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Posts Tagged ‘yeah there was alcohol involved but you shouldn’t discount the overall sentiment’

When I was small, my paternal grandmother gifted me with a little yellow suitcase. When I left home to see the world at age eighteen, it was one of the things I left behind.

Thinking about it now, that surprises me a bit, but more on that in a minute.

littleyellowcase1

About four years back, my parents decided to sell their house and travel full time until they were too old or infirm to do so. I enthusiastically supported them in this notion, and so I went to help them sort through their things and shuck their household into different directions: Storage, thrift shop, yard sale.

I felt like a disproportionate amount went into my vehicle, but I indulged my mother, because I knew that there were certain things she didn’t necessarily want to keep but couldn’t bear to part with. I went home with several things I felt sort of ‘Meh?’ about, because my Mom is a fucking saint and has been my champion the whole of my life. What’s a little cartage in the face of her mom-heroics?

One of the things we unearthed was the little yellow suitcase that I’d so loved. Mom couldn’t bear to let it go. She could sell the piano I’d gotten for my ninth birthday and parcel out my dolls to my younger cousins, but the little yellow suitcase stayed. It eventually became a place to house certain paperwork so that it bore the title ‘useful’ and had an actual purpose. A purpose meant a reason for being kept.

small blue thing

This is me around the time that the suitcase was gifted to me. I thought that suitcase was brilliant and gorgeous. There is a layered irony now in the fact that it was given to me by my paternal grandmother, but at the time all it represented to me was promise.

A suitcase was a very adult thing to have. It was also a very individual thing to have. It meant that I was seen as a person independent of adults. It meant that my things had to share space with only my things. It meant that I could pack my own bag as I pleased, and I could set off on adventures if it suited me.

So that’s what I did.

It started with me packing the suitcase and going out into the backyard to play. Then I packed the suitcase and went to the end of the driveway. Then I packed the suitcase and went to the neighbor’s house.

Before long, I was toting that bag down the block and around the corner and to the store and to the library (on those excursions I could scarcely carry it home, because I was bringing it back full of books). Over the years I carried my suitcase to my Uncle’s bowling alley to earn a quarter doing small jobs, my Aunt’s bakery for a cream-filled donut, my cousin’s house because I wanted to pet his dog. Sometimes I ended up staying the night with various family members by virtue of the fact that I had a little yellow suitcase that was packed with a pair of pajamas and a set of clean clothes. I was very fortunate in that I was a well-loved and well-regarded child, with multiple sets of ‘parents’ by way of a large extended family.

For as strict as my parents were in many ways, my vagabond tendencies –stoked by my first suitcase– were very indulged. My saddle oxfords got worn slap out.

This early tolerance of my independent streak and my love of finding new things, of seeing new places, set a tone for my life. I’m very thankful to my Mother and Father for this.

I’m thankful, too, to Mary. She is the person who gave me the little yellow suitcase. She didn’t gift me much else in my life (of substance OR of spirit), and I grew to despise her as I crept toward adulthood. I learned a couple of years ago that Mary’s mother left her on the side of a tree-lined gravel road when she was thirteen. Mary had one thing in each hand: The hand of her ten-year-old baby sister and a suitcase. My heart has softened to her some, because I’ve come to know that what I don’t know fills galaxies; they are galaxies that are populated with hard things like want and sorrow and truth and understanding.

The understanding I have teased out of one of those galaxies is this, though: Mary gave me that suitcase, and by doing so she both opened a door inside of me that I stepped through, and she prepared me for my life.

I was a small blue thing with a little universe in a box. Glory hallelujah.

 
|| May 11, 2014 || 11:05 pm || Comments (3) ||

I remember my Mother and her sisters gathering in my grandmother’s kitchen there in the house on Quarles Lane. They always teamed up when it came to food: They canned produce enough for the families of all nine kids or made sausage enough to freeze and last all year. They’d prepare meals for daylong parties where horseshoes would chime a pole the whole afternoon while the the smaller cousins ran around like tiny escaped mental patients, gorging on pie.

The kitchen was small, and each of the six women had a distinct job. The blue- and green-flecked formica table was always laden with a small mountain range of raw foodstuffs and an array of knives and bowls. My Mother and her family moved alongside and around one another with an unselfconscious grace born of repetition. Other than the hours spent dragging cotton sacks, these girls had been in their Mother’s kitchen the whole of their lives, watching this dance, learning it and their individual contributions to it.

They laughed and sweated (“Women do not sweat,” my Mother once told me, “They glisten.”) or they frowned and sweated, and –though I can’t be sure because they’d never let me in to listen– I’m pretty sure there was a bit of ‘polite’ discussion about the goings-on around town. The general air was that the food dictated their mood: When making up quarts and quarts of chowchow, there was laughter and the occasional song would up and bust out of someone.

Sausage, though: Sausage brought with it pursed lips or furrowed brows. (please insert joke about the laydehs of my family taking their sausage seriously, that’s what she said, whatever)

During these food prep marathons I and my (mostly male) cousins were banished to the yard, which usually resulted in some sort of physical contest like a game of football or slingshotting rocks at a series of targets: A tin can, a six-ounce glass Co-Cola bottle, a piece of cardboard with an ‘x’ of black electrical tape marking its center. One at a time and in no particular order each cousin would get called out and heckled by all the other ones. That was a brutal five or ten minutes for the victim, but it served to give us cast iron guts and ready retorts born of practice when someone out in The World would chance to try and torture us later. Those who groused or didn’t have the proper bearing under pressure got a double helping. Those who whined through the screen door at the Mommas got a double helping of the double helping, and sometimes were temporarily shunned.

We loved so hard. We played so hard. We were special and not every family had what we had: Six strong matriarchs to watch over each of us in turns, each seeing some way they could minister to us children.

This week I talked to someone I love very much. He chanced to be included in one of our family gatherings when we were both on the cusp of adulthood. “I’ve never had better food in my life,” he said, and that called up memories about the pride and the effort that went into every one of those dishes. It caused me to spend a couple of days remembering all the mothering I got; that mothering not only came from my mom, I got it from my aunts and even some of my older female cousins. I never wanted for hugs or laughter or even a decent buttwhipping if I was in need of one.

The prevalent feeling of my young childhood was one of being regarded and doted on and well-cared for.  The women in my family are crazy-good at regarding and doting and caring, and also telling you when you need to zip up your face and bring your ass-end back into line.

We would arrive home after those days of food ritual, spent and happy. Mother would hustle me into the tub and scrub my black-bottomed feet hard but wash my long sheet of blonde hair in a gentle manner, rinsing my head carefully while singing or talking to me. Later I’d climb into the bed, my lanky legs brown as a bean against my pale pink nightgown, and my Momma would be waiting there, long and willowy, to tuck me in. She’d lean in, kissing my forehead –my favorite of all the kisses in the world– and murmur or sing to me. I’d catch the subtle leavings of her shampoo, her most recent cigarette, and her Chanel mingling, and feel perfectly at peace while I slid off into sleep.

mumandbub

 
|| March 11, 2013 || 6:19 pm || Comments (4) ||

We gather in warm brick houses with brocade paper on the walls. Candles burn in jars and the hands of the boys move so quickly that they become blurs as they play.

The people are happy, the people are smiling and clutching one another mirthfully as they dance. Singing, urging the band on, they are fevered and joyful and shine; the people shine so hard that the stars would be jealous if the roof was not protecting their feelings.

There is shalom in every bounce, in every handclap, in every laughing face of every dark-haired girl.

Dance, women.  Shout, men. Play on, beautiful music-makers. Hold back the evils of the world, make us one with each other. Help us to hear God.


(a very special thank you to Demian, to Katy, to Derick, and to the Flying Balalaika Brothers for the amazing time….also to Sean for that crazy-assed drink that I still don’t know the name of but that suited the mood perfectly)

 
|| June 16, 2012 || 11:10 pm || Comments (5) ||

A few years back, my life was in a state that could best be described as ‘high and dry’.

As I started regaining myself, I met a man who was drunk and kind and whose smile had this ridiculous mix of boyishness and let-me-show-you-what-can-happen. We waved hello and goodbye at parties, we played cards at crowded tables heavy with cigarette smoke and laughing drawls. It did not occur to me to date him until one night he said to me, “The next time I see you I’ll be taking you home with me.”

There was a lot of whiskey involved. When I told him of this later –the third or fourth time we slept together, maybe– he sheeted crimson and I shook my head, holding my amusement in check. A smile leaked past my lips but what I really wanted to do was laugh so hard that it shook one of us out of that bed.

We dated for a good while. He had a fair amount of change in his bank account, but we did simple things: We went shooting, we made runs into Georgia for scratch-offs and forties and just for the simple satisfaction of riding some back roads, listening to some good music.

There came a day when he turned to me and said, “Babedoll,

(yes he said babedoll in a way that no fancy movie cowboy will ever, ever be able to nail)

“you like to shoot pool?”

Well do I ever, sir: I owned a pool cue when I was just about chest-high to a table and I wish my dad would have taken me and my sister to a pool hall and hustled the shit out of the patrons with two little toothless ruthless billiard-rounding towheads. Alas, he did not, and we had to satisfy our  competitive natures sharking the neighborhood boys who hadn’t got the memo yet (it was forthcoming; this was the late seventies in rural middle America) that Sisters Are Fucking Doing It For Themselves.

“I do indeed enjoy a game or two on the now and again.”

People, I had been such a billiards dork between the ages of seven and twelve that I watched televised matches whenever one was aired.

I found myself being escorted into the local pool hall, which –despite its existence smack dab in the middle of the main street in town– I hadn’t known was there. It was, ah….stealthy and low-key on the outside, but inside was the magic of wide industrial windows facing an alley at the back and high, high tin ceilings. This place had always been a gathering spot and never wanted to be anything else; you could tell.

So we lined up healthy stacks of quarters and played and played; I was the only woman in the place and I was treated well, with respect and deference. At one point we noticed the group of men that had been occupying the other tables were loosely gathered around a television in one corner of the room. We made our way toward them; the televison was older, with rabbit ears and flip dials. It rested on a metal teevee tray, but nobody seemed to be worried that it would tip its perch and explode upon impact with the concrete floor. A flat metal stool that stood nearby held a cup and an ashtray.

The fellas were watching ‘Jeopardy’, flipping quarters into the cup between questions. Trebek would read the answer, and the first person to roll out the correct question won the pot. They were playing with two cups, so that each time a quarter-heavy one was pulled, an empty was put back onto the stool. The game had a rhythm, a frankness, a confidence that was exciting. The cowboy and I hung back at the edge of the group, taking in the scene. Thing about him, well…he was a gambler. He was so good that he likely could have made a living at it.

As we watched, I shot out questions under my breath, knowing ninety percent of them and beating everyone in the room. I was wearing the cowboy’s leather coat, the cuffs of it skimming down around my knuckles. I tapped the tips of my fingers against them when I issued a correct question; I can still feel them rat-tat-tatting, the index and ring fingers of each hand, but mostly my overexcited right. The cowboy began to move his eyes from the television to me and back again, quietly running the numbers in his head.

A week later we went back; in his jacket were two pocketfuls of quarters and Jeopardy started at six on the money.  We steered to our previous position; my job was to roll out responses and his job was to pull the cup. Over and over, glory hallelujah, he pulled that cup as I calmly navigated the rounds. My voice was clear and measured where the week before it had been tucked into my chest. I’d had most all the questions. I just hadn’t been speaking them loudly enough to be a competitor.

At the end of the episode, I was given a civil nod from the other players and we found an old Folger’s can to hold what our pockets wouldn’t. We sat later at the kitchen table, rolling and counting. When we were done, he pushed the winnings toward me.

“My God, woman, that was one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. That was one fuck of a lotta fun.” I bit my lip, because my mouth was threatening to melt off with all the smiling, all the smiling.

I feel something happening. Don’t ask me to go into details, because hell if I know that bit.

It occurs to me, though, that I’ve known a fair share of what I’ve needed to all along, and I have been speaking it low and to myself, getting a feel for the rhythm of the game. I’m pretty sure that I’m about to start speaking up and out, pulling quarters and having a fine time.

I feel real, real good about that business.

 
|| January 6, 2012 || 2:22 am || Comments (10) ||

“You aren’t so strong, you know.”

My head dipped; I was grinning and I didn’t want him to see. Sometimes my amusement was just for me and to explain it was worse than trying to justify it and God knew I hadn’t needed justification for a fucking thing since about the age of three.

I crossed my ankles primly; I waited for the grin to dissipate because I didn’t want him to hear it in my voice when I told him what I needed to tell him. He was a white boy –technically a muddy blend of Irish-Italian, like me– but the local Kings had taken to him when he was small, at a time when hearing himself referred to as cholito swelled his bony chest with pride. His coloring and build let him pass as Rican, but his swagger was all Guappo and of course, I loved it….until it was aimed at me.

“You don’t get to tell me who I am, Tony. Not ever.”

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

The first time he saw me I had bows on the backs of my socks. It was at my cousin Nita’s birthday party and he told my cousin Jonno that I would love him one day. I was visiting Chicago, being made over by the extended family because I was full of yes sirs and no ma’ams and drawl-tinged smarts. I was leggy and blonde with peach-bronze skin, completely unaware of the males that would have eagerly dipped into me if I had only given them the merest indication of want.

There was a wall of fully street Italian cousins between me and any summer romances, with me suspecting as much; it was the same with my towheaded Delta cousins, so I knew the routine. Some of the Chicago boys’ friends had started sniffing around me that visit and been promised beatings if so much as an “I think you’re pretty” tumbled off their tongues. Anthony had not been warned because he was accepted as family, and as such was an acknowledged part of the Wall of Cockblock. Jonno had laughed when Tony predicted I’d love him.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

The first time he slid into me some five years later, he whispered into my ear his early want of me, his dreams over the years where I would sit in a dim room unmoving and say just one word –his name– while my eyes, big in their sockets, stayed fixed on his.

Frustrated, he knew I’d be back.

“Anthony,” I said in return, and my whole body exhaled into him, grasping, trying to push us further into one another, “yours.” It was all I had and all Tony needed. He put his hands flat on my ribcage and rocked the cries out of me, murmuring the whole time, the murmurs words of devotion because we were young and that’s all we knew. When you’re young you have not learned the power of filth yet so desire alone is potent and overcoming enough.

He wasn’t my first, but his was the first lover’s shirt I’d slipped across my back and stirred awake wearing, alone in the bed and drunk on the chafing of my vulva and the bitten spots on the inside of my lip. I delighted the first time I found the bruises that the dig of his hipbones had left on the meat of my inner thighs. I wanted his signature all over me in any fashion I could garner it. That he would never be so reckless as to mark me intentionally made those painful purple blooms prized possessions.

::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::

“I’m staying.”

“What?”

“I’m staying. Nita is joining the Corps and I can have her room; I just have to convince my Mother that it’s a good idea. That shouldn’t be so hard; my aunt and uncle love having me here and they’ll help.”

“No fucking way.”

“Yes!” Now I smiled.

“No,” he winced, “no, what I mean is that there is no fucking way you stay here when you can go back down South and be safe.”

“What?”

“Jett. If you stay here then it will eventually get around that you’re my girl. If it gets around that you’re my girl then there are a lot of things that can and will happen, fuck! You have to go home. I’ll come see you.”

That would never happen. Everything in me told me it would never happen. You didn’t run with the people that Tony ran with and just pop in and out of town on a whim. You held down your x amount of square blocks and only ran across town or across country at the express direction of key individuals.

“Leave them, Tony. Leave  them so you can be with me.”

“I will. It takes time, but I will, I swear.”

He was dead before my Christmas break that year. I still have the taste of him on my tongue if I think about him at long enough a stretch, all these years and all these loves later.

Six days ago you wrote,

“Was it something I said?”

Six minutes ago I wrote,

“No, it’s because you have an iPhone, you douche.

“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.

“About one week(ish) prior to said break: ‘This is how this week feels.’

“This week I had one perfect day. That’s a start.

“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

// The Belle Brigade, ‘Losers’

I have an elaborate plan and I am not even kidding about this shit. What’s that? You say that you’re dying to take part in it? Well edge in closer, buddy, and I’ll preach a little.

ELABORATE PLAN, PART ONE:
Acquire the following items:
+handful of small bills
+some safety glasses
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART ONE: Please make every attempt to acquire these things legally. It would be stupid as shit to get arrested for swiping plastic glasses and/or five bucks in ones, der.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART TWO:
Place these items into your handbag or backpack or poncho or whatever the hell thing it is you use to wag stuff around from Point Ay to Point Bee or Point Cee or Point Eleventyseven.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART TWO: If you're one of those progressive-type brainwashed feminist laydehs, you can just put the glasses in your car and your money in your pocket; GO WOMYN-SISTERS, GO.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART THREE:
Go to thrift stores.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART THREE: Can substitute 'yard sales' for 'thrift stores'.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART FOUR:
Buy all the cheap a) plates and b) tinkly glassware you can afford.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART FOUR: No one piece of tableware can cost more than twenty-five cents.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART FIVE:
Drive to middle of nowhere.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART FIVE: 'Middle of nowhere' should be the sort of middle of nowhere that one might mistake as a possible hidey-spot for the handiwork of serial killers or moonshiners.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART SIX:
Get out of vehicle.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART SIX: Dude. REALLY? You REALLY need instructions for this part? If that's the case, just abandon the plan now and go your ass back home.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART SEVEN:
Look around. Find a tree with a broad trunk that has about sixteen feet of clear terrain outwards in all directions.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART SEVEN: Don't overthink that shit, friend. Let your instincts guide you. Flow in the force, Luke.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART EIGHT:
Get previously-mentioned cheap plates and tinkly glassware out of vehicle.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART SEVEN: Make several trips if you have to and ZOMG BE CAREFUL WITH ALL THAT BREAKABLE SHIT!!1!]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART EIGHT:
Carrying your tableware, walk to within eight feet –or thereabouts– of the tree you got a visual on a few seconds prior.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART EIGHT: Don't trip.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART NINE:
Place the breakable shit(!!1!) gently on the ground at your feet.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART NINE: You can get all fancy if you'd like and spread it out all around you just a little....just make sure it's within easy bend-and-reach distance.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART TEN:
You should’ve donned the safety glasses back at the car before loading your hands up with cheap punch cups and ugly-ass ironstone. If you didn’t, go back and do it, GAHHH.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART TEN: Don't argue with me. Put on the safety glasses. They make you less of a badass, but if you were to lose an eye you'd have to waste a significant portion of your time in the future explaining to people how that perfectly usable eye got away from you, which will make you look like even LESS of a badass. Plus also it would up your dumbass quotient significantly. Then someone could legitimately call you 'candyass dummy' instead of just 'candyass' and nobody wants all that nonsense, now do they?]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART ELEVEN:
Get in touch with your inner maniac. Tell him to meet you up top in a couple seconds.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART ELEVEN: Be sure you're stout enough to wrangle the maniac back down into his usual spot when the time comes.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART TWELVE:
Pick up one of the items at your feet.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART TWELVE: Bend at the knees, sugar. Bending at the waist should only be done in the privacy of your bedroom when donning stilettos and wanting to appear completely slutty as part of strippery and/or role-playing funs.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART THIRTEEN:
Let loose the hue and cry of your soul by way of your pitching arm and hurl the item in your hand at the trunk of that tree you so masterfully chose.
(ed note: you awesome decider, you!)
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART THIRTEEN: Screaming like a crazed banshee just prior to and during the throw improves aim and also heightens the overall experience for everyone involved. It hypes up the room, so to speak, and the show gets more epic by degrees.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART FOURTEEN:
Repeat until all tableware is vaporized against that trunk.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART FOURTEEN: This is not a silly little endeavor, no-no-no. Oh man, you are a treasure to future civilizations. Some archeologist-dude is going to dig these bits and shards up out of the loam and sense in his very bones that some sort of ritual happened at the dig site long, long ago.]

ELABORATE PLAN, PART FIFTEEN:
Calm yourself. Smooth your dress, finger-comb your hair. Leave this place…..that is, the physical one. Hopefully the mental/emotional location that turned you into a plate-flinging motherfucker is already in your rear view and you are no longer suffering the chastisement of your peace.
[OFFICIAL GUIDELINE FOR ELABORATE PLAN, PART FIFTEEN: Go forth, child, with feather-light heart; be stoked like a mother at the knowledge that your fury burned bright and loud but nobody got hurt and everyone is poison-free, to boot.]

This fifteen-part-plan is henceforward known as a Plate Party. I think I’ll be throwing myself one real soon. A couple of other people have already said they’ll join me.