Friday, December 31, 2010

Wander and Witness

Don't tangle me with birthday balloon ribbons, ignored ivies and monthly mortgage payments to rounded rusty-bolted mailboxes where stenciled pink flowers fade from rain and the baseball bats of teenagers. Don't buy me pretty pointy shoes that press and pinch my baby toes into crumpled grumpy elders. Don't send me notarized fifty-year plans, life insurance applications or your old baby clothes. I don't need a parachute or several firemen grasping a bed sheet. I need to be free. Free from cell phone bills, arranged appointments and broken down cars. Free from calculated outings where time lines are drawn, erased and rewritten while feet shift in street lamp lit parking lots and restaurant lobbies. Free from decided disappointments and formulaic expectations of me. Free.

I recently read the book, "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakaurer. It is the story of a young man who couldn't stay still in society. Abandoning his wealthy parents, Christopher McCandless donated his savings account balance to a charity dedicated to ending world hunger and took to the open road in his used car. When the car refused to start on the side of a flooding river, he abandoned his wheels along with most of his possessions and began his travels by foot. For the next couple years, he squatted, hitchhiked, and camped, pausing occasionally to work for enough loot to buy necessary supplies and food for his final and most ambitious adventure, Alaska, where he lived for several weeks, sleeping in an abandoned bus, forging for berries and hunting squirrel before falling tragically ill and dying. Alone in the bus and brush, his already skeletal body became crippled by poisonous wild potato seeds, which were never recorded as poisonous in the boy's books. Severely weak, the young man was unable to hike for help and after days of suffering, he died from starvation and the poison.

McCandless and a few others have dedicated their lives to surviving, or not surviving, in the solitude of nature. In the woods of Alaska or in a dessert in Nevada, on an abandoned island in the Pacific, they hike, hunt, fish, think, read and write. These men, mostly men, discover their lives within the creaking trees of the unharmed wind; find God in the kindling of camp fires and joy within the land's voicelessness.

At this point in my little book report, my mother is calling me to plead that I continue shaving my armpits. It is her biggest fear for me. A fear, I've learned, that stems from the summer her sister briefly stopped shaving her underarms. "Rachey, whatever you do, please do not stop shaving your armpits!" With which I always reply, "MUM! I'm not GUNNA!" I will shear my armpits forevermore. I promise. And I will never move to the woods to live in an abandoned bus. The thought of that life frightens me more than running from cowboy bank robbers down steep slippery cement steps in high healed shoes and ankle weights. I don't know that I'll ever want to camp alone, let alone in a place considered an "outback," "wilderness," "the side of Rt.66" or "the woods." I have no plans to abandon society with a ten pound bag of rice, hunting rifle and crinkled copy of War and Peace. I tried making summer dresses and failed, as my immediate family enjoys recalling. I thought I was being crafty and savvy, buying discount fabric with my internship stipend, cutting and sewing pieces of material into makeshift skirts and dresses. Without a sewing machine or patterns, I'd lay on the fabric, wrapping it around myself, pinning it into place and attaching ribbon straps and bodice belts to keep the cheap cotton from falling down my nineteen-year-old frame. I was in Vermont at the time, interning at a community theater. When I called home to boast about my self-taught sewing skills, my mother mailed me a box of skirts. c/o Rachel Cummings.

I can respect the deeply dug desire to be alone. To never know what your day will entail and if you'll even survive it. To never receive insurance bills, angry letters or newspapers of sad suicide stories where little boys hold up classrooms at gunpoint before turning their guns toward their troubled heads. To have a life of leaving. Leaving acquaintances, possessions, gossip, caffeine addictions and the noise of the planet deteriorating.

Still I choose to be here amongst the chaos of humanity than at the mercy of the dark woods. I choose traffic and elevators, shopping malls and family reunions, music and conversations, company and confrontations. Homemade pie crust and citrus scented dish soap. Nights of sitting on stools in my favorite bar, chattering over the crackling of peanut shells and the sipping of hard apple cider. I choose yoga class, salad dressing, fat orange carrots and doughy brie cheese. I choose late nights at the movies, watching bad action movies with scoffing friends who, still tipsy from dinner at Chili's, chuckle with me until the credits roll and the cinema's staff waits with broomsticks, flashlights and trash bins. I choose burritos, tucked and swaddled, a baby of beans and salsa that steams when the flour skin is bit and torn. I choose my family of competitive comedians where everyone yells to be the heard by our mother, the Supreme Court judge of all that is funny. I choose to lay on the couch, listening to my father's impromptu acoustic guitar concerts. I choose to fight my brother's urgings to eat like a cavewoman. I choose to be here, amongst teasing matches with my sisters where my little sister punctuates every fight by yelling, "Well, Rachel pooooped in the closet!" Which, when this happened last week over Christmas' roast beef dinner, I exclaimed, "I was two years old!" And for the first time, my mother made a weird, inclining sound, as if to say, well not really. I looked to her to finish and after some questioning, I learned that the pooping in my mother's pumps incident happened not when I was two years old, but when I was four. ... I choose to be surrounded by strangers. To be alone in my body, in warm cafes and city sidewalks, wrapped between my headphones and in cold weather, my scarf strung around and around my neck like a maypole streamer. I hide in plain site.

But every few months, anxiety from ties, responsibility, and commitment rises in me like dead fish and I wonder my fate to become another one of these young vagrant men, these pioneers of loneliness. I think it might be natural: this vagabond in me. This need for flight. For we, humans, started as nomads, traveling behind buffalo herds, toward berries and better climates. My husband disagrees. "Humans have been settling for hundreds and hundreds of years." He tells me. But this just makes me wonder the historical correlation between symptoms of depression and systems of settlement.

I am starting a new full time job, leaving a perfectly fine job for another perfectly fine job. Two-week notices, I see, keep me sane, keep me sleeping in the same state with the same man. For something needs to change, progress, move. Otherwise, I collapse inside the gray lines of happiness, of happenstance. I know I am lucky to have love that loves me back, warm shelter and good food, lucky to be laughing against my lover's rhythmic ribcage like a cackling crow calling alarms to the corpses of cold roadkill, but all this while I wait for muses to appear in the windows of passing passenger side windows. For if mediocrity appears, it is as morose as the murder of child laborers and newly wed grooms. And boredom exposes time as a pile of mud that must be consumed with a spoon through one's gagging gullet until all that is left is a white flag in a puddle of yellow bile. I have no real tragedy. No grit scratching my skin. No oppression holding my head under water. Nothing to run from but my own uneasiness. So I'm moving. We're moving. Packing our things in boxes once again. Renting another moving truck and driving across town to unload and reorganize our possessions onto our old book shelves and into newly rented kitchen cabinets. By definition, I am happy. In this little marriage we have sweet safe sex where groaning grins and pointed public bones hit, pelvises dual and legs twine like vines and hundred year old wines. We are living a life of content companionship where our country's currency is laughter, debate, camaraderie and kisses. "You're in your happy place. Aren't you Rachey?" My mother asks me. "I didn't get to my happy place until my thirties." Oh but to stand at an altar and not feel so small. To grasp something more than my paper paycheck, the evening's plans or the inside stitch of my pockets. To walk through New York City in winter and not feel like a huddled hunched mass of humiliated bone, flesh and fat. To be a home owning hermit and hitchhiking vagrant with a cabin as my suitcase. To make coffee; buy groceries and drag the vacuum cleaner up the stairs without feeling like feminist fairies everywhere are dying because of me. To sleep on a train as it chug-a-chugs through town centers, cities and farmland. To be rushing everywhere. Wanted everywhere. To run in and out of society like a sprinkler in September.

I walk my dog early every morning. She in her fur. Me, inside mittens, a hat, long johns, jeans and my lime green coat, I wear headphones and watch neighborhoods as they pass by like a movie montage, gazing into glowing yellow windows to bath-robed strangers who pour water into tea kettles and click remote controls to weather channels. Slippers shuffle down sidewalks and driveways to crouch over rubber banded newspapers. Dogs run toward us before springing back to porch banisters, their leashes taut while they bark and wag their tails hello. I like this world. I like its scabbed knees and elbow patched coats, its cracked sidewalks and bold bicyclists. I like its cold quarrels in New Hampshire Walmarts where frizzy haired women in faded Levi jeans and turtle neck sweaters sneer at one another. "I hope you're happy." Donna says, her eyes darting. "Fuuck you Donna." Debbie shoots over her shoulder. "Fuck you Debbie." My friend, Amy and I walk by, witnessing. In our hands, we have a road map, a bag of candy and wide eyed grins.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I drink green tea to pink my yellow fingers while outside the first snowflakes fall like sky scraping suicides, cold and wet with water. They’ll regret it once they hit the crowded cement, I think, strolling through my thoughts, squinting at surrounding violence.

Flower bouquets are pulled from dirt and slashed from their rooted feet by metal knives and shiny scissors before wrapped in plastic and stood in water. In the meat and fish departments of grocery stores, delicatessens and butcheries, hollowed corpses lay open on beds of ice to prolong their destined decay while customers lean over looking and ordering. There is violence in driving past that middle-aged man on Route 5. Thin and sullen, he points his thumb at me while his other wraps around a walking stick. Clean shaven except for his auburn handlebar mustache, he tries to look innocent and clean, but I dismiss him with a look that translates to Sorry but I’m alone and a girl. And girls who are alone are not supposed to pick up middle-aged men in their cars. At the newsstands, black inked papers are reddened with violent pictures, adjectives, casualty counts, tragic automobile accidents and priest pedophiliac convictions. When the headlines do not directly or inappropriately touch us, we tilt our heads and crunch our lips in sympathy for our fellow strangers, blocking potential pain and cold winds by raising our armored elbows and fur-rimmed coats. Then we recycle these newspapers and interactions in guiltless blue bins in the backs of our brains. In the privacy of our cars and kitchens, we consumers consume like we are all dying of imminent starvation. We drink as if face first in the dry dirt of a drought. And when our pants are too tight and our blood pressures warningly high, we blame Clean Plate Clubs, the current economy and diets that start tomorrow, but what is the real benefit of blame? There is violence in blame and in how we fight for excuses like frostbitten, ragged paupers fight for boxes under bridges. Today there are food banks and $1 menus instead of soup kitchens and mom and pop diners. Diet soda and doughnuts have replaced bread and water. Wine and whiskey have been replaced by margaritas and energy drinks. Salty potato soup has been replaced by canned chicken, noodle, bacon stew. Our grocery lists are typed they are so long, yet while we push our deep carts of corn, cows, pigs, chickens, sugar and white flower, there is a Santa Clause impersonator outside ringing a bell for pennies and pocket lint. Where there were once apartment buildings full of extended families swapping books and sharing breakfasts, there are now blocks and blocks and blocks of two bedroom ranch houses, all separated by painted picket fences and drawn blinds. We fight for what we think we want: linear careers, quiet marriages, well-dressed children and yearly vacations to Disney World. We want to kill zombies and animated criminals in bombed out video game cities. We want to watch films where fast car chases leave muscled main characters unbelievably unscathed. We want to play at amusement parks of painted cement and dried vomit, spinning in large teacups and bobbing on plastic pink horses. We want to sit at picnic tables, licking the bottoms of fried chicken buckets and gulping gallons of liquid sugar. We need our eight-passenger sport utility vehicles and nightly pot roast dinners, just as we deserve that hunk of cheesecake for walking to the end of the driveway to retrieve the mail. We deserve to have several spoiled spawns on food stamps, live-in nannies, and free health insurance. We deserve the price of oil to go down even as we press our gas pedals to eighty-four miles an hour and our thermostats to seventy-two degrees before slipping into our thousand-count cotton sheets and duck down comforters.

My sister told me I am too hard on everyone.

This makes me cry on a toilet seat with such a silence, my ribs hurt from pressing out breath. I pull a bloodied tampon out of my insides like the dressing of a wound and squeeze several squares of toilet paper between my fingers before trapping my nose and blowing out mustard yellow flem.
I was sort of sober before this sentence was sent out via email. With only occasional cravings for cups of coffee and red wine, I barely even wanted beer. A cleanse I stumbled upon while in the downward dog yoga position in a steamy studio downtown. After my first class, while my endorphins ran rapidly through the mazes of my veins, browned beverages suddenly looked dirty, not nearly as deliriously delicious as water. Apples, peanut butter, lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots and peppers were all I wanted until the day my sister typed these words to conclude our tediously troubling email chain.

After my tears on the toilet, I sat on the red and blue rug before the fireplace, sipping stout. I watched the froth, the color of old lace, float on my nearly black beer, occasionally adding kindling and pages of the day’s newspaper to the fire. My family has been in a civil war of sorts. We are all right and rightly insulted, if you are curious, but that’s as much as I feel like explaining. Except to say that it has caused me to cry, drink myself drunk by eight o’clock and wish we lived in a village during the Colonial Age when excuses weren’t worth more than the cow shit on the bottom of your boots. A time before computer communication, hydrogenated oils and Genetically Modified Organisms, before Nazis, the KKK and the Columbine School shootings. Unfortunately, before Antibiotics, equality, democracy and cappuccinos, but before the obesity epidemic, chemical pesticides and atomic warfare. Before airports, celebrity gossip and state highway tolls. If we lived back then, our struggles would be avoiding Smallpox and Yellow Fever, growing food on our family farm, cutting firewood and gathering water before the river freezes, not debates over facial expressions, semi-colons and exclamation points.

Life is tangled with violence, with screaming picket lines, credit card fraud, Internet bullies, national debt, atomic bomb scares, artificial food, deforestation and sexually active eighth graders. I fear this country is run by bulimic teenage billionaires, petty politicians and greedy big businessmen. I fear farms, clean air, quiet and trees are nearly extinct. I fear the world will either implode with all the holes we drill into it or explode in an ultimate sacrifice to some religious extremist's God. I fear every grocery store will soon only carry corn, sugar and Tyson chicken products. I fear everything will get so bad, I won't be so hard on everyone, as my sister accuses, because I will have given up on everyone in a submission to blissful ignorance. Worst of all these fears, I fear God, if He hasn't committed suicide yet, will give up on everyone too and while I retreat back to bottles of beer, He will be flooding the world with frogs, blood, boils and rain, starting fresh with ten new commandments, dinosaurs, apes, Adam and Eve.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jesus at the Laundromat

Scotch tape crosses the corners of handwritten paper signs. Please remove your clothes as soon as machine finishes...REMEMBER customers are waiting for machines to use. ..thank you for your support. Thumb tacks stab several store bought signs on rectangle cuts of cardboard. NO SMOKING NO SMOKING NO SMOKING THIS IS A NON-SMOKING ESTABLISHMENT

A homeless man sits slumped at the front of this local lousy laundromat. Leaning his hairy chin into a crooked wooden cane, he attempts sleep. A large instrument case lays to his left. A suitcase now, I presume. Outside, a raw rain jumps into the storefront windows, floods this man's spot on the sidewalk, and drenches the rotting benches in the park. The downtown church must be out of cots tonight. Above the man's greasy head is a large black and white sketch of Jesus holding forth a chalice of blessed blood red wine. Perhaps this man mistook this place for a church.

Toward the back of the laundromat, high up on the wall, Jesus, Mary and Joseph stand glowing together in a painted print. An EMPLOYEES ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT sign hangs on the center of the door beneath the picture. To the right of the haloed family is a small poster of a lighthouse with these words in blue italics: Dreams. When you find a dream inside your heart don't ever let it go...for dreams are the tiny seeds from which tomorrows grow. A corny quote written, I think, by some decrepit, yellow toed greeting card writer.

A Latina in turquoise velour sweat pants and a black zip up sweatshirt asks me if I have change for two dollars. I check my wallet. "I only have seventy-five cents." I tell her. She scrunches her eyebrows as if to say she doesn't believe me. "I have a lot of pennies." I say, tipping my change purse toward her. "Did you try the machine?" I ask, having used it myself a few minutes before. "It won't take. I dunno." She says. "Want me to to try?" I ask. She nods her head and hands me two curled, damp dollars. A moment later, I return to where she is dumping wet baby clothes into a barrel sized dryer. I hand her her eight quarters.

Please gently close doors to washers and dryers. Do not slam doors!

The back glass door opens and a middle-aged Asian man walks in. Smiling slightly, he begins conversing with the Latina in Spanish. With the help of his hand gestures, I roughly translate what he is saying. He would like her to not slam the dryer doors, but to close them gently. He then points to the sign on the machine's submarine window and then points to the paneled ceiling. He could hear her from his upstairs apartment, he says.

He catches my eyes as they flick frequently around the room before landing again and again on my notebook's page. I love laundromats. I write. The handwritten signs in broken English. The once white, now stained gray tile floors. The metal baskets on bum black wheels. The coin machines with marker instructions besides the manufacturer's explanatory pictures. The mixed clientele of homeless heat hijackers, filthy rich college students and chubby wives on welfare.

Every laundromat has its owner. Someone who takes sincere pride in his/her coin-operated shop. And this Spanish-speaking Asian man is no doubt this mat's owner, its sign sketcher, cleaning crew, fix-it man and its security guard. He is the one with the dreams made of tomorrows.

If Jesus is the one to thank. Thank you Jesus for laundromat owners. Thank you for middle-aged Colombian busboys, septic tank sluggers, snow plow drivers and trash truck operators. Thank you for the mail men who deliver paper letters and cards. Thank you for middle aged maintenance women who sweep the sticky cement floors of cinemas so that corn kernels and cherry flavored sucker candies do not stick to the rubber soles of my shoes. Thank you Jesus for dreams that may never happen. Thank you Jesus for hope. For scratch tickets and miraculous images that appear in tree trunks, sludge puddles and in the white bread of grape jam sandwiches.

I wonder if this laundromat owner still trusts Jesus as he did when he first taped that church brochure to the inside of his office/broom closet door. Jesus, I trust in YOU! It reads in faded gold letters. I wonder
if he regretfully remembers the seeds of his dreams (the ones that were supposed to bloom into tomorrows). I wonder if his dreams grew into tremendously tangled weeds that now strangle his blue collar under the florescent lights of his rented shop where he decorates rusty machines with sloppy OUT ORDER scribble. I hope not. I hope this was his dream: to be a laundromat owner. To run a small business. To make the rules and then tape them to the walls beside his savior, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Foie Gras

Hovering around the computer, we improvise a spontaneous symphony of baritone groans, soprano whines and the distinct rumblings of a booming bass. Our lips curl and twitch behind this cacophony, and the beer in our bellies bubbles and curdles with our dinners, threatening to make a regurgitated reappearance. Showing the video is Amy's idea. A graduate student of Fisheries and Wildlife, she wants the rest of us (Mark, Scott and I) to have trouble sleeping tonight too, she says as the images burn our brains like horseshoes. Through a scientist's focused, unflinching camera lens, we witness a flock of male ducks surround and rape one black female duck. The footage is from the seminar she took this afternoon: The Sex Lives of Ducks and Waterfowl.

Not only are male ducks rapists, we learn, but they are also known to have -proportionally- the longest penises of all creatures. Whales do not compare, neither do horses, Amy tells us when we ask. And to prove this particular fact, she clicks a second video, filling the screen now with footage of a duck having intercourse with a glass female duck on a metal laboratory table. The purpose of this is to document the male duck's full erectile potential, she says as we watch gloved hands hold the male atop the glass female. Like a swirly straw of sperm, the duck's penis shoots out of his body and into the narrow, glass vaginal canal. Male ducks, Amy explains, use their long penises to gang rape the female ducks (as we witnessed from the first video). The males surround one and trap, rape and sometimes even drown her (if they catch her in the water).

The most fascinating duck fact of all, I think, is that their violent sexual history has caused the anatomy of female ducks to adapt their bodies to reject all unwanted duck penises. Only when a female chooses her mate by assisting his penis in can true duck intercourse occur. She can help, Amy explains. Otherwise, a duck vagina is entirely the wrong shape and without her nudging and expanding, a male duck forcing procreation is like pushing a square block into a circle hole. It just doesn't fit.

Laying in bed at night, while the ducks waddle through my mind, I cannot help but think. What if the bodies of women in certain parts of the world, where violence and rape is commonplace, adapted as the female ducks have adapted? What if their bodies could close up shop to sexual thieves and predators?

It is truly frightening to think how these men, bred into barbarians by their violent societies and its forefathers would react to this change. What these men, with their opposable thumbs and evolved intelligences, would do then.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Light Light!

I am invited by my friend and her wife to discuss the possibility of my becoming their new part time nanny. At their house, I explain my experience and show how well I can carry conversations with their three young children. Hey guess what? The six-year-old son asks. What? I comply with a smile and the boy answers by pointing to his missing top teeth. Over the summer, the boy snuck away from the dance floor of a wedding the family was attending on a golf course. He was gone only a moment, but in that moment this courageous, curious boy found a golf cart and accidentally drove it over a five foot cliff. It was an extremely traumatic time for the family. Hey guess what? He asks next. What? ... I'm in kindergarten. He says. Cool!

Not in a hurry to be anywhere on this particular Saturday night, I accept their invitation to stay for supper. There's plenty of food, they say as my friend moves throughout the kitchen smashing boiled squash, de-tinfoiling a golden brown chicken, and sliding potato wedges from a baking pan into a serving bowl. I lean against the other side of the counter, chit chattering about my experience with children growing up in a large family and babysitting neighbors sporadically throughout high school. I talk about my willingness to wake up early every morning and how I enjoy entertaining kids with tiresome play, games and story times.

During dinner, one of the twins, a two-year-old yellow haired boy, sits at my left dropping his spoon. He smirks at me at when he does this. It's some kind of test. I pick up the spoon five or six times before moving it to the center of the table where he can no longer reach it with his short toddler arms. A new game is then initiated. The boy grabs and clenches my shirt sleeve. I smile and detach his fingers by tickling his little pink palm. Despite this and other expected distractions, dinner goes well. After the three boys eat what they will, my friend and I clear the table while in the living room, her wife and her wife's mother read a story. In the kitchen, I lean again on the counter and the boy who was once sitting to my left at the dinner table now makes a game of running into my legs. He likes to be picked up and lifted high. (I know this from already spending a day with the boys and their current nanny.) So I lift the boy, accompanying the pick up with a high pitched weeee noise. I'm such a fun, safe babysitter. I think to myself, acknowledging the door frame and avoiding bumping the boy's head into it.

After a few minutes, we move into the living room where the other twin boy is sliding from the arm of one purple velvet chair to the arm of the matching chair beside it. I guide his back as he does. So safe. Such a safe and fun babysitter I am. Then the one who likes to be picked up with wee noises is at my knees again and without thinking or scanning my surroundings, I pick the boy up beneath his little arms and lift him up, straight up, but then suddenly our upward motion is interrupted by a crash and a cry. One second I am looking at his smiling face as I raise him above me and the other half of that second, I am hearing his head smash into the large star-shaped light fixture that hangs from the living room ceiling. A light fixture I had spotted earlier. Why didn't I compliment it then? I had thought about it. If I had verbally acknowledged it, I would have stared at it longer and more likely remembered it's precise placement on the ceiling. I would have remembered that particular pointy-ness! More regrets spin through my hazy head. I should have left immediately after dinner. I should have left before dinner. Oh no! Oh no! I hear myself repeat. I have thrown this child into a metal light fixture in front of the women who want to hire me as their nanny.

Immediately, my friend's wife is there beside me, taking the child from my arms. She's a doctor, I think, handing over the sobbing child. During this chaos, I consider running out of the house, but stay because the boy's mother, who has just taken the screaming child into her arms appears to be... laughing. Laughing? Yes, she's definitely laughing and laughing so hard that it is the soundless, stomach-gripping laughter where she can't even get her breath to say why she's so crippled with giggles. Unsure how to regard this reaction,
I apologize to the boy, to his mothers and to the other two boys who are now staring at me in an alert way, trying to decipher if I am a threat. I cover my eyes with my hand as the child covers his in the cradle of his mother's laughing bosom, unsure what else I can possibly say. I'm sorry. She says to her other son who is now reprimanding her for laughing. She then explains why she finds this all so humorous by gesturing to me and shaking her head. I fill in what I think she's thinking. It's because this is the worst possible thing I could do during a nanny interview. She agrees, nodding her head. The absolute worst. I say. I have thrown their small child into a pointy light fixture. A triangle of glass is cracked. The boy's head has been smacked and already graced with a small bump. Yet she laughs because of my unfortunate comic timing. They have three children, three young boys, and boys slip on socks, drive golf carts off cliffs, flip over couches and fall from kitchen chairs. These mothers are expert at making boo boos better.

And they know, I think, that were this to happen to me while home alone with their children, everything would be fine. An ice pack would be applied, as it is now, and the boy would be hugged better. Of course, to happen here on the night I am trying to make a good impression, well that is just the most unfortunate thing.

Light. Light.
The boy says pointing to Buzz
Lightyear's head. Light. Light! He says pointing to the broken light fixture across the room. Pulling the soft ice pack from his round blond head, he covers Buzz's head. Soon the boy is smiling again and once enough time has passed, I excuse myself. Bye bye. Bye bye. I say, pulling the front door closed behind me, waving my gloved hand. Say to Rachel: see you soooon! The mothers tell the kids, which I take to mean they still want me to come back to babysit their boys.

In the driveway, I squint through wet eyes, scrambling for the right car key. As I back out of the dark driveway, my cheeks are already streaked shiny wet.

Driving down the dark curvy rural roads, the projector in my head spins the scene over and over, tripping like a scratched record. Every muscle in me cringes with humiliation at every brain branded viewing. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot! I call myself, flipping on the radio and adjusting the heat. Such an idiot!

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Nobody Knows Me At All"

Strolling through intertwining neighborhoods, I wear my brown plastic spectacles. They feel like a submarine spyglass, my vision narrowed to two tear-shaped prescription lenses. Outside the frames, the world is fuzzy like a child's watercolor painting where puddles on paper blur trees into orange and yellow blobs, houses into fuzzy shapes and shadows, squirrels into gray smears and my dog, Penny, into a brown and yellow smudge. Inside my pocket, a portable music player spews sound waves of banjos, pianos, guitars and tambourines.

Through cigarette-smoking, whiskey-slugging voices, my male musicians serenade me stories. Brash bands of travelers, they meet and make lovers amidst drunkenness, train cars and gigs in music halls, pubs and apartment living rooms. They have no secrets. They sing rhymes about regrets and hopes. They sing songs about gregarious girlfriends, rebellious antics and impoverished childhoods. My female musicians sing, with piercingly precise pitches, lyrics about late night loneliness, babies and forgiveness. They sing songs about men in their beds, elephants and love. And they all, from the baritones to the sopranos, trill their poetry into microphones, recording their harmonies to be played and replayed and replayed.

One cold afternoon in New York City, a few years ago, while feeling particularly alone, I walked through the city wearing my long, puffy, lime colored coat (a down jacket my mother mailed to me for my birthday that November). When the dark sky let rain fall down, I pulled my hood over my headphones and amidst shiny umbrellas and the rubber boots of strangers, I walked in my hooded tunnel, listening to Deb Talan sing me her sad song, Comfort.

...In days to come when your heart feels undone may you always find an open hand and take comfort wherever you can. And oh, it's a strange place. And oh, everyone with a different face, but just like you thought when you stopped here to linger we're only as separate as your little fingers. So cry, why not? We all do, then turn to one you love and smile a smile that lights up all the room....

Comfort: Deb Talan: A Bird Flies Out

In New York City, Deb Talan was my buddy, a pen pal who never expected letters. Living inside my headphones, she sang me her secrets about a lost love affair and her determination to be happy. When I moved from New York to Boston, my brother introduced me to Joe Purdy. A gruff, sincere musician, he sings stories about youth in the South, ladyloves and his travels to Holland, California and Paris. Later, I saw The Swell Season in the film, Once, a modern day musical about an Irish busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech pianist (Marketa Irglova) who meet in Dublin and make an album together. The list goes on.

I attach myself to artists who build anthologies of music from their lives, enhancing their stories with singing and strings and bells and drumsticks. Many, it appears, flee from lovers, love and hometowns, writing their lives into lyrics within the safety of moving tour buses and foreign cities. Yet I would not call them cowards, but proactive people. Boldly and openly made up of flaws and fears, they strip on stages and in recording studios with only scribbled notebooks and microphones to hide behind. Here they are, they sing. This is them.

Someone I was arguing with through email recently, for I was too timid to speak with her in person or by telephone, told me that she was surprised and sad that I didn't really know her. This was true, I didn’t. But I don’t really know most people. I am too shy to poke for potentially private information. This is why I like hiding inside jacket hoods, while musicians sing me their stories. I do not expect everyone in my life to pick up a banjo and play me songs about their childhood woes, but admittedly would love it if they did. For I prefer the clear simplicity of a written raw reality to the indecipherable blur of real life.

A few years ago, Deb Talan met Steve Tannen, another folk musician. They married, made babies and now make the band, The Weepies. Talan sings it better than I.

When I was a child everybody smiled. Nobody knows me at all. Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all. I got lots of friends, yes, but then again, nobody knows me at all. Kids and a wife, it's a beautiful life, nobody knows me at all. And oh when the lights are low, oh with someone I don't know. I don't give a damn, I'm happy as a clam, nobody knows me at all. Ah, what can you do? There's nobody like you. Nobody knows me at all. I know how you feel, no secrets to reveal, nobody knows me at all. Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all.

No Body Knows Me At All: The Weepies: Say I Am You

Thursday, October 14, 2010

more than anyone.

Her mother is sad, she tells us in the privacy of our friendships and in the quiet of the living room. Her brown sweater is in accordion ruffles as she lays on the off-white sofa like a tipped beach chair. Folded stiff are her bones of aluminum tubing, her skin thick as florescent stripes of nylon fabric. As she pets my dozing dog, her eyes depart from mine like express trains, stopping at her lap to stretch her fingers. The subject of her mother's sadness no longer makes her cry, she says.

Behind her, in a backdrop of brown bookcases, pressed pages stand in leaning lines, waiting to be drawn, read or referenced. The cardboard covers wear paper jackets with printed patches of titles, authors, critical acclamations and famous book club stickers. The soft covered books wear their words on their sleeves like tattoos. It is a perfect place for my friend, the poet, to sit in silhouette. At the top of the bookshelf, a golden brown antique globe stands like a cathedral spire, reaching for the heavens, acknowledging our smallness.

I sit beneath her on the oriental rug, picking at my cruddy socks. My hiking boots stand empty against the wall. Still warm.
Neglected cat vomit will be stained in circles on the carpet and unwashed dishes will be stuck in cereal crusted stacks in the kitchen sink, she fears. Her mother's house, which she cleaned two months before, back to its old state of dirt and disarray. A sure sign of sorrow. Evidence she will not have time to remove. Not before she leaves in three days. Of course if her mother needed her to, she would stay to dust an entire field of white dandelion seeds, for she loves her mother more than anyone.
Tonight, she will curl between the cushions of her mother's couch, hunkering within throw blankets and accent pillows, and squeezing her eyes into raisins, begging for unbroken sleep. Yet, if her mother wakes her with the sounds of weeping, she will take a toolbox of tissues and climb the stairs to her mother's eyes. And she will fix what she can.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Many a Man

The mingling complexities of What if I don't love you tomorrows? catch and stick to the rusty grates before tumbling into the hole he's cut in the center of his sifter. Lonesome, he sits with an emptied tray, drafting charts of erratic heart rate patterns, squinting at short grocery lists for milk, scanning his sweaty slumbered dreams like word searches, holding magnifying glasses to photographs of drunken dinner party discourses and crumpling into the creases of long distanced letters. Years of these solitary reckonings and temporary lovers pass by like trains. If he had a scalpel, he would dislodge his heart and study it like a textbook, organize it into facts, dates, battles, monarchs and mathematical equations. For only then would he see that his veins do not draw ink. That there will never be a Table of Contents pointing to the right woman.

Friday, October 1, 2010


As if we are kids on a Brooklyn block in summertime (when the chances of spontaneous water fights are most prevalent), my husband, Scott fills a red balloon of pus on his shoulder, pinching it over his armpit's nozzle until he decides it's big enough to call a doctor.

The night before his appointment, I awake to mattress jostling as he sits straight up. In his dream, he had turned into a boxer on a self-destructive rampage, swinging and accidentally slugging his swollen back-sack. "I punched it!"  He says, groaning like Frankenstein. I stumble downstairs to the freezer for an ice pack.

"It's an infection." The doctor tells him. One he needs to get removed tonight. "Shit. I just thought they were gonna pop that sucker and send you home." I say over the phone while he drives from one doctor to the next.

Yesterday is our one-year wedding anniversary. When I get home from work, Scott points to the dining room table where wild flowers stand in a vase. He has picked them along the highway for me. Delicate weeds of yellow, pink and green. I giggle, imagining his flashers blinking as he runs around the hood of his car to pull handfuls of blurry colors from beside Rt. 5’s sidewalk. "I thought it would be nicer than spending the money on flowers." He says and I wonder if he’ll call the card I bought him at the grocery store a poor financial decision. "Ready?" He asks. "Ready." I say and we leave his picked free flowers for a fancy dinner out.

At a small square table of dark brown wood, a candle sits by lightly, floral silver lies by my fingers heftily and our water glasses sweat. He smiles as he reads the card. I glance from his mouth to over his shoulder where a young girlfriend and boyfriend are dumping a bottle of red wine into their glasses and drenching their livers and tongues. While they hold the dessert menus, the boyfriend whispers through his small purple teeth about masturbation and his preferred sexual position. "Boys cannot whisper," I say to myself, whispering with my lips barely moving so that no one else can hear. I include Scott in this gender generalization. He thinks when he uses this soft, particularly monotone voice it is inaudible to everyone on the quiet crowded train or hotel lobby line but me. I have to shove him to shut up because I know that these people can hear his top-secret sentences and are just being politely nosy by pretending not to hear, just as I am now.

We sit in the back of the warm orange restaurant, while in the front a fire alarm holds a high operatic note. We deserve a fire alarm discount, I decide, looking at the full price on our handwritten bill. There is, of course, no fire in the restaurant, just a defected alarm, we are assured. I suppose this must be quite the peculiar sight. Eight adults sitting, smiling and slicing through various plated appetizers, dinners and deserts while a fire alarm screams for all to please exit the building. No one is leaving a passing pedestrian would see, cupping her hands on the thick glass windows that reflect a glow from street lamps. She’d see small dramatically dim rooms where two waitresses pour glasses of water and wine and lean on the bar tallying tips while funky music plays out the speakers. She would see the owner, a slight middle aged gentlemen of European grace, sitting at the reservation desk by the door, wearing his eye glasses low on his nose, reading the newspaper and sipping his yellow tea. The passerby wonders for a moment if everyone inside is deaf. Then she remembers the loud music that is playing and walks away.

As we leave the restaurant, full of fancy food, I smile to the owner. "Good night." He says. "Good night." I say, flicking my eyes to his empty fingers for a gift card or written note of thanks for staying through dinner despite the piercing alarm.

In the morning, the dog and I run in the fog and mist and my imagination plays sad scenes for me to donate my tears to, but when I crunch my face to let them out, there are none. Just a sheet of sweat and rain covering my cheeks. In the afternoon, while chopping broccoli and sweet potatoes for soup, I wait for Scott to call me from the doctor's office, crying, "The foreign lump thing on my shoulder is a deathly tumor threatening to strangle my strong neck and end my life at any moment." But he doesn't and these ugly thoughts stay inside me, wandering my conscious mind until he does call and says that he is driving to a local surgeon to get the infected bump removed. He doesn't need me to come. He says. And I apologize for the inconvenience of this abscess because I have already forgotten the fear I had been carrying around with me all day. "I’ll be home soon." He says before hanging up.

After a few hours, he drops his briefcase and keys by the front door and walks into the kitchen. I ladle him soup, sprinkle it with cheese and hand him bread and a spoon. Hunched over his bowl at the table, he gives me the gross details of his minor surgery. I squint my nose and eyes appropriately, making the sounds that best infuse sympathy.

Later on, while I lay on my bed reading, my leg crossed over like a fence, the thought of false alarms crosses my mind. I fold the corner of my page and grab my notebook and pen.

The fire alarm is loud and irritating, but it isn’t setting my hair on fire, melting my rubber boots or giving me smoke inhalation. Just as Scott’s surgery and daily wound cleanings are not much more than painful nuisances. He doesn’t need to undergo a blood transfusion, microscopic surgery or chemotherapy. Next year, he may not even have a scar.

We need to appreciate health, I think, before it turns into illness just to spite us.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Ring Story (Revisited)

No longer will anyone mistake me for other girls in other classes, I tell myself after cutting my hair short during my first semester of college. I like my hair, but simultaneously hate the attention spurred by a drastic new look. I am shy, incredibly so. I sit in front row seats of classrooms and lecture halls to avoid conversations with classmates. When professors ask for volunteers or the answers to posed questions, I look down.

Every Theater 120 class, I sit in the same front row seat, stiff and forward. With a flopped confidence, Scott sits at the desk diagonally behind me, resting his black and white Converse sneakers on the metal book basket to my left and raising his hand often to read his homework, which never fails to be hilarious. An entirely new concept for me. Homework has always been a serious attempt to sound smart, but Scott performs his homework, making everyone laugh and shy from reading our own. Most days, he wears a black studded belt, a faded red tee shirt that reads “FRONTIER” in white capital letters, and on his head, hiding his avoided haircut, a standard blue handkerchief. I do not desire to date him, but I so admire his unruffled charisma.

At a cast party in November, while sitting on a sunken couch watching girls dance for one another, I see Scott walk in, and because of the three wine coolers I have swimming through my bloodstream, I decide to approach him. “Why don’t you ever say hi to me?” I ask. (On campus, when I pass him in his camel colored corduroy jacket and look for a greeting, smile or wave, his eyes never meet mine to participate. Even after the haircut.) He apologizes and smiles. And for the rest of the evening, while graduate students smoke cigarettes on the screened-in porch, professors nibble pretzels like squirrels in the kitchen and the girls continue to dance, we lean on walls talking.

A year later, after an evening of studying in my dark dorm room, I ask, “Wanna have a slumber party?” This surprises Scott into a pause. This is moving far faster than he had anticipated. But he nods his head and curls his belt and aligns his sneakers. He crawls onto my long narrow bed, fully dressed, and just as he finds the pillow, I ambush him with flustered gumption. “Where’s your mouth?” I demand in a half-whisper. He places his hand on my jaw and shows me where to find our first kiss. 

The summer of our fifth year together, I tell him we should get married. I (no longer the girl sitting idle, shy and silent) tell him to email his uncle, the jeweler, about a ring.

After a few weeks, three miniature manila envelopes appear on his dresser to tantalize me with their torn, open tops. The next day, while Scott is at work, and before my conscience notices, I dump three sapphire rings onto our bedspread. We had decided on his blue birthstone. The first ring is too bulky and flashily gold. The second is too thinly banded and plain. But the third is just right, a beautiful ring with six small decorative diamonds and one shiny sapphire. The only problem is its size. It should fit, I think, shoving it over my knuckle. But the ring sticks. Through flush-faced panic, I twist and pull the band until my finger is free. I’ll never do that again, I decide, returning the rings.

“What’s this? Are these rings?” I ask later, pointing. “You shouldn’t leave them out.” I say to Scott, who pockets the envelopes and tells me not to snoop.

But the next day I snoop and find the rings in his underwear drawer.

“I’ll bet it’s too small.” I warn him that night. “I’ll close my eyes and you put it on and if it’s too small, you can mail it back to be re-sized.” He refuses. He isn’t going to ask me until after his brother’s wedding anyway, so I should just relax and stop pushing him. Fine!

But the next day, I push the ring on and my finger turns blue with blood. I run to the bathroom for soap and warm water. After several minutes, I pull the ring off my swollen finger.

Yet even after this severe episode, when Scott leaves for rehearsal that night, I decide to put the ring on for the final time. I just need to see how it looks when I type and when I stand before the mirror casually holding my hand to my face.

I shove the ring around my rosy finger. But when I am ready to remove it, it’s stuck. I try again in the bathroom, twisting and pulling with soap and warm water. But this time, the band will not budge.

Scott and I live with my two sisters in a three-bedroom apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts. And on this infamous evening, my big brother and sisters are sitting in the living watching television. “What are you doing?” They holler after awhile. “I’m doing work!” I call back as I hunch over the bathroom sink, cursing my foolishness.

Eventually I emerge for help. “I can’t get it off.” I say to my little sister, thrusting my fat finger forward. “I found it and wanted to see how it looked on, but now it’s really stuck.” She gasps, mouth open, eyebrows raised. She cackles with a sister’s cruelty. I don’t blame her. I even laugh a little. She calls our older sister over who, with no surprise to me, joins in the laughter. This is why I have been hiding in the bathroom, I realize, as I walk to the living room to confess and ask my brother for help. He is disappointed in me, but researches a remedy on the Internet.

“Raise your hand above your head. Ice for ten minutes. Spray your finger with Windex.” He reads. “Windex?” I ask. ”Windex.” He confirms. “Then pull and twist. It should come off.” I thank him and return to the sink, Windex and ice in tow, and repeat the steps until I want to kill myself.

I call him. “When are you going to be home?” I ask as casually as I can. “In a minute.” He says. I hang up and shove my face into a pillow to wail. My little sister, no longer laughing, sits beside my bed, oiling my finger. When Scott walks in, she scrambles while my brother pats him on the shoulder. Scott looks to me, then to the open envelope on his dresser. “I’m so sorry.” I sob. “I can’t get it off.” He smiles and shakes his head.

Later on, after having dinner in the city, my parents stop by to ask if they should say “congratulations.” Someone had called for help. In the front hall, Scott turns to my father and says, “I’m sorry I didn’t ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage, but she proposed to herself.” Everybody howls at this. I smile, my hand submerged in ice water. “Soap and warm water. Just keep twisting it. It’ll come off.” My mother reassures.

But she is wrong. The ring does not come off and for two days, I waitress while it strangles my finger. Eventually, I go to the emergency room.

At the hospital, the front desk nurse crunches her face in sympathy, which I appreciate, and tells me to have a seat. Minutes later, I am led behind a thin cotton curtain and gestured to sit by a male nurse who asks, “Is this ring important to you?” I confess everything. “Wow.” He says as he saws the ring in half with a device I can only imagine was built for me. When my finger is free, he shakes his head and says, “Couple more days…” The ‘s’ on ‘days’ lingers like the smell of linoleum, urine and lemon cleaner. I look to him to finish his sentence. “Couple more days and you would have lost your finger.”

The broken ring is mailed back to be mended and before his brother’s wedding, Scott asks, “Do you want to wear it?” The blue sapphire matches the blue strapless dress I have bought for the wedding, so of course my answer is “Yes, please.” Gently, he pinches my palm and nudges the once size six ring over my size eight finger.

Married now for one year, clumsy lovers for seven. He always laughs at my impatient, excited impulses to kiss, sleep beside and marry him. His laughter, I think, encourages me to speak up and do rather than sit stiff and silent. If my seventeen-year-old self could see me now, I think she would raise her hand and read this essay aloud.