Friday, December 29, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 50: another Kristy

Another Kristy

I don't know her well at all, the 80-ish landlord of the catty-corner upstairs unit, but because we use the same handyman we have talked occasionally.  The handyman often confuses us because we have the same name.  I am "Downstairs Kristy."  At his last visit to my house, he told me that 'Upstairs Kristy' has pancreatic cancer.

I spoke with her as she and her husband cleaned out the condo to sell.  She called me young which made me splutter with laughter.  

"Oh, fifty is just the beginning," she said.


"Well, it would have been.  Had I known."

100 days of 100 words, day 49, just another day

Just Another Day

Boy argument refereed.  Ruffled feathers soothed; tears dried.  Book read aloud to relieve the cliffhanger of last night's bedtime.  

Caffeine consumed.  Niece's birthday card conceptualized and sketched out.

Watch band fixed.

Spider relocated.  Kitchen cleaned.  Floor scrubbed.  Laundry laundered.  (Why does the house never seem to actually be clean?)

Christmas tree de-ornamented and removed.  Gift returns packaged and labeled.  Donations sorted, boxed, and bagged.  (Does the amount going out equal the amount that just came in?  Where will we store it all?)

Lost game controller located (again).  Bills paid.

Toilet plunged, twice.  Meals prepared, thrice.  My personal to-do list:  untouched.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 48: #metoo, part 4

#metoo, Part 4

The point of the #metoo campaign is to acknowledge how widespread sexual assault and harassment are so I feel I should point out that I wrote about *easy* ones.  I did not describe the two date rapes or the soul-crushing loss of innocence I experienced at age 9.  Nor did I talk about the man on the dance floor with a gun in his waistband who really, really didn't want to let me leave until I came up with an elaborate lie about a plane I had to catch and gave him "one kiss."

I didn't even write all the easy ones.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 47: difficult gratitude

Difficult Gratitude

I find it difficult to remember to be grateful for what I've lost.  Out of life, out of mind, right?  Here is a partial list of things I am glad are out of my life:

broken foot
certain obsessions
crippling depression (still there, just not crippling)
different rates for long-distance phone calls
excessive humidity
food service work
knee scooter
minimum wage jobs
paralyzing anxiety (still there, just not paralyzing)
poison ivy
potty-training my kids
shoulder pain
standardized tests
term papers
victim mentality

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

100 days of 100 words, days 45 and 46: #metoo parts 3.1 and 3.2

#metoo, Part 3.1, IT

A phone call:  one of my housemates had been killed in a car crash.  I began walking home, crying through downtown, on into the neighborhood: flower beds, sprinklers, tree-lined sidewalks.  My backpack sat heavily on my shoulders.  She was just 20.

A jeep blocked an intersection so I waited to cross but the guy waved me over; he needed directions.  When I got to the driver's window, he hoisted his hips to show me his erection, fist-clenched.  Fuck's sake.  I shook my head, turned directly around, tears drying to outrage, and I noticed something.  He wasn't even looking at me.  He was looking at IT.

#metoo, Part 3.2, Animals

When male elephants reach adolescence, they are kicked out of the herd because they are toxic with testosterone.  It is leaking out of their eyes.  They cannot be in society.  This rejection of horny young males occurs in many species.

We humans are supposed to be different or above, to restrain and control.  Sometimes we aren't.  Sometimes we don't.  That man in the jeep was leaking testosterone.  I am not excusing him.  But it wasn't my job to teach him how to politely manage the penis he was so proud of.  I wanted to kick him out of the herd. Whose job is it?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 44: #metoo, part two, the rapist next door

#metoo, Part Two, The Rapist Next Door

Junior year, I'm studying late at night, when I hear a woman screaming outside.  She is staggering from the house next door, half-dressed, sobbing, "No one has ever treated me like that!"  We sit on the curb.  I hold her.  Help her get dressed.  Can't convince her to call the police or even a rape crisis hotline.  We smoke a cigarette and she tells me about it and then she wobbles off down the street clutching her purse and jacket, still crying quietly.  The house next door is dark and quiet.  I go back inside.  Never learned her name.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 43: #metoo, part one, first do no harm

#metoo, Part One, First Do No Harm

My appointment had been squeezed into his schedule because it was considered urgent but that meant his entire staff was at lunch.  During the consult, he stared unabashedly at my breasts.  I was not dressed provocatively.  I should not have to say that.

After the exam, with my pupils still fully dilated and, for some reason, in an exam chair which was fully reclined, he wrote his notes with my chart balanced on my chest.

He was a retina specialist charged with determining if I was going blind.  I was, but he didn't catch it.  He was looking somewhere else.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 42: force of personality

Force of Personality

A man waiting to turn got frustrated and yelled, “Move, you fat cow!”  I, who had been silenced by the force of her personality, suddenly (sort of) found my voice.  “Shut up,” I countered impotently.  I spoke while looking straight ahead.  “So rude!  What an ass.”  Leslie said nothing. She pulled out and drove grimly down the street.  In that moment I felt judged by her, perhaps because I had not adequately defended her, or because I couldn’t look at her, or maybe because she was accustomed to pushing every bad feeling out of her and onto whoever was nearest.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Because She Takes on Many Forms

Recently accepted poem


Because She Takes on Many Forms
The mouth of the river kisses
into the ocean as a loving gesture
toward me. And the arms of chairs,
which could be traps, offer
a statement of love
that anyone could see.
Papers I hold in my pocket
become as soft as her skin
in time. I weep when she cuts
her hair, but follow in the heat
collecting Spanish moss
she trails behind as a clue.
The creatures she sends
will keep me warm. I can’t complain.
I see her in every view
the window frame selects
and feel her in my own pockets.
Waving good-bye to her
is a privilege I take

every time I turn around.

100 days of 100 words, day 41: scab saga

Scab Saga

Owen fell on asphalt coming in from recess and acquired two impressively scraped knees, one scraped elbow, bruises.  Knees and elbows, being knees and elbows, bend frequently and therefore scab slowly.

I forgot how fascinating wounds can be.

We get multiple briefings a day on scab formation:  color, texture, dimensions, tenacity.  How are scabs affected by shower?  Weather?  Clothing?  Sleep?  Do they become skin?

He wears one leg of his pants rolled up.  He says it's to avoid chafing but I'm pretty sure it's to encourage admiration and conversation.

I don't care.  All I'm thinking is:  PLATELETS!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 40: scabs


It's my fault.  First I looked up an old friend and found plagiarism (Leslie Harpold, Unintended Personality Test), then I looked up my old stepmother (Spider LegsMind Games), and then I spent hours in obsession and anxiety, and still more with bad dreams.

I'm looking for the line between letting resentments fester and letting go of them for my own health.  Am I squelching my feelings, just pushing them down, or can I truly free myself and surrender that pain?  

True:  if you pick it, it won't heal.  Also true:  If you don't cut out the cancer, it will spread.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 39: Leslie Harpold

Leslie Harpold

Reader: you'll have to mentally insert the stream of profanity that goes with this.  

Eleven years ago she died, this friend from college.  Troubled but very talented.  A writer.

Online I found a video of her reading MY story to a live audience in NYC.  I found a link to the text.  She did not credit me.  She did not change a word.  The whole thing is there, title to ending, except for my name.

Yesterday I found a site bemoaning the loss of her online writing.  Except, wait!  This story!  This video!  Links!

Insert your most inventive invective here.

Monday, September 4, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 38: museum


More than the jewels of royalty or the chalice of the high priest, I am moved by items of daily use.  A drinking cup.  A button.  Fragments of textiles, grocery lists, shoes.  Paraphernalia of the rich and powerful impress but these other objects affect personally and profoundly:  the millions who came before and also shivered in fear of rejection and worried about feeding their children and told jokes and gossiped.  And made beauty! -- shaped pottery, beaded fabrics, sang to their children.  Created stories out of shapes in the stars.

Meanwhile, this is my drinking cup, my grocery list.  Where are my shoes?

Friday, August 25, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 37: glimpse


That's all it takes.  That's how ingrained, how built-in, devious, and sinister it is.  I catch a brief, unflattering glimpse of myself and I'm completely undone.  I'm spiraled to worthlessness and struggling for purpose.  Change clothes three times.  Make tea.  Fantasize about taking a knife to offending parts.  Decide to never eat again.  Eat.  Decide to exercise.  Don't.  

Remember:  this is my body:  it grew and birthed twins at 40, walks miles with only minor complaints, adapts to vision loss again and again, does what it's supposed to every day, and gives me crazy dreams at night.  And it's not perfect.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 36: white privilege

White Privilege

When the boys joked about bringing switchblade combs to school to fool people, I thought about it for a while before we had the conversation.  

Have you heard about Black Lives Matter?  No?  So, there's this thing that's been happening in our country...for a very long time.  Black parents have to tell their kids, unfortunately, that the police might kill them.  Can you imagine?  No?  Me neither.  

What they've learned in school about MLK and the civil rights movement conveys a mission accomplished.  So...disillusionment...but with privilege.  Told them to stick with a black kid if they're out and police stop them.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 35: saying thank you to my 22-year-old self

Saying Thank You to My 22-year-old Self

I have come to use the metric of smart-funny-kind to identify the people to whom I'm most likely to feel close, most likely to let in at all.  This is completely subjective, obviously; another person's idea of humor might not match mine.  Smart, funny, and unkind:  no thank-you.  The other permutations represent people who are perfectly wonderful to be around, but the trifecta means we'll probably be good friends. 

Somehow, back when I wasn't always making good choices, I managed to attract a man who is brilliant, gut-bustingly funny, and relentlessly kind.  And I've been with him ever since.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 34: volunteer


As Staff Coordinator at the all-volunteer crisis center, I had the power to 'deactivate' other volunteers.  The most common reason for deactivation was three blown shifts; phones had been covered 24/7 since 1969 so not showing up was a big deal.

But the one time I deactivated someone, it was for making racial jokes that discomfited others.  At 20, I took a stand against a man twice my age who had volunteered there for half my life.

No self-congratulation--I was tormented.  He was so old.  They were just jokes.  But, unlike some decisions I made then, I think I got this one right.

Friday, July 21, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 33: affronted


I picture her running, a sash fluttering around her waist.  Attached to the sash is a net and into the net goes a pebble every time she feels affronted.  Clink.  Every grievance, petty or weighty, imagined or undeniable:  clink, clink.

She's been at this a long time. She can no longer run.  She trudges.  "But it wasn't fair."  Clink.  "It's not my fault."  Clink.  Sweating, purposeful.  Her determination has always been strong.  "How can you ask me to let this go?"  Clink.  "Why should they get away with it?"   Clink.  "I'm not stuck in the past."  Clink, thud.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 32: the truth will set you free

The Truth Will Set You Free

I've had a lot of tough conversations with my kids.  I'm sure there will be many more.  This one was tough.  I had to confront one boy about lying.  There was no question that he was lying about taking something of his brother's.  We asked him to tell the truth and he fudged around but finally admitted that he was embarrassed and had lied.

I want him to know that telling the truth will make him feel better.  Admit that you made a mistake, made a selfish choice, and then let it go.  Don't carry that shame.  Set it down and move on.

Monday, July 17, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 31: Fire and Rain

Fire and Rain

Hours after I learned my brother was dead, I heard Fire and Rain on the radio, began sobbing, and ran into the bathroom because I didn't want to freak out my two 6-year-olds.  I always thought that I'd see you again...

When the guitar teacher began playing it as a demonstration for the boys, I felt my head fill up.  Not just my eyes; I felt it in my ears, my throat, behind my cheekbones.  It didn't take me to memories of my brother but to learning of his death.  Healing now through little boy voices reaching for the notes, struggling to find the chords.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 30: grief


I grieve with others, in empathy.  I experience pain witnessing tragedy and I clutch, with others, at the petals of hope in times of despair.

But this grief is utterly selfish.  It is me missing you, me feeling the hole in my life, the emptiness in my womb, the relationships that died while the people still live and the ones that died with death.

I can't prevent grief, can't stop myself from loving, from expecting, hoping, planning.

Sometimes I am scabby and oozing.  

And sometimes I am a crackerjack improviser, spinning deftly from that vortex, reconfiguring myself with everything that's left.

Monday, July 10, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 29: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

Here.  It's yours.  You can have your own bedroom for 4 years instead of 2.  But also, before that, you will share with the baby so you can change him in the night and feed him in the morning.  Daddy might take off your pajamas when he thinks you are asleep.  

You will babysit and clean houses and sell Italian sausages at rowdy, testosterone-soaked festivals instead of running track or playing flute because you have to pay for all your own stuff.  

But, yes:  when listing the children, your name will come first.  

That was mean-spirited and self-indulgent.  But it sure felt good.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 28: metaphor


We can't ever really know what another person is thinking or experiencing.  We use metaphor to swirl up a bit of meaning here, and another bit there, and hopefully, eventually, we are standing in the same water.  It took a metaphor to get me there.  Metaphor, in all its forms, creates communication, connection.  The dancers in unison.  The instruments.  The paint and clay and words.

I find God in the fascinating vagaries of weather and world and cosmos, the euphoric love I feel for my children, and the soul-bursting fresh air revelations found in the communication made possible by art.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

100 days of 100 words, day 27: mid-life crisis

Mid-Life Crisis

Napoleon wrasse sits in the aquarium, working his thick blue lips.  Over 40 pounds, over 40 years old with a large protruding hump on his forehead.  The hump used to be less prominent, when he was a she.  Smaller fish dart around but he remains unperturbed.  Aside from the excitement of his recent sex-change, his life consists of sitting in this aquarium.  For forty years.

As I ponder this, he slowly moves to a back corner and turns tail up, nose in the sand, wiggling.  "What is he doing?" I ask the nearby employee.  "Physical therapy."  Middle age is a bitch.

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.