test, nervousness regarding social situations, tension related to a busy task list, or anything else related to actual real-world events.  

It is untethered.  There is no referent.

Suddenly, tension washes over of my whole body like rolling heat lightning so that I want to jump out of my skin, heart first.  I thrash my limbs, I scream quietly.  I know that it will pass.

I also know that it will return, sometimes preceded by the thought that it hasn't happened in a while, or that this would be a bad time for it.  There is no problem to trace back to and solve.  It is a fact of my life.

Monday, January 2, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 7: perfect moment

Perfect Moment

After a day of being not girlfriend, student, daughter, or sister, but just a girl in cut-offs and boots clearing camp pathways with a chainsaw, now tucked into a sleeping bag, blistered, battered, exhausted--but strong--on the top bunk, face turned to a window covered only with a thin screen to keep out bugs; chatter below and behind me, but me just watching tree limbs thrashed by occasional gusts which also blew the hair off my face and seeing the moon rise, it seemed, right out of the crook of a tree and thinking:  this is enough.