You know, for some years now I’ve been trying to ‘get a hold of myself,’ to be even and mild and measured.
I’m thinking that I’ve put in a lot of work that was antithetical to who I’m supposed to be.
I don’t want to be gentle and quiet as a rule.
I want to roar, both in my laughter and my rage.
Supplanting that roar with a Mona Lisa mouth makes me feel all odd angles and unsatisfactory leanings.
I can whisper when I’m dead.
And if I can’t, I won’t know the dang difference anyway.
Tell me about your misplaced work, sugar. I miss your voice.
My father and my dad and my husband –all veterans, two of whom have served extensively in combat situations– all have distinct opinions on the overall accessibility of today’s military from a technology and media standpoint. As a former military brat and service member and wife I understand every argument they make against it.
Each and every one of them, in their own words, has expressed to me the need for a man down range to stay focused on where he’s at and what he’s doing at all times without compounding the heartache of homesickness or being distracted with any pettiness that is going on back home. I fully grok what they are saying. For the most part, I guess I don’t disagree.
As a military mom, though, things like Skype allow me to give my kid encouragement and reminders of who he is. Things like Facebook give me tender tugs telling me that though my son is a man doing a dangerous job, he is still the boy who had me sit down with him and show him how to tune a guitar and teach him about the circle of fifths and hey what key was that in and show me that chord again:
One of my favorite pictures of my father in country is of him sitting in a hut, barefooted and bare chested, pants pegged at the ankles and a harmonica slung around his neck. He’s cradling a guitar in front of him and his mouth is open in song. I own –at minimum– fifty service pictures of him, and that one gets the prized spot in my heart, because it shows something of who he is beyond the haircut and the uniform and the obvious tired that shows up in some of the photographs. It shows him to be a person grounded in something other than camouflage and orders and chasing clever, sadistic men through a wet canopy of trucked-up nerves.
I am forever telling my kids not to wish time away, but if I’m being dead honest with them and everybody else, then at present I am sloppily shoving days behind me like I’m paid to do so or sommat. This next year can’t possibly go fast enough for me. Tiny things like poorly-taped snippets of combat tedium shot in a curtained bunk warm my heart. I have to say, in all honesty, that they’d do so no matter whose kid was in them. And I’ll be damned if my brain can’t help but snag on (during my third or so viewing of that video up there) things like, “I think it would’ve made all the difference if the American public could have seen those nineteen- and twenty-year-olds with ukuleles in their hands, singing folk ditties, before they rolled home from Vietnam, before they disembarked from planes and ships bewildered and worn slap out and overwhelmed.
“America would have remembered that we sent boys in to do the work of men and sometimes the work of men is too much for anybody to fathom, even the men who are doing it.”
My son slings a rifle, my son sings songs that our people brought over to this country, my son loves his job and misses America right now. You miss him back, America, him and all the ones like him.
Today I have been taking notes on mothers, on what they are, on what I am, on what we are to them. At first I took these notes mentally and then they began to sort of steamroll me and crowd for space and some of the better bits were sliding away while beseeching me to tether them to something more intractable than my headmeat. Then I remembered I have that fancypants phone with the infuriating Swype technology that makes plain ole straightforward words like ‘kale’ into messily unrelated, inexplicable nonlinear ones like ‘Kryzygstan’. How the fuck, brilliant technology, how the fuck do you imagine that a blip on the map central to nothing even remotely like the Piggly Wiggly down the street has anything to do with my grocery list? This part of technology, I do not get. This part of technology makes me want to abandon all the other parts of technology wholesale.
But the part of technology that is boon to me is the one that lets me forsake all the random scraps of paper and cardboard and envelopes that I’ve spent jotting ideas on and stuffing into a drawer until they come to fruition or I’m so embarrassed by them that they become lighters of candles burned too deeply down in the jar to reach (after that I run them under the faucet, so that not only are those terrible ideas and turns of phrase charred, they are damp and runny and pitiful, as well. They personify themselves on another level, and then I can avail myself of them peacefully…almost gleefully, in fact. It’s a good practice, the murdering of shitty ideas and sentences. It’s a holy and noble practice. It’s a practice I do not practice often enough, in fact — as is illustrated by this whole parenthetical hand job).
I once bought a hand-held tape recorder, a fancy one, with which to catch notes on the fly. I destroyed it or misplaced it or something. I bought another. It was summarily stolen. The two I got after that each got laundered. The first time was by someone ‘helpful’ who had never made a move toward helping –coincidentally enough– until there were copious story notes in my pocket and agony to bear witness to once my words were washed and warped and devoid of anything even approaching human sounds. The second time was by me, because life was getting in front of me at the time and I wasn’t on top of the details.
Fuck a recording device after that, right? Blackfeet pencils with creamy lead, paper with fixed spines, paper with adhesive triangles and see-through windows, paper announcing tallies for corn chips and Mountain Dews and Marlboro lights.
Note-taking. Drawer-stashing. Idea-marinating. Substance being grown there in dark, private places after the words were released from dark, private places. Writing starts in the stutter and sputter of a perplexed soul. Art starts in the confused cracks between points of understanding.
Oh Evernote, where have you been all my scattered, hyperfocused livelong life?
I downloaded Evernote several weeks ago but have only started using it in earnest over the last month or so and it is saving my creative beans, All You Folk. Now I can jot notes to my phone which are immediately synched up in a kanjillion other places in case I fuck one or more of them up with my frail analog tendencies. I can record snippets, too, and they are immediately swished up into the ether and synched to All The Places. I can scribble a note with my very fingertip, in my own handwriting. My literal hand, writing! I can snap a photo and jot to it with that same finger (or another one! if I’m feeling wacky like that). Save, swish, sync. I can sketch, saveswishsync. I CAN WRITE ON PAPER, SCAN IT TO MY PHONE, AND REMORSELESSLY DISPOSE OF THE PAPER IMMEDIATELY. Scan! *stick arms* Save! *exuberance* Swish! *triumph* Sync!
My God! Technology is bending to my mercurial but meticulous whims! Makers of Evernote, I owe you a baby, because telling you I owe you a beer doesn’t seem like a grand enough thank you.
So, babies. Maxim said to me yesterday that he has been wanting to have a baby lately (Internet. Do not e-mail me. We are not going to have more babies.) and that made me thoughtful about myself as a mother. I try not to contemplate myself in such a fashion, at least not too very often, because being too self-aware as a mother is to invite yourself into all kinds of agony and also probably great heaps of nervous breakdown-ing. I’m not being the slightest bit hyperbolic or tongue-in-cheek when I say that, either. You mothers know what I’m saying. I mean, be conscientious as shit, Moms, be present as all-fuck but don’t be too exploratory because your kids need you to make oatmeal and sign permission slips, and those things are hella hard to do when your cheese has up and taken a slide off of your cracker.
My own mother is going through something of a hard time, and I’m trying to be her cheerleader. My constant thoughts of her plus Maxim’s admission of baby longing made me think about what we are when we mother.
This song has been chasing me around for months now,
and it is wrecking me, wrecking me, wrecking me. Mary stays behind and cleans up the place.
I am about to mother my father into the grave; I can tell because he is making peace with things that I thought he’d outrun or abandoned. He refuses to make plans. He tells me freely of the things that he has staunchly decided not to worry himself with any longer. He smiles while he tells me all these things, earnest. Still, he is afraid.
I am about to be the mother of someone who is halfway around the world being a man but who is still –somewhere in time– floating under my ribs as I coo to him, promising him future and love and arms that will always embrace him. I’ll will my ribcage around him when men who don’t consider my oh-so-painful love for him have their rifles and their hatred trained at him. I will rock and snot all over myself deep into many sleepless nights while I wish a vacuum around him where bullets are not even a thing, much less a danger to my boy’s heart, the one I carried in my own before it even had fancy trappings like chambers or valves or beats.
Today, unfathomably and up out of nowhere, I am a human being in a vast amount of pain and in need of mothering myself.
Tomorrow I may have a taste for lemonade and the mouth that comes away from the glass might be smiling, smiling, inviting you in, “Hello! I’ve missed you. Please come sit by me. Can I offer you some refreshment? Some peace? Some understanding or commiseration?
“I’m so glad you’re back. I miss you when you are away.” Tomorrow I may be mothering you.
Tell me something about you as a mom. It has to be private and it has to be liberating. I won’t judge you, and I will tear a strip off of anyone who tries to. Momming is hard, man. All we come equipped to do it with are these puny arms and these ache-prone innards, and that makes me proud of us for showing up, even.
If you’re not a mom in the technical sense, I want you in the fray, too. Tell me about your mother. When we take time to ponder them, they engender SUCH a profundity of emotion in us. Today I am sitting in that emotion and it’s surrounding me on all sides. It’s terrible. It’s transformative. The latter makes the former bearable.
There are lots of things I haven’t talked about in this space lately. LOTS. There have been so many changes to my life and my internal workings in a very short amount of time. I’ll get to those things in due time, I reckon. Right now I want to talk about something that happened yesterday.
Yesterday found me traveling around Facebook a little bit. I don’t do this very often. Truth be told, I hate Facebook a really, really lot, and that’s why those of you that have friended me on there don’t see me there much. (GO TEAM TWITTER!)
Despite my hatred of it, though, I have two accounts and one is devoted to friends and family. Some of you know this, because you have me friended on both accounts, which I hope at the end of the day isn’t weird for you…..or boring, as there is duplication and overlap. A funny aside is this: My friends Rod and Megan, who just so happen to be married, each follow one of those accounts and not the other. This makes me laugh.
So I was on the more private of the two accounts and about to drop a message on the wall of a childhood friend when I noticed a name at the top of my screen: It was Mike Ess. Of course my eyes did that big cartoony AOOOOGAH thing and I was immediately presented with an opportunity for unnecessary indecision and angst.
That’s the thing, though: I own my dickishness. I’ve always been big on accountability, as long as I can remember. “I did that, and I am proud/not proud (circle one) of it.” I’m bold as the day is long in that department. One thing that has never come easy to me, though, is apology.
I have been working the shit out of my apology muscles the last five or six years. It’s not always enough just to tell people that you were wrong. Sometimes they need to hear the amends. Sometimes, whether we know it or like it or not, we need to hear them, too. It settles something in our souls, it fills in a divot that we yanked out in our wrongdoing.
It fundamentally fixes shit in a way that I can’t properly articulate, you dig?
So I was all, “AhMahGah, panic-panic, I have this opportunity I wished for, AhMahGah, do I jump on it?” That has, dear Muffinasses, been a recurring theme as of late. You think I’d get it without having to sit and navelgaze after the fact, like now.
A couple friends were all like, “Stupid. I love you so much, but you already know the answer.” And so I sent a message to Mike Ess.
Hi there Mike….
I don’t know if you remember me, but we went to school together at Greene as kids. I’ve wondered about you on and off over the years, and I happened to stumble across your profile because we are mutual friends with K on here.
Sometimes I think about the fact that I wasn’t always very nice to you, and I want to take this opportunity to apologize for that. I’m sorry for any way that I treated you unkindly. I really did like you; I thought you were interesting and unique.
I hope this finds you well.
I logged in this morning to find this:
I do remember you. I hold no ill feelings toward you at all. I was not one of the popular kids in school……a little geeky actually. You were always nicer to me than most, I thought you were cute actually….maybe had a crush on you at one time.
I have since school been in the Army as a Recon Scout for the 1st Cav division, got my medical assisting degree and raised a couple of awesome kids…….never had luck in relationships so I stay single most the time. LOL……just like school I guess. : )
You owe me no apology for anything done as a kid, but thank you.It shows you are a wonderful person……I always thought you were.
For all the ways that I try to be cognizant –I mean really awake– and self-aware, sometimes I wonder if I know anything at all about myself, you know? Am I as lacking as I think I am? Do I give myself enough credit? More importantly: Do I give myself too much?
Thank you, Michael, and all the people like you, who are far more gracious than many of us would be were the situations reversed.
About four weeks ago Scout decided to scare the piss out of me and her dad. Said fright was caused by her standing in front of us having a conversation one minute, then falling out and convulsing the next. When roused and sufficiently coherent, she described an electrical storm in her frontal lobe. Tests thus far are inconclusive. Which, you know, I prefer to view as HALLELUJAH NO BRAIN TUMOR.
….but the image of an electrical storm right behind her pretty little brow has haunted me.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
About a week after that, I got a call from Sam informing me that he was coming home for four days over Easter so that he could marry this Very Cute Person,
:: randi, university of alabama campus, valentine’s day 2011 ::
who we will henceforth call ‘Randi’ in all our future talkstory adventures, Muffinasses. Don’t bother asking if I like her, silly; just look at her Loverboy teeshirt and her pleasant countenance! Those things should give you all the four-one-one that you need. Okay, okay….I will tell you this little bit of confessional information: One time, when Sam and Randi were both fifteen or thereabouts, I told Maxim in the quiet privacy of our bedroom, “Now that kid? I would love to have as a daughter-in-law.” She is that flavor of awesome, see? That sort of awesome that had the two of us making plans for coffee and conversation even when she and my son were no longer a couple at one (or two? ahem) point(s).
So initially the wedding plans went like this: While Sam was last home on leave, the couple made the announcement that they would marry next July. Hasty, yes? Yes, hasty. But look! Over a year to plan a wedding! Just enough time to do all this. We wish Randi would finish school! But we love her! You guys are so young and maybe wait a little longer! But who am I to speak against passion?? I would never be found guilty of such! Let’s have a wedding, shall we?
Then they said “Hey! We want to do this in December.” Okay, ah, start the New Year together in 2012! We get it! Makes some sense! Whoa, deadline, but not an unobtainable goal if we get started right now!
Then this July and my head exploded because “SAMUEL YOUR SISTER WILL BE OUT OF THE COUNTRY AND HOW DARE YOU PROPOSE A WEDDING WITHOUT HER, SHE WOULD NEVER DO THAT TO YOU AND THAT LEAVES US NO TIME TO HELP YOU PLAN, NOT TO MENTION GIVE YOU ANY SORT OF FINANCIAL HELP YOU MIGHT NEED AND WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK, SAM?? I HAVE A LOT TO BE CONCERNED WITH JUST NOW, PLEASE STOP WITH THIS WEDDING IN JULY NONSENSE RIGHT THIS MINUTE.”
“Mom?” Sometimes the connection is tinny when he calls, far-away sounding. This was one of those times. “Mother, I’ve got a four-day pass over Easter weekend. I’m going to fly in Friday morning and that afternoon Randi’s dad (ed. note: Randi’s dad is a Babdiss preacherman, but we do not hold that against her in any way) is going to marry us in her parents’ back yard.” He wore a black shirt and ivory Vans and she wore an ivory dress and black Converse and now I’m a mother-in-law, so weird.
At least I am consistent, as always, in maintaining a whirlwind life.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
So. The week before Scout fell out and two weeks before Sam made the tinny phone call, the very week that Mathias announced that he was joining Civil Air Patrol, Maxim and I had a discussion that really entailed not much discussion at all and we decided to leave our church. Rat-tat-tat. We met with our Pastor and told him on the tenth of April, my mother’s birthday.
Individually, Maxim and I had both been feeling the nudge to ask the other what they thought about our relationship to our church and whether we were to continue it. When I finally brought my thoughts up to him and told him the timeline on them, he nodded sagely and cited the exact same thoughts along the exact same period of time. We were essentially completing one another’s sentences as we spoke, and ended the discussion with the promise to pray over the issue for two weeks and then go over our impressions together.
Then the not-discussion, then the leaving, then the strange feeling of being untethered from a church body but being very anchored spiritually. We –Maxim and I, and even Scout– have even gone so far as to acknowledge that it may be in the cards for us to remain unchurched altogether. None of us is opposed to this. Jesus did a lot of damage with two feet and an unafraid voice; He never kept to four walls, at least not for very long. We’re supposed to emulate that man, if we really believe what we say we do.
We will miss our church family bitterly. We will still see them socially, sure, but not several times a week. Hell, let’s be honest: We will probably not even get to see them several times a month. Life is a storm of unpredictability and a ruiner of plans. That’s part of what makes it so incredible, you know?
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
On Monday, April the eighteenth around two-thirty or so, I started to feel it. I guess it was something akin to a fissure in my brain opening, something that had been a sort of hairline crack becoming a gaping maw. I white-knuckled my way through the afternoon and then went home to gobble some Lexapro, thinking that my PMDD was rearing its head and hadn’t given me as much lead time as usual. I quickly got worse, my insides a low-roiling boil, threatening to bubble over; it made me physically sick. I could feel the lactic acid building and then depositing in my shoulders, my traps, in the backs of my thighs. It was a continual release of adrenaline and I was extremely nauseous by hour four of the whole thing. The whole of the afternoon a voice in my head gibbered about just wanting my bed, ohhhh if I can make it to the end of the workday I can have my bed, but that evening I fumbled onto the couch and couldn’t move from there, where I fell into a fitful sleep by seven 0′clock.
I woke and dragged myself to the bedroom, still feeling sick and indeterminably broken, at around ten-thirty. The next morning I was due to drive Scout to her neurologist an hour away, and I thought that the Lexapro would grab hold while I slept (like it always did! magic! jazz hands, bitches! airhorns and goofy relieved grintastic visages and confetti or something equally as rad!), making me feel whole and right again upon waking.
I woke up lethargic and very, VERY resistant to the idea of leaving our home. In fact, I was somewhat terrified to even get out of bed. The low-boil feeling was still there and now I had a sense of defeat layered on top of it. I wanted to die, but it occurred to me that if I shot myself in the head my daughter would a) be angry that I ‘forgot’ to check her out of school b) be the one to find me c) be doubly fucked up as a result of having been angry at me just before finding my messy-headed self scattered willy-nilly across the bed. I tried to eat some breakfast. I threw it up. I showered and put on eyeliner, then comfortable clothes, then sunglasses that would obscure most of my face. It was a sheer act of my Legendary Stupidly Defiant Will that put me behind the steering wheel and on the road.
I am going to make a mistake. I am going to make a mistake and wreck us. My inner voice meant this in a more literal sense, but in writing that now I realize that there is more meaning to it. Anxiety’s theme song is I Am Going To Make A Mistake. It has a really catchy hook and gets stuck in a loop on your insides if all the conditions are right and you give it half a footing, did you know?
“I’m not feeling well,” I told Scout, “do you think you could manage driving if it turns out that I can’t?” She said she could, and I told her that I’d navigate the more difficult part of the drive and put her on the straightaway twenty minutes or so down the road. When that twenty minutes had passed, I’d started feeling better, so I passed on Scout driving for me and continued on. Ten minutes past that I was pulling into the empty lot next to an abandoned auto shop, so suddenly overcome that it was all I could do to exit the car and go around to the passenger side.
I reclined the seat, Scout slid in the new Damnwells and within a few minutes we were flying down Highway Tw0-Seventy-Eight; I was curled up on my side with my face six inches from my knees, staring at them intently, afraid that my brain was doing something I and it could never recover from, when ‘Sophia‘ came on
with a wink everything’s falling apart and we’re lost in Lebanon
and then somehow I found my eyes fixed on the beyond out there past the vinyl and the doorhandle and the window, it rushed by oh it fell away and was replaced so fluidly and I hope I can hold onto myself well enough to finish this day, finish this day, finish. Finish it, this day.
but Cain had to finish the job
for the God of Jealousy
No fever dream had ever been so brutal.
By four o’ clock that afternoon I became something resembling myself, but still only a poorly-remembered version of that, a slightly-staticky approximation. “It’s stress,” said Maxim the next day, and then the day after that I caught myself kneading the shit out of my left forearm with my right hand, to the point of extreme pain that I hadn’t even noticed in my absent-mindedness. It was then that I took into account that my nails were more gnawed than they ever had been –they were bleeding and painful at times– and I’d had this crazy rash on my chest that had appeared suddenly about two weeks prior. “I told you, stress,” Maxim affirmed once I recounted my realizations to him. I pondered the crevasse that had opened up in my brain, how extremely near to the base of it that the crack had run.
I circled the internal wagons. It took a week to really shake that feeling that I was just a fuzzy copy of my actual self, that I was play-acting at being something I was really not. I faked it till I maked it and I managed not to disappear. Feel free to mutter it under your breath, but don’t you ever tell me that miracles are the stuff of myth.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Wednesday, Twenty-Seven April:
The internet went out early in the day. Power was intermittent throughout the morning, but mostly there. The mountain began to be battered. We came back from lunch, we left early for the day. Maxim happened to be off, so did Scout. My family was all snug in our home when I got there. I found out later that where others were hit once and hard, we were hit over and over hard. It was that evening before I found out that Tuscaloosa had lost one-seventh of itself and Cullman had fared poorly and the state park had played host to three twisters on the ground at once (a paramedic friend showed me a close shot he’d taken with his phone, holyHOLYfuck). A friend, upon finding out that we had no idea what was going on elsewhere, began to text snippets of information and news to me.
I called Randi, who was shaken but perfectly fine. A student at the University of Alabama, she had, she confessed, been terrified when the tornado set down a block from her apartment. She was coming home to the mountain as soon as she could. Her phone was messed up and she couldn’t make any calls or send any texts, but she could receive them. Sam, having just gone back to Texas less than twenty-four hours before, was on the other line, exceedingly not-okay with having left his bride.
Maxim showed me the snippet of radar he’d managed to pull up on his phone. “Unh, ah, there is this black area here right by us. I’ve never seen BLACK on any radar, have you?” No, no I had not, and it looked ugly, like a blotchy tumor on a rainbow landscape and wow, this is one of the rare times in life that merits one long, low whistle of disbelief punctuated with raised eyebrows. Things ramped up for us again. We stayed together, first in Mathias’ room reading and making LEGO magicks, then in the living room. When Maxim thought everything had passed, he went in search of ice and to check on his mother. He took Mathias with him.
He later professed the stupidity of leaving, because one of the events that occurred while he was out involved a massive oak falling across a pitch-black road a few feet ahead of him while he considered the merits of dropping a load in his pants. Another wave of storm had whipped itself at us and he’d been caught out in it. He crept back to his mom’s to wait it out. Back at home, Scout and I started hearing things hit the back side of the house.
“It’s still now,” I texted Maxim afterwards, “Come home, and hurry, but be safe.” My phone began dying. Maxim came home. “There is a tree in Dana’s house. It sliced clean through.” We didn’t get out to inspect, because I did not trust the dark and the clever way it might obscure dangling tree limbs with the potential to fall and crush or its ability to hide downed, soaked power lines an errant foot might find before a watchful eye could.
We made pallets for the children on our bedroom floor, set a lantern in the bathroom in case anyone had to get up later. It was dark, so dark, and I blessed this darkness, because it is a hardcore insomniac’s unspoken dream to have no glowing, buzzing streetlights slicing in from half a block away. There were no electronics humming, no tiny red lights becoming larger than life. “I AM GOING TO SLEEP LIKE A CHAMP TONIGHT!” I announced to no one in particular. We had laid our heads on our pillows and spoken a few words when one of us –I don’t even remember who, honestly– said, “Oh man, we got so lucky this time.” This was immediately punctuated with the explosive sound of a hundreds-of-years old tree a few yards away in the quick throes of giving over and going a fuck-all, messy horizontal.
I not only slept like a champ that night, I slept like a GOING-FOR-BROKE, FUNDAMENTALLY-DRIVEN, PIMP-ASS MOTHERHUMPIN’ CHAMP. But only for five and a half hours. I kept flopping around the bed after that, and then finally I got up and pulled on yoga pants and the notorious Pink Floyd shirt (that has made a-one-0r-a-two appearances within the voyeurnally tomes of yours truly) you might chance to remember. There were flip-flops involved, too. I slipped on a hoodie, leashed up Banjo and set out. Only one other house on the whole block was occupied. Three of them had trees driven well into their innards. Others had broad, well-rooted oaks tipped over and leaving gigantic divots in the ground. Some of them had equally large trees snapped like toothpicks halfway up their trunks.
The three blocks surrounding our home were –and still are– a great mess. There are a bait of awful tales that I could run out in front of you, but I’ve already taxed your graces enough for tonight and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest for me to actively try and horrify you. Let’s just say that I am very well aware that the most tragic thing that happened to me, basically, was having to endure an icy shower and hanging clothes on the line. Which, if you’ve been watching any of the news footage (which I have not even had time to go through in any real way) is the cosmic equivalent of stubbing my toe in the presence of legless people.
Translation: Don’t you !dare!! complain, dummy.
And so, I am not. In fact, I am going to post up, in the next little real soon day or two, things that have been so right about this place and its people since all the weathercarnage. I’ll include some ways you can help from where you are, too. Tonight my back is growing stiff and my eyelids are crackling.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
This week Scouty turns eighteen. Twenty days after that, she will graduate high school.
:: ’she looks like an album cover,’ somebody said ::
Then it will be June and she will be exploring another country.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
This summer we will be taking Mathias to our nation’s capital because he is old enough to absorb some of what this country is, what this country remembers, what it knows and also what it would like to forget. He’s inquisitive and perceptive, a fact magnet and discussion-haver.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Next weekend my son is coming home to get his bride and take her back to the desert with him. They are so young and passionate, and life is too fragile for them to be apart one second longer than they have to be. The world won’t be any less brutish, but they will each have the comfort of a bedmate’s tangled limbs and steady breathing to reassure them as they slumber. Important, too, is someone to laugh with when everything is all ludicrous as fuck and humor is the only thing left.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
It almost never fails: The day after a brutal, tornado-laden storm is picture-perfect, bright and mild and colorfully soft. This always blows my mind. Still, I am thankful for it, for the respite and I am moved to make this urgent wish:
Sonno beato, world, and all the children in it; sleep beautifully for a time.
I’m here. I’m still here. Everyone I know is accounted for. Everything is possible and I brought my spoon because I’ve always been one to dig in and that’s one trait I will fight to drag up to the grave’s lip before I have to be put in there.
It is dark, but early yet: Only nine or thereabouts? It is misty and it would be tomb-dark save for the half-moon and I am more or less in the middle of nowhere, winding into curves and stretches of unknown. Every forty miles or so there is a place in the road with an ancient brick store, a steepled church and (most likely) some railroad track. Some of these places have the luxury of a flashing yellow light hovering over the road like a specter. Where are the wires? Well, they go away in the night. They rest; those wires can afford to rest in the dark in a place like this. They come back in the morning. Until then, the yellow light haunts the air twenty feet above the road, a warning.
Why the hell would anyone need to yield? No one ever travels here. I am here by happenstance, by the impetuous taking of a side road to see where I might end up if I shaved the corner off of the route that is considered safe and sure. LaGrange, Georgia is somewhere ahead and if all goes well I will be there by ten or so. If all does not go well I have blankets and a couple bottles of water in the back of the car. There may be a stray beer back there, too. I have a gigantic metal flashlight, a notebook, some trail mix in a basket next to the seat. Hell, I could stay here –hidden– for a couple of days should I need to.
(and by ‘need’ I mean fuck civilization –my version of it, anyway– I am going to pull a camp chair out of my trunk, set it in the middle of a field, crack this beer and hum a few bars about that banner what’s spangled with stars)
I am in a place where most strangers would be afraid. That is no boast, just a testament to how the South sings to my bones, calls them according to name, recognizing them and where they ultimately belong. Yeah, the South gets all in these bones of mine and of course they are compelled to sing back. We woo one another, me and these red dirt places, and I am never Not Home no matter where I might find myself (as long as I am) zipped up below the Mason-Dixon.
The deep blat of a train’s horn rockets up out of nowhere, upending my reverie. Whereisit, where! isthattrain rattles through my brain, which is suddenly at attention and mashing all the levers, working the gears. My eyes are wide and searching, my foot comes off the accelerator, I use every sense I can to suss out where the train might be and whether or not I am blindly ambling into its path. There are no warning lights here, no protective candystriped arms to save me from myself. I’m left to my own devices or stupidity, whichever manages to win out first.
Devices, it turns out, are triumphant again. That, or I’m one of those fools that God has snatched up out of her own way time and time again. Sometimes I wonder why He doesn’t tire of my foolishness and say, “Welp, if she’s THAT DETERMINED to die, I’ma just go on and let her.” Maybe it’s because I have a purpose and try to live accordingly, even if I don’t necessarily know what that purpose is.
Because I defeat the train and because my adrenaline is still a little up, I accelerate into darkness which is once again comfortable. It’s not long before I find myself in a series of curves that wind upward. At the apogee of one there is an average ranch-style house that is just like all the others save for the sign out front:
It has the obligatory mystical red hand anchoring its center.
I’ve never been to a palm reader, never snuck off into the woods to some old Sayer’s house to have a wart spoken off and my future spoken to. I’ve never visited the gypsy tent at the carnival, though I have once or twice been tempted by the theatrics of it. At those moments I was always sitting on a poor spell and felt the need to be flung around the Tilt-A-Whirl was greater than my need to hear what the fortunes might have in store for me.
One time, though, this boy read my cards and also my palm in the back of a smoky bar; he was earnest and quiet and I trusted him: What could it hurt?. This was the second time we’d ever spoken in my life and turns out he was pretty dead on in the big scheme of things and he rather read my mail. I never saw him again after that, but not on purpose. Things just work out like that, you know?
For the barest of moments I think of pulling over, because I want to walk up onto Miss Carla’s porch and knock on the door so that I can say,
“My palm is not made of stone. What if anything it says to you can be altered by my shaving a corner off a safe route, by taking a right turn? What if my palm’s just faking left?
“Isn’t the thirty bucks that someone is gonna hand you to tell them where they’re going better spent on gas to get there?”