SO, I just applied for some work (I think that was what I was doing?) with this experimental magazine, and they asked the awful ‘tell us something about yourself’ question. Here is my answer:
“When my Mother was weaning me from the bottle, she slowly disposed of all of them until I was down to a single one that I apparently wagged around everywhere. To break me of the bottle once and for all, one day she opened up the screen door and threw my last one out into the back yard. Just as it landed, a stray dog came along and picked it up, then trotted off with it. She said I never gave her any shit about wanting it back.”
I forgot to add the part about how it was my way to pitch fits when I felt strongly about something, but that –even at the tender age of sometime-less-than-two– I know a sign of importance when I see one.
That’s what you do in middle Missouri, it seems. You make a careful pile somewhere out in the back forty (‘back forty’ in this instance means ‘the pavers stacked together with military exactitude until a burn ring was formed there’) and when you can stand it no longer, you burn that pile. You’re supposed to have a burn permit. That’s what my father told me the last time I was here, anyway.
And because there was a sizable pile of thick honeysuckle vines, newspaper, and potentially-funky boxes (potentially funky because I’d gotten them out of a man’s warehouse and said warehouse was neither clean nor orderly nor without pests-slash-vermin), because I have a healthy sense of don’t-give-a-fuck, I did it without an official burn permit*. Probably it had something to do with the full moon, as well, don’t you think? A full moon and some sketchy, shifty-looking sort of clouds beg a fire.
See, one thing I’ve always been good at is arranging a pile of things so that they are combustion-friendly. I’ve never had any trouble, overmuch, getting a blaze to form up where there was none before. I can make the kind of fire that melts your face if you dare turn toward it and I can make the kind of fire that you can cook a meal by and I can make the kind of fire that burns low and steady and, for the most part, is still there waiting to be stirred up the next morning when you rise, head beer-fuzzy and mouth dull with the aftertaste of marshmallows blazed to a non-sticky crisp over and over again.
I took myself and my black Bic up to the deck and leaned across the railing as the thing caught good, flames pushing back night, spinning and falling and tumbling into and over themselves. Flames! You are so rowdy! How can man not love you, you remarkable things? Fire, you are triumph itself!
The smoke was dense and sweet, and because I sometimes have an overactive imagination I wondered if some great mystery would be revealed to me if I stood in the middle of it as it billowed past.
Honeysuckle smoke is a new one on me, let me tell you. It was a happy accident borne of my father’s diligence. Because of the radiation he is taking into his brain and his chest, he is limited in what his body will allow him to do anymore. Even when the cancer had him near-dead, he was still able to do just about damn near anything he wanted. It infuriates him in his low, quiet way that the thing that is making him well (supposedly. all it’s really doing is prolonging his life, and nobody has any illusions about this bit of business, even though we don’t talk about it with him) is stripping him of his no-holds-barred go at life. He tries to do physically demanding things and, aggravated, resigns himself to the sofa with his Kindle, reading book after book set in Africa. When he tires even of reading he boots up his iPad and watches videos of African men dancing, shouting, celebrating, fierce. He is quiet and reverent as he does so.
I have no earthly idea why, in his cancer-soaked retirement, Africa calls to him, but it does. I hope he will treat himself and go there when he gets his strength back from the chemo and the radiation and the forced-march cadence of Being A Cancer Patient.
So yeah, diligence: He can only do one or two things on the days that he can can stay vertical for very long, and those things are usually very manly things like scrambling around a roof or hauling brick. He won’t quit and I don’t tell him to.
His energy was sorely lacking last week and so he attacked the overgrown honeysuckle ferociously and without prejudice. Out of his frustration, then, grew my full-moon discovery that a honeysuckle fire gives off a gently sweet smoke. It is so strange, sometimes, how we make our way toward knowledge.
I do part of my work on the internets. The internets are a swamp of distraction (maybe you know this already). HOWEVER! This evening I found myself watching a video wherein Ms. Natalie Portman and Mr. Johnny Depp were signing –yes, S-I-G-N-ing, not S-I-N-G-ing—along to a song by one Sir Paul McCartney, the Most Ancient High Beatleperson. I was captivated by the complete dissimilarities between said Ms. and Mr., by the swooping and precise way in which she executed the American Sign Language to convey the words to this song versus the very grandiose and looser way that he undertook the same task.
Though I was leaning heavily toward making Ms. Portman my favorite in that instance, it was Mr. Depp (with woefully puffy face and sternly exhausted countenance, poor Johnny) who won out and it was because he made me take more careful notice of the way that the word ‘valentine’ was executed.
And here, now, three hours past the sweetness of honeysuckle smoke , as I pen this in order to get it in the post in a handful of hours, I find it intensely interesting to note that the sign for ‘valentine’ looks for all the world as if a bomb were being detonated just before tracing the heart.
Over and over my heart has been detonated. I guess this is how I’d assure a complete stranger such as yourself that I’ve had a good life thus far, an intensely satisfying life. In matters of faith, of art, of love, of politics, of travel and taking meals and having conversations, my heart has been detonated. Some explosions have been messier than others, of course.
But you know that: You have a heart, too.
I hope this finds you well, warm, and happy.
*oooh, Rebel Rebel, we’re afraid-a yoooou, making a FIRE in a RING after a two-day RAIN. Risk taker!
pee ess….not long ago I found a box full of vintage writing papers for a dollar. A DOLLAR! Such a great find.
It is eleven-thirty on a Sunday morning and I am sitting on the most comfortable plaid couch my ass has ever had the pleasure of attaching itself to; this couch is perpendicular to a bank of industrial windows in an old sharecropper’s house. (contextual photo here) The house is surrounded by shotgun shacks all around and I was supposed to have my ass attached to a couch in one of those, but fate intervened so now I have an eighteen-foot corrugated ceiling where my ideas can waft up to and bob around, teasing me and waiting for me to play.
But one of the shacks would have served just as well. Ideas lurk in the corners of those. The ceilings hold dreams waiting to be plucked.
It’s raining. My traveling companions (picked up willy-nilly along the way) are all still tucked in rooms, presumably rain-soothed, hopefully warm and delighted. That’s my wish for them, anyway. The rain started easy this morning and so did I, washing some dishes, making some coffee, thinking my thinks. While I’ve been sitting here taking in words, percolating my own, the rain has ramped up the show a good bit but hasn’t exactly decided that it wants to stick with that plan of action; it keeps waxing and waning, a comforting striptease of intensity that is yanking at my middle where all the words and all the emotions settle themselves so as to let me function in the day to day.
Last night I had one dream: In it I was a picture in a frame and I burned up. The frame itself was left pristine; florid and beautiful, it was open and ready for a new picture of me. The fire was sudden and startling and at first I grieved because I didn’t realize for a few seconds what that empty frame floating in front of me truly meant. Then it dawned on me, though, that this space –this beautiful golden delineation of matter– was just an invitation to Other, which is something people pine for the whole of their lives.
So now: “Pick what goes in that frame, girl. And you don’t even have to pick especially carefully. Fire will come and take it away if it’s the not-right (not-right isn’t the same as wrong, see?) option and you can pick again. Fire is your friend. Fire laughs and licks and pirouettes in a jagged-fluid line. Smile into the fire.”
I spent probably the first thirty-two years of my life pretending I wasn’t this broken thing. Then I sat perplexed at the notion that something about me just wasn’t right and I probably better fix some shit. My life reverberated with ‘huh’ –not a question, a statement: “Huh.”– for a year or two and then I resolved to get my hands dirty with the clearing away of messy and misappropriated insides.
Scut work. Sweating and swiping the backs of your filthy hands across your dripping forehead work. Finally, finally the breaking done, the clearing-away, the standing and the surveying, the terror and excitement of bare ground and the notion of what goes there now. Finally those things, Seanie. Finally.
Regrowing yourself is overwhelming in a way I’d have never imagined. See also: I am a complete fucking badass.
It’s all culminating now. I think I have all the seeds loose and ready in my hands. It’s just a matter of configuration now, of deciding if there are rows and how I want them laid out or if I fling them to the wind and laugh and wait for the return. Probably, as is my nature, it will be some of both. I’m broken clean down and ready to see what comes of it. You know. You know.
Send me that Wiki link that I lost. I was drunk and howling that night and I need to read that shit again. I have different eyes now. In exchange, here’s a present for you.
I hope your Sunday morning coming down is as peaceful and as loaded as mine.
I am from Break Something: A heart, a bone, a liver
I am from bound and determined and from get the job done and from we don’t do fail
I’m from one hand easy on the wheel and one hand tapping on the outside of the car door to keep time
I am from give me a break and don’t be a chump and brook no bullying
I am from poor white trash and hayseed nobility and every penny earned. I’m from new, sweaty money: Fortunes carefully stacked in the age of transistors only to be toppled over and made into toothpicks for robber barons.
I am from “GOD! GOD BLESS AMERICA! Goodbye Italy. Goodbye Scotland and Ireland and Germany. We are taking you to America in little pieces under petticoats and in the heels of shoes, in songs and saucepots and ceremony!” I am from boys that lost their lives too soon and women who buried them. I am from toting the flag home and remembering, never forgetting, sending another on to do what needs to be done. I am from standing the gap and saluting. I am from Devil Dogs and all those American conflicts as far back as anybody can count. I am from veins that are stripes and eyes that are stars and I would not want it any other way.
I am from whiskeyed kisses and stories told by the creek bank and oh my God there can’t possibly be this much simple happy in all of the Cosmos.
I am from Red Rover, Red Rover, you can come on over but you’re gonna have to break my wrist to to take me back with you.
I am from always knowing God, even before anyone told me about Him. I am from a reverse-apostate mother and a father who unblinkingly disbelieved it. All of it. Then he changed his mind, but I didn’t care anymore. I am from the far, far opposite of not-caring.
(speaking of the far opposite of not-caring:) I am from Mike B. and Keith and Jeff and Tony and Brooks and Jeffrey and Lee and Michael and Joseph and Ron and Stefan and Maynard and Richard and Gabriel. I am not from Tommy, though I once gave him credit for that; it was an illusion.
I am from “Look it up in the dictionary, Elizabeth.” I am from sitting in a movie theater thirteen times to watch Star Wars with the man who gave geekery a good and sexy name. I am from hands on the hips, purse on the lips, ‘why-can’t-you-just’.
I am from mean collarbones and bare knuckles and nearly bleeding to death and self-dressing catastrophic wounds. I am from hospital beds that masquerade as graves and people that miraculously pull themselves out of them.
I am from Memaw putting a hot brick in a towel and nestling my feet against it, four cousins wiggling and giggling beside me underneath quilts that our mommas helped piece. The wind whips icy and howls and I am not from it nor for it nor desirous of it. I am from Memaw’s quilts themselves, gifts from loving and careful hands of women who all both spanked and doted on me when the one or the other was needed.
I am from catch-and-release lightning bugs, from the skins of cicadas.
I am from smiles, from wisecracking, from limb-tangling tacklehugs and peach juice dribbling down, down, down, into fertile and storied soil. I am from the bare toes that wiggle into that soil, and beatific faces that stretch, eyes closed and appreciative, toward the sun.
I am from Love sprouted in a borrowed car and the hallefuckinglujah chorus.
“Okay, unkidding: Send me your [most recent] number. I’ll dial it. I can tell you about the time my brain cracked and the time that I wondered if it would just go on and split the rest of the way through (the fissure was dangerously close to making itself a jagged, glittering break that calls raw marble to mind) and leave me in its wake. Sometimes I self-loathingly blame this state affairs on myself and my complete finesse in/natural gifting toward matters of addiction when I was but a wee sprite. Other times I’m like,
‘SonofaBITCH, I been telling people that I’m crazy all these years and come to find out, it looks SO much different than my limited capacity for imagination.’
“Yet. I’m mostly word-stuck when it comes to describing it. And it makes me angry, because there was a definite lack of planning on my part. I mean, shit, it just doesn’t occur to one to have a contingency plan for that time when s/he takes a little foray into the cray-cray. Thing is, well, in the last few days I realize that it was merely lapping at my toes, washing into my instep a little. And thinking on that, I am just in horrified awe: ‘Imagine that you were swept into its undertow. Just dwell on that little bit of possibility for two shakes.’ Ohhh, all those people whose insides are begging for just ten exhausted minutes on the shore, and here I still have my legs under me.
“As always, I am far luckier than I have a right to be.
“I miss you in that strange way we have of doing so, you ‘n me. I want to be sorry for my silences, but that wouldn’t make sense, because the silences are a definite part of who I need to be and I’m not so sure that I want to apologize for myself any damn more. Or maybe I’m just not old enough –not quite yet!– to be sorry for losing time. I probably never will be. I still hold to the opinion I had mostly formed up by the time I was about five or so: Regrets are really fucking stupid.”
Six seconds ago I realized that I should have appended all of that with this:
“That’s part of the reason I have three, four tops: They’re easy to keep track of and at least they’re usually polite enough to take turns riding on my shoulders.”
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
I don’t wanna be laid down / No I don’t wanna die knowing / That I spent so much time when I was young / Just trying to be the winner
So I wanna make it clear now / I wanna make it known / That I don’t care about any of that shit no more
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.
Our house is all sorts of fractal and crazy. I remember doing the very first walk-through, back when it looked like an honest-to-God garbage dump: Maxim and I would turn a corner to be confronted with yet another surprise which came in the form of rooms being fashioned in the unlikeliest of places. Picture the Frankenstein monster as a house; now picture said Frankenstein monster as being charming and welcoming and fashionably-eclectic rather than crazy-eclectic. Not scary, just different, and different in a way that actually works.
But there are little details that are just slightly off, as well, reminding you that you are indeedly standing in the middle of the House Crafted Of Many Ideas.
For instance: There were windows not only to the outside, but between rooms as well. The master bedroom (which could be modestly described as ‘fucking massive, dude’), for instance, was connected to no less than four other rooms by windows. We yanked out the one between our and Mathias’ room, because it was seated in one of only two walls that was not brick. A very generous walk-in closet was crafted lovingly there, but there still existed windows between our room and the main bath (I know, creepy, right?) and what now serve as our music and art studios.
The windows between our room and the studios have fixed, four-foot-long window boxes, you people. Window boxes! On the inside of the house! So I got this Elaborate Idea –since we don’t want to destroy the existing brick, which really is gorgeous– of eventually converting those particular windows into screened light panels and using the boxes directly in front of them as active gardens.
But time rocked on and those damned boxes were driving me crazy, sitting there all empty and forlorn. Other projects cried out for funds. So I went to our local home decor wholesaler and used my handy-dandy business license (Yes! I have one of those!) to purchase some faux greenery. I wanted to create something unique and funky there, the precursor to the unique funkiness that would eventually be permanent, live and thriving under my custom-cool lighting apperati.
I got these things, I dunno, that looked like some sort of flat-leaved succulent; they were colored a dusky green, shot through with an undertone of deep red. Eight of them per box, that’s what was required. I weaved a vine around each box, tucking it in here and there and I was satisfied with the result. It was certainly better than those starkly bare rectangles accusing me and doing their level best to cast some dour energy into the room.
Now look, I’ve no green thumb. I admit that outright. For whatever reason God had handy at the time, the part of the genetic birthright concerned with the helping of fauna-type things thrive that Gwendolyn should have passed down was lost on me; I think that’s totally unfair since I got her myopic, slightly astigmatic eyes, but WHATEVER.
(The woman can simply utter the word ‘green’, I swear, and lush plumes of foliage roll out ahead of her like Nature’s Red Carpet or sommat.)
But seriously now, seriously, I never thought it was within my power to kill fake plants. Realistic-looking, space-age-materials-crafted, decidedly NON-living plants.
As God (and Maxim and Tess) is my witness, I looked up one day to notice that the plants, to a stalk, were a hideous browny-red color and looking decidedly Not Alive. There was not a trace of green to be found on them. They looked horrifically, truly dead. They accused me with all the power of each and every plant that I’d killed –despite my very best efforts to the contrary– over the course of my lifetime.
“Holy shit,” I said to Tess, upon bringing her to the house to survey this most recent bout of ludicrousness, “holy shee-yut, who else do you know that has ever murdered a plant that’s not even alive to start with, HUH?”
Of course I was appalled, but I’d say that one is worthy of inclusion on the list of my roughest transgressions: KILLS ALL PLANT LIFE (even the poser variety!) AND IS POWERLESS TO STOP HERSELF.
So I made a mental note to self: “Return space-age-materials faux plants. Seek refund. Spend in as-yet-undetermined manner.” Eventually I got around to doing it. Of course I had no receipt. Who in the world ever expects to return a fucking fakety-fake ole plant? For ham and hell, why would I keep such a receipt? Whyyyyy?
I threw myself on the mercy of the store manager, calling her first to warn her that some loon had fucking killed some fucking pretend-alive-looking fucking plants, fuckfuck! I mean, seriously, if I’d seen someone coming with two garbage bags stuffed full of cracked-out looking fake greens without some prior explanation, I might be taken aback in a way that translated to, “You goofy freakjob, I can’t give a refund what is tantamount to a reward for slaughtering all the innocent greenery you wagged out of this store eight months ago!”
She was very gracious, telling me to bring my sans-receipt purchase directly to her for inspection. “I’m sure we can work something out,” she said brightly. I want to sing her praises, but I don’t want to compromise her identity to someone who may or may not yell at her for providing the Elusive Customer Service we all search so desperately for these days.
Two clerks saw the plants first. They were agog, and I wish I had possessed the presence of mind to snap a photo of said agogness while it was occurring. They called Gracious Mgr Laydeh, who scratched her head in befuddlement before setting about Making Things Happen. I had overlooked the removal of a bar code from a couple of stems, oh hallelujah. This provided necessary proof of the fauxplantlife’s value, which turned out to be in the neighborhood of two bills. This was to be issued as store credit (no. receipt.), and I wandered aisles a little forlorn, not finding anything that hit me between the eyes and demanded to be wagged home post-haste.
UNTIL I FOUND THE PATIO CHAIRS OF AWESOME, that is. On sale, they were! Beautiful, so beautiful were these pieces of comfort crafted from metal. Metal chairs that are comfortable? I found them, oh I founnnnd them! So I snapped a picture and, as with all substantial purchases, decided to not be impulsive. I showed the reference picture I’d taken to Maxim and then I slept on it.
Well you just know I went back the next afternoon, Superior children all in tow, to buy me some chairs and maybe smile the top of my head off a little.
You see, I’ve been waiting patiently to find and assemble all the elements to make the patio area outside of my bedroom door just exactly right. These chairs represented the first such purchase and this new beginning excited me, no matter how kinda goofy and trivial it might be. I have this picture of my alldone outside lounging-slash-socializing space; it incorporates stillness and sweetness and sandal-clad feet and drinking straight from the wine bottle while there are important things like humming and laughter taking shape. And maybe card games.
So please, gentle and darling Muffinass, forgive me my sappy dorkitude over finding four chairs that got me all revved because they felt like they were what I sought before I’d even had a clear picture of what that was framed up in my head meat.
We got them purchased, we got them loaded, we headed for the house; we arrived to find that there was no way the new patio chairs were going to the patio area. They went under the carport instead. More practical matters loomed. We also couldn’t really get to the patio at that juncture.
:: a tree humped my house! ::
:: ….unfortunately, there was penetration. ::
It was the brightest of all possible spring days, mild and wonderful, nary a breath of breeze. I guess the gigunda old tree just got tired and went for a laydown, pulling itself up by the roots to cover most of the side yard and a goodly portion of the house.
We coasted up the driveway, beholding the spectacle, and I –peering over the huge round frames of my favorite sunglasses– was bemused (believe it or not) and heard shortly thereafter to say, “Well, at least it didn’t cave the sumbitch in.”
Scout, the first one in and up the stairs, came back hastily. Appearing calm enough, she said, “Um. Hey. There appears to be a pretty large limb all up in the roof’s grille. It’s poked through the atrium ceiling.”
It rained that night, and despite an emergency treectomy (involving six burly fellas, a coupla skinny ones and also a whole danged crane!) and professionally-applied tarpaulin (…there are whole companies devoted to such! I never knew!), the damage doubled in roughly a couple of hours. Sigh. Such is life.
I just wish we’d have had some type of insidery foreknowledge of this exactly one year ago; it was then that we sprung our carefully-gathered savings on a brand new roof for the joint.
“There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
“There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”