The Maestra

Like a demented maestra, she orchestrated the household.  Her dresses, made by her own arthritic hands, were worn at the belly from years of wiping and toiling.  Pockets were weighed down by More cigarettes, tissues, cough drops and bobby pins.  Coughing fits, generated by inhaling toxins and exacerbated by fierce yelling, were commonplace.  Her ashes would grow longer as her cigarette hovered between her lips, saliva keeping it glued on while she scolded us.  As she walked by the squish squish of her square orthopedic shoes made me hold my breath, hoping that I wouldn’t be the next victim.  The air as she she passed smelled of smoke, loss and broken dreams.  Complaints never ceased; she was exhausted, underappreciated and worn out.  After all, holding hostages was no easy task.

She was dogma.

She was enigma.

She was Grandma.

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The Proverbial Fly on the Wall

As she twisted her hair, he looked at her and thought she didn’t look as pretty as she used to.

“Well?”  She asked, finally looking up.

“I don’t know,” he answered, playing with something under his shoe.  “It’s not easy to explain.  I just, you just…It’s better if I go.”

“Says who, you?  I guess  you are the master of the hit and run.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Something inside him turned.

“Just that you know how to leave.  And leave a mess.” The comparison was apt, she thought.

She was right.  She was able to see the pattern.  See the skid marks.  The road ahead, and the one behind.

“I can’t be who you want me to be.  I thought we, um, I, could do it.  But it’s not in me Deb.  I am not good for you.”

“No, you are damn well not.” Twisting her hair again.

“Do you want the key back?”

“What?”

“I have a key to your apartment.  Do you want it back?”  She stared at him as he said this, leaving him wondering if he had misspoke.

“Of all the meaningless shit you could say to me right now, that about tops the list.  The least of everything I gave to you was my key.”

“I’m sorry.”  Digging his hands in his pockets.  Finding the key.  Placing it on the table.  Turning to leave.  “I have always been a bad bet.”

He left.  She curled up next to the window and watched him drive away, her fist tight against her mouth.  Inside her chest, without her direct knowledge, almost imperceptibly, something happened in a tiny part of her heart.  It closed.

 

 

My Boss, even though she doesn’t like me calling her that.

Although I realize I may be fairly alone in this, I just want to say I love my boss.  You may be a person who respects their boss, tolerates their boss or even is sleeping with their boss (ick).  But my boss is truly worthy of admiration, respect, and a certain amount of vexation.  I mean, how the hell does she do it?  I keep asking myself that, and I can never quite come up with an answer.  Except to say that she is a bundle of energy and love so powerful, I swear that if you plugged a lamp in her arm, it would illuminate our whole town.

Sharron has a head full of curly locks that twist in turn in a million different directions, quite like her life.  Her ample freckles reflect a childlike quality that embraces play.  Girlfriend is fit, she is a triathlete and never stops moving.  Despite being athletic and trim, she is the first to tell everyone else how good they look. The kids we work with love Sharron, partly because she is fun and up for anything.  But also because when she looks at them , they are seen.   And when they talk to her, they are heard.  She has the ability to make any kid feel warm and welcome, even when life has made them feel anything but.

With work or anything she wants, Sharron is competitive and relentless.  But her heart is so big, I am surprised she doesn’t have to cart it around alongside her.  Sharron married her high school sweetheart, her opposite in the introvert and extrovert way, but her partner in crime in every other way. Among her many dichotomies are how hard she works in relation to how hard she plays.  Happy hour?  Yes.  Travel to give lectures?  Yes.  Party at the pool?  Yes.  For forty?  Yes.  Working every day plus nights and weekends? Yes.  Volunteering at the school?  Yes. Huge dinner for the family?  Yes.  Is anyone else tired?

Sharron’s soul is fed by being with children.  It sustains her, enlivens her and fuels her already boundless energy.  Her young sons are the center of her universe, and she unabashedly loves on them.  Because she is an adult with a large capacity for smarty-pantedness, she is also a nationally recognized speaker and clinician.  Because you can’t play all the time.

She’s not perfect.  Her handwriting is horrible.  Because she has so much going on, it’s often difficult to get some time with her.  Sometimes she wishes she could slow down.  But that is her beauty and her grace.  Her willingness to ask questions, be curious, take a chance, set a boundary, give a compliment or give a hug.  Sharron is younger than me.  And roughly the same height.

Still, I look up to her.

 

Beloved

Unfortunately, I am notorious for never having a proper bag when my dog poops on a walk.  What can I say?  The excited panting, the screechy whines, the wagging tail; they all distract me from grabbing that little sack before I run out the door (anyone who thinks dogs don’t smile hasn’t seen mine before a walk).

Today, in lieu of the absent bag, I reached for a piece of paper blowing by in hopes of scooping the offensive pile into the nearest garbage can.  The paper was thick, but stained wet and dirty from it’s flopping journey through the park.  As I lifted it, I paused.  There was writing, beautifully scripted on the paper.

All it said was, “Beloved, I’m sorry.  I’m on the 9:10 to Tokyo on Friday.  Please don’t let me go.”  It was also signed:  “Lovingly, Keith.”  The paper had been carefully folded and meticulously written.

I pictured Keith, waiting on the, what, train platform, tarmac?  I pictured his beloved, reading the letter, tears in her eyes as she weighed her options.  Their fate seemed entirely in my hands.  The letter was dated Wednesday.  Time was running out.   A sloppy tongue licked my face back into reality.  I stood and began walking, faster and faster, in the direction of an answer.

Losing, it turns out, was winning.

When I was 25, I had the best boyfriend ever.  Except for one thing.  He was the worst boyfriend ever.

Let me explain.

We met at a barbeque.  Me in my adorable plaid skirt.  Him, bespectacled and watching me intently.  Holding his beer, he made his way to me.  I felt his journey toward me more than I watched it.  It felt inevitable. I blinked and we were making out on the floor of my apartment.  I remember wishing, as we were rolling around, that I hadn’t eaten such a big dinner.  It made the gymnastics more difficult.

Before long, we were together all the time. And he was also critiquing me nonstop.  Like, YOU SHOULD work out more.  Or, YOU SHOULD not wear clothes like that.  Or, YOU SHOULD be….(everything I’m not).  But when he was complimenting me, the critiques all faded away.  Oh the compliments!  They were balm for the wound.  They were a brief sun break from the rain.  The slice of bread to the starving man. I began to wish for the compliments, pray for the compliments, hope for the compliments then desperately pine for the compliments.

Sooner or later, as these things do, the final straw happened.  It was betrayal, but I still wanted him.  I probably felt I needed him.  And then he left.

Survival is a primitive thing.  Clawing through the darkness like an animal.  But, eventually, the sun does rise.  Breathing becomes less labored and the clouds lift.  I had lost him, but in that long battle, I won.  It felt good.  It still does.

Sometimes, I dream about him. He is always aloof, wanting me back but not begging.  It is usually when something is stressing me out.  He comes to remind me that winning is possible, even when all hope is lost.

Paris, without vomiting

Going to Paris has always been my dream.  Of course, I realize, it’s a dream for most people.  But unlike many, I don’t like to travel.  I get nervous and frequently, I get sick.  Really sick.  Vomiting.  Fevers.  Ulcers.  Allergic reactions.  Honestly, you are better off not traveling with me.  One of the places you’ll be visiting is a hospital.

One source of comfort for me is if I am traveling with someone who knows the terrain, a local.  As a newbie to their particular spot in the world, the local sees me as someone to be molded, shaped into the ideal visitor.  I am up for the task.  I relish someone helping me navigate, say,  the New York City subway system.  As a grateful receiver of said invaluable information, I am a star student.  The local will receive effervescent praise and frequent stops at sweet shops as a gratuity.  A croissant conveys the sincerest of thanks.

If I could click my heels and travel to Paris and her surroundings, I would do so every moment I was free, even if it was as little as 15 minutes.  Getting this prospective lay of the land would go a long way to relieving the anxiety of travel to a new country and hopefully keeping sickness at bay.  I am a big fan of the motto, “Be prepared.”  Surprises are not my idea of fun.

My first child was born on September 10, 2001.  I had one day of believing that the world was a safe and good place to raise a child.  After that day, everything changed.  You knew what was possible.  You knew that nightmares do exist, and that it can happen on a clear and sunny day in one of the most fantastic cities in the world.  This is what really lies at the core of my fear of travel, and it’s subsequent gastronomic cruelties.  Nerves.  Plain and simple.

But if a quick trip were possible here and there!  Without the encumbrance of luggage and children!  To collect data, to scout the location, to survey the area, then perhaps certain disaster can be avoided.

Until our planned trip to Paris in April, I will try to keep in the forefront of my mind…not burning towers and crashed airplanes.  But the Paris of my childhood dreams.  Just like in Madeline.  Lantern lit streets.  Little girls in a row.  Dogs with bows.  Delicious treats.  Feasts for the eyes.

Safety.

Free Write: The Bittersweet

It’s easier to do a lot of things than write.

It’s easier to do the laundry and eat dinner.  It’s easier to text with a friend or get lost in a book.  It’s even easier to go for a hot, sweaty run.  My kids are peeking over my shoulder and wondering what I’m doing.  It’s disconcerting that I am not paying attention to them.  It’s easier to pay attention to them.  They tend not to critique.  Even though they are living reflections of my values, my heart and my soul, raising them does not feel as scary as writing.

Maybe I waited too long.

Maybe I’m too old to start this writing thing.  I don’t have a journalism degree.  I’m a marginal speller.  It seems to me that the last thing this world needs is another fucking writer.  There are already plenty of us after all.  We’re everywhere:  in blogs, books, on back porches, in the library late at night.  We suck the honey from the bee.  And we do it everywhere. Maybe we are worried people will tell us to shut up.  But we can’t help it.  It’s in us.  When we don’t do it, we think about it.  When we do write, we obsess about it.  It never seems good enough.  But it has to happen.

When I was pregnant, I had a dream that I wasn’t pregnant anymore.  At first, I felt relieved.  No more nausea!  No more worry that I won’t be a good mom!  No more back pain!  Now I don’t have to go through labor!  And then…panic.  Wait, I want it back.  I need it.   I can do it.  I have no choice.  This is who I am.  This is what I was meant to do.

It’s the same with writing, really.  Sometimes I think, no more.  No more checking my email the day after a post to see if anyone liked it.  No more crossing my arms tightly over my belly as someone reads my work.  I can just do yoga or something.  And then…panic.  Wait, I need it.  I can do it.  I have no choice.  This is who I am.  This is what I was meant to do.