Needs editing

Up at 5:30, thoughts racing through my brain with no particular destination, just visiting the same old subjects of what I should do, what have I read recently, how I wish I was still sleeping. The mini-bar fridge drones on, sucking energy from every life force around it. The fan in the bathroom competes for noisy dominance while JM watches podcasts in there so as not to wake me up. Too late. JM abandons me for the hotel cafe with faster wireless speeds. Instead of staying buried under the covers I decide to write, slow the pace down.
We’re back early from our two week safari. Long story short (meaning I’m not yet allowed to write about it), we turned around after the first day and came back to Alice.
My writing needs to be edited, but that’s the story of my life. Needs editing.

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the lilac tree

I vividly remember my sanctuary in the lilac tree. It grew in the corner yard of our old house, the house we left shortly after my seventh birthday. Low on the tree where the many branches met there was a small hollow, a recess just the size of a tiny child. I would curl up there warm in the wooden heart of the lilac. The canopy of leaves screened me from view and the fat bumblebees droned and looped around me.

From my little haven, I could peep out sleepily on all the ruckus of our street, the kids whizzing by on their bikes, the high-schoolers jostling past, all elbows and bookbags. The scent of the buds dropped over me like a sweet blanket, and I would drowse and muse for hours, snug in the tree’s embrace.

Memory is so slippery, such a greased weasel soapy little runt, squealing and skittering out of grasp glossy and chimerical beastie, that to ponder it too long invites madness… or philosophy, madness’s respectable cousin. But childhood memories are particularly complicated constructs, deserving of special meditation. Most children find the distinction between the fantastic and the concrete blurry at best, and are already scrambling frantically to make rough sense of most of the realities that cascade around them, much less of the phantasms that flit through their pliant and voracious minds.

But my lilac tree…

A few years ago, I mentioned this peaceful retreat to my oldest sister, and she replied, puzzled, that it couldn’t be so. I can’t remember now: did the lilac tree have no such hollow, or was it simpler still — that there was no lilac tree in that yard? Either way, in a moment I came to realize that one of my fondest memories (and one of the only secrets I had in that big, busy house) was perfectly and flatly untrue, a childhood fantasy.

The second oddest thing about this memory: the instant I told my sister about the lilac hollow, before she even had time to crinkle an eyebrow, I found myself thinking how unlikely it sounded. A hollow in the tree trunk just my size? I crawled into it with no fear of worms or centipedes or bees? No one ever saw me there, or found traces of bark or dirt, or scrapes on my tender little legs? I slept there for hours, and no one looked for me?

The very oddest thing: even as my sweet, fragrant memory disintegrated in the telling, its sweetness remains undiminished. I remember the heady scent, the rough kiss of the bark on my shins, the green of the heart-shaped leaves swimming around me, the dozy bees dipping and humming. I remember the deep peace I felt, cradled there between the branches. It wasn’t real, but it was real.

related: Are my childhood memories real? at Ask Metafilter; when I grow up; the ontology and epistemology of childhood; I, robot.
I am participating in NaBloPoMo.

loved

I don’t know when it happened, but it dates with my earliest memories. The cat, the old gray cat I barely remember, scratched me, and my mother and I both remonstrated in our way. I shook a pudgy finger at him and scolded. “Bad cat!”
Gently my mother corrected me. “He’s not a bad cat. He’s a good cat and we love him, even though he did a bad thing.”
Even at the time, I took a larger message away from that moment. I knew that even when I was bad — even when I squealed and whined, even when I jumped on the bed, even when my sister and I invaded my father’s study (most forbidden in itself) and used his permanent markers to draw all over each other’s limbs and torsos — that my parents would love me.
Not every child knows that. If you hate getting teary-eyed in public, don’t read this in public.
I am participating in NaBloPoMo.

little art historian

The kid in line at the coffeehouse pulled the sleeve of the rumpled, gray-haired guy standing next to him. “Hey, Dad, I know who this guy is.” He pointed at the packet of Newman’s Own cookies displayed on the counter.
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“Yeah?” said his father absently, gazing up at the specials board.

“Yeah! He’s a dentist!”

This caught Dad’s attention, and he looked down at the packet, a smile crinkling his face. “Ah, no, no he’s actually An Actor,” giving the last two words a storybook emphasis. Dad’s eye flickered toward me and he gave me the special “ain’t kids crazy?” raised eyebrow.

It was time to chip in. “Actually, he’s right, in a way… The model for the original painting was Grant Wood’s dentist.”

The father turned wide eyes on his son, and a new look dawned on his face. “Hey… how did you know that?” he breathed softly.

The kid shrugged. “I dunno. I know things.”

Yeah.

I am participating in NaBloPoMo.

When I grow up

I’m shamelessly stealing Alice’s charming idea for a post, Things I thought I would do as a grown-up, when I was seven.

1. Throw dinner parties. Instructed by my parents’ frequent evening entertainments, I assumed that all grown-ups had regular dinner parties, complete with cocktail hours around bowls of salted nuts and stiff drinks on the the rocks, followed by a sit-down dinner centered around a rich casserole and possibly a bottle of Cold Duck. (Since Cold Duck was the only wine I was allowed to sample, I thought all wines were Cold Duck.) Of course, as I imagined this scene in my future, my own children would slip from their beds and sit, feet dangling through the staircase banisters, to eavesdrop on the incomprehensible conversation punctuated by bursts of raucous laughter.

2. Wear suits. Stretchy, colorful, double-knit polyester suits, with flared skirts and and fitted jackets and oversized buttons.

3. Wear high heels. Ha!

4. Own a fur coat. Hey, it was the seventies. Even my Barbie had a fur coat.

5. Grow my hair long and, on formal occasions, wear it tucked in a bun accented with a single flower. This appears to be my only sartorial expectation not gleaned from my Barbie’s wardrobe. Perhaps I saw one too many photos of 1970s brides.

6. Work as a cocktail waitress, and teach in a high school. Though I dreamed of earning a living as a mystery writer and worked diligently on my stories, even then I knew I’d need a day job. My father was a teacher, and we lived in faculty housing, so most of the adults I knew were, indeed, high school teachers. I cannot explain where the cocktailing career sprang from.

By the time I was eight, my ambitions had shifted: I was going to become a primatologist. Long-time readers will recall that, at four or so, I expected to become the Pope.

7. Stay up all night whenever I wanted, and occasionally have ice cream for dinner. This has proven to be true.

A summer sandwich

With no shame, I present a sandwich from yesteryear, served at The Viking in Ogunquit, Maine, a (now sadly defunct) build-your-own sundae place where our grandparents’ propriety demanded we lunch before indulging our grosser appetites.

The sandwich itself arrives on a heavy, chipped plate: peanut butter (the spackly kind with transfat and sugar) and cheap grape jelly (the kind that breaks into wobbly little crumbs, not suave slabs of gel) on flabby white bread, served with a tall styrofoam glass of root beer and a pile of slightly soft potato chips.

Delicately insert one chip into sandwich. Do not break the chip. Do not let Granny catch you “playing with your food.” Take a bite and feel the crunch under your teeth meld with the unctuous pb and the cool jelly. Sip root beer and feel the fizz dance in your mouth. Eat to the very edge of the chip.

Covertly watch Granny until she’s occupied reprimanding one of your siblings; it won’t be long. Insert another chip.

my first kiss

I was a late bloomer.

In seventh grade, I had one close male friend: A. A. was just my height, slim, with wispy black hair always in need of a trim, and the shadow of a mustache blooming on his lip. His voice was gentle and he put a mouth over his hand when he laughed, like a Japanese schoolgirl.

I was a chunky girl with thick glasses, a clumsy haircut, and a ready braying laugh, always carrying a stack of books.

He never talked to me about girls, not even my pretty friends. I think maybe I had decided he wasn’t interested in girls, though I never gave it much conscious thought.

One day as we walked down the hallway together, talking in desultory fashion of the Honors English class we’d left, A. suddenly pushed me into the nook that housed the drinking fountain. Trapped there in the cinder-block corner, I opened my eyes wide, and closed my gaping mouth just in time as he loomed in and planted a kiss on me.

He pulled back, looked me softly in the eyes, a question on his face.

Reader, I punched him.

Really. I don’t know where this instinct was born. I didn’t intend it, I was ashamed of it then, and I’m ashamed of it now. (Though a little less, now that it occurs to me that he’s probably not ashamed of springing an unsuspected, unwanted kiss on a friend.) I hauled off and socked him in the eye. He sported a faint shadow of a black eye for days, a week… I don’t really know how long, since we stopped spending much time together after that.

Spring Break ’87

Today I present you with some notes I took from my senior year spring break before I toss them in the trash. (By the way, I went to an all-girls Catholic high school.)
25 March
Left for Galveston with twins, Paige, Jada, Diane and Debbi. We stayed with the twins’ aunt and granny. We walked on the beach coz they wouldn’t let us go out. At 3:00 a.m. Paige sees two guys outside the window. We freak. They drive to the beach and get out. Cops bust them. Turned out to be Jon, John, Justin and Anthony. (Boys from the school next door to ours.)
26 March
Go wake up guys at “SS Galveston Motel”. Sleazy! Meet up at the strand. Split up and went back to Bolivar. Guys came to take us back. Go to Yacht Club then Hilltop Motel. Drank some beer and tried to read tarot cards. Jada got really drunk and we went back.
27 March
Go to Jamaica beach after Bolivar. Pack bags to “go home” but meet Jon and John at Hilltop and stay there. Go into Houston to NRG. Leave at 2:00. Find Robert, Ken and some guy Steve they picked up on the seawall — they follow us back. John and I play with a oujia board in the bathroom until 6:00. Contacted a spirit in Limbo. Went to sleep.
The week went downhill from there with a slight sunburn, a game of “quarters” and some dancing on a jetty before returning home. Ah, youth.

A glorious retreat

I return from a family reunion, resplendent in a shiny carapace of baby spittle, yogurt, and biter biscuits lavishly applied by my two youngest nephews, N, 22 months, and A, 8 months. This impressive exoskeleton, resistant to sharp objects, thudding blows, and all forms of washing, is punctuated by smeary blossoms of Fluffernutter (and, yes, spittle) courtesy of S and J, 7 and 5. M and L, 7 and 9 10, displayed a mature tendency to retain both spittle and snacks within their interiors, or at worst to emit them in the vicinity of some other adult. Kudos to them.

Airdna fastidiously abstained from all application of spittle and foodstuffs, instead graciously providing me with a henna tattoo.

18

dormelli.jpg
Me in my dorm room 18 years ago when I was turning 18. A few seconds after this was taken, the sun hit my shirt and I melted into a pool of my own angst.
Okay, I wasn’t that gloomy, just a drama major.
Note the purple plastic dinosaur attacking a teddy bear. Those were the days I would stand on my bed and sing songs from Paul Simon’s Graceland to all who stopped to listen.