Month: May 2016

Entering the Gates

I suppose everyone has their own idea of when adulthood is reached. For some it is as simple as passing a particular year, like sixteen (driving), eighteen (enlistment), or twenty-one (alcohol).

For myself, it was not an age but a checklist of mental milestones begun in 5th grade that I perceived would sweep me beyond the simple meandering trail of childhood and through the Great Golden Gates of Maturity. I was certain that the realm of Adulthood was staggeringly superior to the world of submission, school, and simplicity that formed the days of my youth.

The Checklist began simply enough:

    • Begin Menstruation
    • Wear a bra
    • Shave legs
    • Get boyfriend

These items were triumphantly checked off in due time, and I congratulated myself on navigating the trail with relative ease. The gates glimmered on the horizon. I would have stepped through in record time, but for one problem: I kept revising and lengthening the list. Items I had not considered in 5th grade became essential additions. Soon it read:

    • Graduate High School
    • Go to College
    • Get Job

Suddenly things became complicated. I graduated and went to college. I got a job (I was the Godfather’s Pizza salad-bar-nazi. Important work, that.) But somewhere in my junior year of high school, A Young Man had appeared. A Young Man who turned my simple list on its head with one crooked smile. He was a mess; a college drop out, unsure about what he wanted and who he was. He had no prospects, but me-oh-my, could he swagger. When The Young Man appeared, all reason took flight, and my list took on a curiously new and urgent direction:

    • Kiss Frequently, and Well
    • Get Engaged
    • Get Married

The Young Man gave me an engagement ring halfway through my senior year in high school. He proposed under the Christmas tree in suitably romantic style. Our parents called it a “promise ring” in the vain hope that the magic would wear thin and we’d come to our senses.

Vain, indeed.

I wanted to be his wife. The sooner the better, preferably. I wanted to wake up every morning to those soft green eyes, to cook his meals and fold his undies. It became the embodiment of adulthood, this setting up house with the object of my every hormonally-charged dream.

By the end of the next year, I had his name. I was eighteen, and he was twenty-one. We lived in a tiny apartment with a waterbed and a small black cat named Buster Ninja Crabb. He (my man, not the cat) went to school and I cooked grilled cheese sandwiches and cookies, reveling in the “Mrs.” on every envelope and medical form. The sparkly ring danced on my finger with its plainer gold partner and reminded me with every load of laundry that I was a Real Lady now. The gates were securely shut behind me.

Sometimes I felt that I was only playing house, a little girl in grown-up clothes with a grown-up name. No one expected us to make it; fully half the people at our wedding were probably unconvinced we’d last a year. My own parents didn’t make the trip from Norway to Texas for the ceremony, so determined they were to convey their lack of approval and preponderance of doubts.

I wanted desperately to be taken seriously. And so I added another item to the list, the One Thing I was sure would seal the maturity deal:

  • Have Baby

But when I brought my firstborn home from the hospital, I didn’t feel like a grownup. If anything, I felt less adult than I ever had in my life. None of my play-acting and daydreaming had prepared me for the responsibility of a new life. Even over the next few weeks, it stubbornly refused to sink in. I would find myself wondering if I should call this child’s parents to come and pick her up, because I was fed up with babysitting.

Instead, adulthood was calling me. In the middle of the night when she would wake and need me…adulthood was calling. Struggling with breastfeeding, and changing poopy diapers that required four hands and fifty wipes…adulthood was calling. Wondering how to love this being who only ever demanded more from me than I had ever given…adulthood was calling. Persistently. Urgently. Adulthood called, and knocked, and rang the doorbell, and eventually broke the door down to get to me.

As our child grew, she was as reluctant to pass common adolescent milestones as I was eager to meet them head-on. I called her a late bloomer, a tomboy…a mystery. Sometimes I wondered if she would ever be content in her femaleness, so vehemently she disdained the trappings of the gender. Encouraging her down the trail to maturity frequently felt like herding a flock of gelatin sheep.

Yet, eight years ago, I watched as that baby girl pledged her life to a Young Man who possesses a smile and a swagger all his own. If she felt like a pretender at any point, as I had, her serene demeanor never betrayed it. And when she announced (just a month later) that she was making me a grandmother, her contentment only deepened.

Watching her struggle to bring my first grandchild into the world, I wept with frustration that I couldn’t make it easier for her. She, on the other hand, wasted no energy on tears, but poured herself out with a determination and courage that left me breathless with awe. When her pelvis’s ability to get a baby through was called into question, she summoned a strength I didn’t know she had and pushed him out with sheer indignation. Since then, she has blessed us (and the world) with two more amazing children, all called into being with grit, determination, and no small bit of love.

As I watch her parent my (brilliant, sublime) grandsons, I stand amazed anew at her maturity and natural, effusive affection. She has a confidence and joy that it took me years to grasp. My own Young Man and I can only smile and shrug when asked to share how she became such a natural…we are wondering as much ourselves.

The process of growth is unquantifiable. It steals softly over your consciousness, incrementally creeping, like the dawning of a new day. Who can tell when the light finally breaks over the horizon? In spite of my best efforts, my daughter arrived through the gate in her own good time. And I find that, instead of being miles ahead, I’m content to walk alongside her and share the journey.

Small

I want to do the great big things
that startle and amaze,
that turn the world upon its ear-
cause all to gape and gaze.

I want to do the major works
that echo throughout time,
that beat a tempo of their own
within the banal rhyme.

I don’t want repetitious things
that never seem to end;
The road that travels straight and long
with never any bend.

I begged my god for broader scope
upon which I could dwell.
He said “just take this little thing
and learn to do it well.”

I yearned to be the big event-
the grand-finale close-
He filled my life with day-to-day
and told me “I’m in those.”

“You ask to be a bigger part
but you don’t see my view.
If you would truly know my heart–
The little things are huge.”

Noah Knows, chapters 3 & 4

~Three~

“Mama? Mama!”

Noah’s hand tugged at Miranda and she paused in her discussion to turn her attention to her small son.

“Yes, my darling?”

“Mama, dis dorty.” Holding the rock aloft, he pressed it into her palm.

“Yes it sure is dirty.”

She took the treasure and smiled down at his radiant face. “Do I need to clean it off? Do you want to keep it?”

“Yes,” he said, before turning once again to join the small group of children scrambling over the playground in their suburban Tulsa neighborhood.

“What were you saying, Brenda?” Miranda asked, adding the chunk of concrete to the acorn hats and fall leaves in her pocket as she turned back to Noah’s teacher.

“I was saying that the preschool is having a Christmas party and I was hoping you would bring some brownies or something.”

“Of course; I would be happy to. I have the perfect recipe.”

“Excellent! Not that I’ll be eating any. I’ve got to keep off these ten pounds I’ve lost, you know!”

Miranda knew. It was all Brenda had talked about for the last two hours.

“I wish you’d share your secret,” Miranda said. She smiled. “I’ve got a few to lose myself.” She patted her hips.

“Oh please,” Brenda said. “You’re tiny! No one would even guess you had a kid. But it’s good you stopped at one. After three, everything goes to hell.” She sighed and shrugged. “I’m just so damn busy.”

“I sure do appreciate you, Brenda,” Miranda offered. “I don’t know what I’d do without the deal you gave me on tuition; so many preschools are raising prices all over the place.” She stood up and sighed. “I think Noah and I are done. My pockets can’t take much more treasure.”

As if on cue, Noah appeared at the bottom of the small plastic tube slide and ran to her when she beckoned.

“Time to go, my sweet.”

“Awright mama.”

“How I love that!” Brenda exclaimed. “Miranda, honestly, what have you done to create such an obedient child? Four years old and he does whatever you say. Mark won’t do anything for me without a battle. Come over here, Noah, and give Ms. Brenda a hug, will you?”

Clasped in her arms, Noah smiled and planted a wet kiss on her cheek.

“Miss Bwenda, you gonna die,” he said with a rather alarming sweetness.

“Noah!” Miranda gasped.

“Die?” Brenda laughed, both at the words lisped so tenderly and at Miranda’s shock. “Not anytime soon, I hope!”

“’morrow,” he countered soberly.

“Noah!” Miranda said again, this time sharp enough to be a scold. “I’m so sorry, Brenda; I can’t imagine where he picked something like that up.”

“Oh, dear, don’t give it a second thought,” Brenda assured her. “I’ve had three, remember? They come out with some doozies sometimes.”

“Still…” Miranda took Noah in her arms, her brow furrowed. “Noah, that’s not a nice thing to say to people.”

“Awright, mama.”

“I’m sure to die someday, right, Noah?” Brenda asked in a good-natured tone.

“’morrow,” he repeated.

“All right, that’s it. We’re leaving.” Miranda said.

She offered apologies again and her friend once again brushed them off, although her own brow had taken on a wrinkle or two at this point.

Noah sang a preschool tune as they walked home in the deepening dusk, but his mother hardly heard him over the pounding of her heart. This was not the first unusual occurrence with Noah, and she was far more frightened than amused by the things that had been happening.

The dog. First there was the dog. Six months previous, she was outside putting a few petunias in the small patch of earth in front of her duplex while Noah happily covered himself with dirt. There was no way of knowing, with her back to the gate, that a large black behemoth of a retriever made its way into the yard until she heard the small gasp of “Goggy!” from Noah. She turned to see him exploring its cavernous mouth with one small hand as he hung on its neck.

Pulling him away in a panic, she shooed the animal with no success. It sat placidly and panted up at her, apathetically watching her nervous motions.

“Goggy!” Noah cried. “Me want Goggy!”

The dog certainly seemed harmless, but with no collar, Miranda was inclined to view it as a giant flea-carrier at the very least.

Pushing it gently with one knee, she attempted to direct it out the gate, but succeeded only in making it rise on its back legs, almost knocking her down as it excitedly licked both her face and Noah’s.

“Sit! Sit!” she yelled, to which the beast instantly responded.

“You’ve been given some manners, anyway,” she muttered. Perplexed, she marched toward the house, followed closely by the dog. She went inside and shut the door soundly in its face and left Noah crying at the window as she pulled out her phone to call the pound.

After a brief but enlightening conversation with the girl at the local shelter, who was about as dull as an oyster, she hung up and let out a huge sigh.

Apparently the pound was full. Not only that, but they could only keep the dog for five days before dispatching it to the great beyond.

Gazing out the window at the creature laying patiently on the door mat, she knew she couldn’t bring herself to send it to such an uncertain fate; she would have to take matters into her own hands.

Knocking on nearby doors produced nothing. No one had lost a dog or knew of anyone who had. Snapping a picture with her phone, she sent a lost dog ad to the newspaper and prayed for a response.

Meanwhile, Noah was besotted. Under her close supervision, she allowed him to pat the “goggy” all he wanted, and was impressed with the dog’s patience. He greeted every encounter with her son as the best part of his day.

“Goggy Leo,” Noah said, two days later. “Wabbit.”

“What, honey?” Miranda asked, confused. “Rabbit?”

“Wabbit wun,” Noah answered. “Leo chase it.”

No subsequent questioning yielded anything more enlightening, so she shrugged it off as simple baby talk. Each night she fed the dog leftovers and prayed that in the morning it would find its way back out the gate and disappear from her life, which in no way had included an 80 pound beast any time sooner than never.

One morning, a week after the animal appeared, she was awakened by her phone and answered groggily. The voice on the other end talked more rapidly than she could decipher. After three or more repetitions, she finally realized that it was the dog’s owner, explaining that they had, a week ago, lost their beloved pet Leo—a black lab—when he slipped his collar chasing a rabbit as they picnicked at a nearby park. In a haze of confusion and astonishment, Miranda said that yes, they could certainly come and pick him up at their earliest possible convenience.

How Noah knew the dog’s name was Leo, or how he knew the details of its situation, was a mystery to which no amount of brain-bending on Miranda’s part could explain. Deciding Noah had watched, at some point, a kids’ program featuring a large black dog named Leo, she let it go.

Until the obit. A chill went down her spine as she remembered.

As she sat on the couch one morning reading the Tulsa World, Noah climbed beside her, sucking contentedly on his thumb and trailing his blanket. She was thick in the middle of a particularly engrossing Dear Abby letter, when Noah pointed to the obituary section with one soggy finger and said “’Bruvvers get owie.”

“What is it, darling?” she said absently, still puzzling over the letter and Abby’s subsequent advice.

“Bruvvers. Too hot. Don’t touch,” he repeated, putting the thumb back in his mouth.

Miranda noticed there were two obituaries side by side, outlining the lives of twin brothers who recently perished in a house fire. Her heart began to race.

Slamming the paper to the coffee table, she stared at her little boy, who was looking at her from beneath sleepy eyelids. He seemed unconcerned by the information he had just gleaned, but Miranda was seriously alarmed. How could he have known such a thing? Was he a prodigy; had he learned to read without her knowing? Picking up the paper, she pointed to a few words and asked him what they were. He frowned at her, uncomprehending.

What was he going to come out with next?

Now, walking home with Noah in hand, she knew the answer. Brenda was a daycare provider and heard small children say just about everything imaginable, so perhaps she was as unbothered by Noah’s words as she appeared. Miranda, however, was deeply uneasy, and would remain so until the sun went down tomorrow evening with Brenda still very much alive.

“Miss Brenda is very healthy, Noah,” she said, looking down at the small boy holding her hand. “Miss Brenda is going to live a nice long life and die at a ripe old age.”

“Miss Bwenda…” he began thoughtfully, and Miranda held her breath. “Miss Bwenda go boom.”

Dear God, she thought. Dear God don’t let this happen.

And yet it did happen. The call came the following afternoon from another daycare teacher. Miranda felt as though she might be sick before the words even came. Brenda…stringing Christmas lights…fell off the ladder…broken neck.

Miranda sank to the floor and woodenly responded that yes, she understood the daycare would be closed for a few days. She put her face in her hands, heard ringing in her ears, and knew she was going to faint. Noah’s small hand on her shoulder brought her back to the present and she swallowed hard.

“Mommy awright?” he asked.

“Mommy’s all right.”

She nodded, although what she desperately wanted at the moment was a good stiff drink. She clutched Noah and put her face in his neck, breathing in his warm little boy smell, a combination of grape scented baby soap and sweat. He didn’t struggle to be released, but stood patiently until she took one more deep breath and looked at him.

“Mommy’s OK. Noah, be a good boy and go play, all right? Mommy just needs a minute to think.”

As he ran into the living room, Miranda checked the time. It was 3:12pm. Surely it was not too early. This was a special occasion. Oh so special, she thought morbidly as she uncapped the bottle of whisky she kept above the refrigerator.

My kid is telepathic or telekinetic or some fucking thing. Special. Oh so special.

She poured several glugs into a juice glass and drank it with a trembling hand, feeling somewhat comforted, or at least distracted, by the warmth it brought to her chest.

Finishing the glass, she started to pour another but resisted. What she needed was company. Somebody to distract her. Too much alone time equaled too much thinking time, and she did not want to think right now. Maybe shopping would help. She picked up the phone to call a friend.

 

~Four~

“What’s the matter, hon? You seem really–distracted.”

Nancy shifted the weight of her purchases from one hand to the other and pulled her coat collar up around her neck. The outlet mall was teeming with Christmas shoppers bustling from store to store in search of holiday treasures. “You haven’t bought a thing, but you told me you really needed to go shopping. What’s up with that?”

Miranda sighed and fidgeted with the zipper on her purse. Nancy was her oldest friend and childhood confidante, but Miranda wasn’t sure she could handle the idea that Noah was psychic. Miranda wasn’t sure she could handle it, herself. Maybe she was imagining it all, anyway. Maybe it was all just a series of weird coincidences.

“I’m sorry, Nance,” she said finally. “I’m just—worried about Noah. About how he’ll take the news that Brenda died.”

“Aw, hon.”

Nancy put her arm around her friend’s shoulders as they walked. “You know I know next to zero about kids. I’m not sure how much help I’ll be for you. How old is he now?”

“Four.”

“Four,” she repeated thoughtfully. “You know, I don’t think I remember a single damn thing from when I was four. Do you?”

“Not really.”

“So there you go,” Nancy said. “He’ll be sad for a little while but he’s not going to remember it. He won’t be permanently scarred by it. He’ll probably be more curious about his new teacher than anything else.”

“Yeah, maybe. Maybe I’m the one more scarred by her death. I mean, seriously. She was so young.”

“It’s always hard when somebody you know dies. My grandmother passing still feels weird and it’s been two years. But you’ll feel better in a few weeks, I promise. You’d feel better now if you bought something.” She smiled. “It ain’t called retail therapy for nothing!”

“Right.” Miranda nodded. “Right. Let’s go into Eddie Bauer. I want to look at sweaters. Maybe find one for my dad. I don’t have anything for him yet.”

Inside, Christmas music was playing but it sounded discordant to Miranda. She tried to hum along as she looked over the sweaters on the tables in the men’s section but stopped when she noticed a young boy staring at her. He was bigger than Noah and was hanging onto the hand of an older woman who might have been his grandmother. His left hand was held close to his mouth as he sucked his two middle fingers. Suddenly the woman looked down at him and gave his arm a small jerk.

“Donald! Donnie, don’t suck your fingers. You’re almost five years old. Only babies suck their fingers.”

Chastised, the little boy extracted the offensive digits and wiped them on his coat.

Miranda found Nancy rifling through the sale racks at the back of the store.

“Nancy, do you think I should make Noah quit sucking his thumb? Do you think he’s too old to be doing that?”

“Hon, once again you are asking the wrong person,” Nancy said. “What do I know about child development? I will tell you this, though. Four is hardly too old to be doing anything at all, I think. He’s still just a baby! And heck, you know I sucked my thumb til I was ten and it didn’t do me any harm. Although, yes, I think ten really is too old. I was a particularly stubborn child. Drove my folks nuts.”

“I don’t know,” Miranda said. “It really does seem like just yesterday he was a baby. And now he’s going to preschool and learning so much. He comes back exhausted. So I just let him have his blankie and thumb. It doesn’t seem too much for him to ask.”

“Your kid is a weirdo. It’s official,” Nancy said, deadpan.

“Stop.” Miranda laughed. “OK, I’ll quit bugging you about him. I’m sorry.”

If only it were that easy.

flight risk

even
when things
are going well
the pull
to be gone
is strong.

even
when all
is balanced
medication
working
it’s there.

the pain
never goes
away
entirely
it gnaws
at the marrow.

and the
idea of death
is one that
comforts
and soothes
and beckons.

even
when I
can see
the myriad
reasons
to stay

even 
when things
look fine
the desire
to fly away
remains.

Noah Knows, first two chapters

Can you have sex accidentally?

This was the question that occurred to Miranda as she looked back on that fateful afternoon. One minute she was weeping to her cousin’s friend Dean that she was infertile and that Hugh didn’t love her anymore; her life at the advanced age of 25 was more or less over. The next minute, well, the deed was done.

Not that she was complaining about the speed, mind you. No, it was a highly satisfying romp on the pool table in the guest house in the backyard. The rain was falling hard and singing in its wordless way—sheets of music coming down all around them—when he swept her into his arms, said there now, doll and covered her lips with his. After that it was all desperation and longing and warmth and breathlessness mixed together against a background of green felt.

She had loved him for years, she had to admit. Square-jawed and blue-eyed, Dean had come to her attention when she was only eight and he sixteen. He played football and wore a leather letter jacket and became an Eagle Scout while she gaped and admired from a safe distance in her straggly hair and crooked glasses, as awkward as he was flawless to a painful degree.

Stunned and slightly bruised, they sat up on the table, looked at one another, and begun to laugh nervously. No, they had definitely not planned on this happening. It was simply an accident due to overflowing emotion, rampant sympathy, and no small bit of latent attraction.

For everyone acknowledged that she was no longer awkward; the motion of time had been kind, tumbling her about and removing the hard angles, and she had come out the other side of puberty with a softness and beauty beyond what her former self could have hoped for.

Yes. She nodded absent-mindedly. It had definitely been an accident. And they were so very sorry it happened. Sorry it hadn’t lasted longer, mostly. So they remedied that with another go, long and slow and passionate this time, until all energy was spent and her mind was a beautiful blank. She had lain in his arms for an hour until her phone buzzed with a message from Hugh, wondering where she had gone and what the fuck was he supposed to eat for dinner. They scrambled to sort out clothing, promising to meet again the next day.

But that didn’t happen. Dean stepped off a curb in downtown Mobile that evening (daydreaming of their liaison, she liked to think) and was struck by a city bus. He died instantly, leaving Miranda with only the memory of that sweet encounter, a newfound affection for rainstorms, and the unexpected and delightful revelation that she was finally pregnant.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The depression that became Tropical Storm Pat blew up faster than any other storm in the history of the Gulf, local meteorologists said. In almost no time the tranquil waters became a seething, dark kettle of doom for anyone unlucky enough to be caught in it, which was at least fourteen shrimp boats, eight trawlers, and twenty-one vacationers in various yachts, sailboats, and motor craft.

Miranda couldn’t say with any certainty whether she went into labor because of the weather, or if the storm began after contractions started. At any rate, she knew she was in trouble. Hugh was packing the car to evacuate in case the word was given that the gale had strengthened to hurricane standards and he was in no mood to be told she needed a ride to the hospital.

She paced the floor of the living room, breathing deeply through each pain, hoping this was a false alarm like so many similar scenarios in the past few weeks. When the next contraction caused a light sweat to break out over her forehead, however, she knew this was no dry run. She had to tell Hugh.

“No way, Miranda!” he shouted, the vein in his neck standing out in an alarming way. “You’ve done this a million times over the past week; I am not going through it again, not with this weather! Just go lay down or take an aspirin or something!”

The radio blaring from the front seat of the BMW stopped playing classic rock and the familiar drone of a weather alert began.

Tropical Storm Pat has been upgraded to a level 3 hurricane. Evacuation is recommended. Landfall is expected in five hours. Clarke, Baldwin, Mobile, Washington…

As the computerized voice continued listing affected counties, Miranda’s water broke with a resounding splash on the brick driveway, narrowly missing Hugh’s gleaming Del Toros. He leapt back, staring at her in barely restrained terror, swearing with more creativity than she previously credited him, which was considerable. She stood, dripping, and stared at the turbulent sky with consternation.

“Go get your things,” he ordered, his voice suddenly cold and strangely calm. “And bring plenty of towels. I don’t want your goddam ooze on my leather seats.”

Driving through the pouring rain, they arrived at Mobile Regional in ten minutes. Pulling up to the emergency room doors with tires squealing, Hugh turned to her with eyebrows raised. She opened the door and heaved herself out with some difficulty, turning back to him pleadingly as the wind whipped her maternity dress around her legs. She grabbed at it before it flew completely over her head.

“Are you sure you’re not going to come in?”

Her lip trembled unexpectedly and she bit it, hard. Hugh hated emotional outbursts.

“Hell no! I already told you! There’s no covered parking! Do you have any idea what hail does to a car? I’m heading up to Dale’s. That should be far enough from the damage path.”

As if confirming his fears, the storm began to hurl rain more forcefully than before, the drops hitting the pavement and awning so hard they bounced. He swore again.

“Get out! Get your shit and get in the hospital. You’ll be fine; they have all the crap they need for this kind of thing. I’ll be back when it blows over.”

Miranda pulled the back door open, grabbed her small suitcase, and headed through the sliding doors of the ER, turning back to wave at her husband, who was already out of sight in the driving rain.

The staff and faculty at the hospital endured plenty of hurricanes and their kin over the decades, but even the most weathered among them marveled over the strength and rapidity with which Hurricane Pat arrived. Faster than meteorologists had anticipated, the storm charged ashore and the whole earth seemed to tremble beneath its feet. In the birthing room, Miranda hardly noticed.

“Push, dear! Push!” the OB nurse instructed, as though Miranda was sipping tea and reading a book. “There’s his little head. Push!”

At that moment the entire hospital was plunged into darkness and there were slight, involuntary screams from the hallways as people groped for something to hang onto and the gale rattled the windows. A half-second later the hospital generators kicked on and an eerie half-glow replaced the glaring fluorescents.

“Holy God,” Miranda’s obstetrician swore under his breath. “What else is going to happen?”

Miranda, heedless to the commotion and turmoil outside her window and the consternation of the staff around her, pushed with all the strength she possessed and not a small amount more, and the baby slid into the sure hands of her doctor. Suctioning him extensively and rubbing him vigorously on the warming table, the nurses worked to elicit a response from the small limp body as Miranda held her breath and fought tears once more.

The wind shrieked beside her and the lightening flashed as she glanced up and saw a man standing in the doorway. For a moment she thought it was Hugh, but her heart leapt and she cried out as she realized it was Dean. He was smiling at her as tears rolled down his cheeks and in the instant thunder clapped hard enough to stop her heart, he disappeared.

From the warming table a wail rose up, beautiful and piercing, and the lights flickered back on.

Miranda, crying with relief and joy, stretched her hands out and pleaded to hold the small bundle, which was passed to her almost quickly enough to alleviate her fears.

Outside, Hurricane Pat downgraded suddenly to a gentle rain and nothing more, to the amazement of the entire population of Alabama and surrounding states. Meteorologists everywhere defended their reputations with little success, although the heavy rain did cause enough flash-flooding to console the most passionate viewers of The Weather Channel. In the hospital, the entire basement was full of water and the storm was said to have stopped just before the first floor was inundated. In Miranda’s room on the sixth level, she was heedless to all but her fine and perfect son.

“Noah,” she cooed to his wee wrinkled face. “Noah. How’s my perfect little man? How is he today?”

“Great name for a baby born during a flood,” the nurse muttered as she took it down for records. ”Father’s name?”

Miranda paused, temporarily confused, and flushed a deep crimson as she realized she had almost spoken Dean’s name.

“Hugh. Hugh Collins.”

Truthfully, she had almost forgotten about her husband, as her heart was so completely inundated with love for the child she had borne. She remembered Hugh’s words about coming back later and wondered when, exactly, that would be. She hoped it was a long time. She felt no guilt, and then felt guilty for it.

The baby grew fussy and she fumbled to put him to her breast, marveling that something so natural could be so damn difficult. By the time he successfully attached she dripped with sweat but leaned back against her pillows and sighed with contentment. The nurse smiled.

“You’re both really taking to it now, aren’t you?” she commented. “I never had much luck with it myself, but I’m always happy to see somebody succeed.”

Leaning over the pair, she lightly stroked Noah’s fuzzy head. “He sure is a cute one, I must say. I’ve seen a lot of babies, you know, and this one, well. He’s just prettier than they usually come out!”

Miranda could not, and naturally never would, argue. Her boy was finer than she had ever dreamed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hugh arrived early in the morning the next day and strolled cheerfully through the maternity ward, winking at nurse and handing out redolent Havana cigars.

“A boy, you hear? A boy! Course I wouldn’t have expected any less, you know. My boys know how to make boys!” he boomed, his deep voice travelling down every corridor.

Miranda drew the covers tightly around herself and hoped she looked pleasant enough. She smoothed the blankets to make certain the bloodstained pad beneath her was thoroughly covered. He wouldn’t like to see that, she knew. She wished briefly but fervently that she spent a little more time on her makeup, but snuggling with Noah was so much more appealing.

Hugh would want her to look her best; she should always look her best for him. At least, that’s what he’d been telling her since the day they met.

Never mind, here he was in the doorway, filling the frame, and he strode towards her with a smile that seemed almost sincere, thrusting a cigar at her, which she took timorously.

“Look, I saved one for you,” he chuckled.

She relaxed one iota, only to become alarmed again as he bent over the sleeping bundle and began rapidly unwinding his swaddled form.

“What are you doing?” Miranda asked, uncertain whether to be alarmed or pleased that her disinterested husband should be so intent upon the newborn. He said nothing but continued clumsily unwrapping the baby, whistling an aimless tune.

As the last bit of blanket unknotted itself, the baby gave a start, reflexively threw his spindly arms out and began to wail. Miranda reached for him but Hugh knocked her hand away.

“Determined to make a mama’s boy out of him already, are you?” he sneered. “Not my son. If he is my son.”

Miranda’s heart began to beat in an unnatural rhythm. There was simply no way Hugh could know. Not possible. No one knew. She strove to make her face a mask of bewilderment and indeed, it was not difficult. He seemed intent on finding some damning evidence on the baby himself, turning Noah this way and that, and becoming more agitated by the second. He even went so far as to peer into the tiny patch of plastic that passed for a diaper, baby loudly protesting, before releasing him roughly and straightening up.

“Hugh, I don’t…”

With that she was nearly knocked off the bed by the back of her husband’s hand. Her ears rang as she sought to right herself, the entire room spinning. From a long way off she heard the baby’s wail become a hysterical shriek and this sound alone enabled her to gather her wits.

Hand over her burning cheek, she stared in terror at the man looming over her as he exposed his sizeable bicep and pointed to a small dark stain she had never noticed before.

“Every man in my family for ten generations has had this birthmark, you bitch; this mark, look at it!”

He grabbed her face in his hand and shook her. “This mark, it’s on us at birth, somewhere, like a goddam fucking oracle, you hear me? A testimony to fidelity, woman, and you–” He roared louder than before as she grabbed blindly for the nurse call button and pressed it frantically.

“You cheating whore.”

His fist flew, connecting soundly with her right eye and causing an explosion of pain to rocket through her whole body. She flew from the bed and crumpled against a recliner in the corner of the room. Noah shrieked and flailed his limbs as the bed tipped over, tossing him to the cold linoleum with a sickening thud. Sobbing and pleading for mercy, Miranda crawled to her son and gathered him up as Hugh wrenched the bed aside and descended upon them.

Nurses and orderlies filled the room, drawn by both the call button and the specter of violence, and chaos reigned as shouts of outrage and distress mixed with Hugh’s bellowing. Orderlies flew like bowling pins as Hugh vented his rage and succeeded in breaking several bones. Finally, a timely injection of a potent sedative by a particularly nimble nurse brought the man down like an oversized rag doll.

After his large, doped form had been dragged from the room, Miranda was examined and treated for an orbital fracture and bruised ribs. Being composed primarily of softness and fluff, Noah was unharmed, and with his mother’s breast as comfort he was quickly asleep once more.

Miranda, on the other hand, wept until late into the night, clasping her bandaged ribs tightly and rocking with the sorrow of the inconsolable. Her husband would be put in jail, no doubt, hopefully for a long time, but the terror of him would never fully recede, not while he was alive, not while she could feel the weight of his fury bearing down upon her, not as long as she had a son to protect.

As she sobbed into the swaddled child, however, she swore she felt an arm around her and smelled the warm scent of leather and heard the gentle words “there now, doll.” Though she knew she was simply imagining Dean because she needed him so badly, she still felt better; his strength became her own.

When the room grew pale with the cold blue of early morning, her tears ebbed away and the fear was replaced with an outrage that grew like the sunrise. How dare the man threaten the safety of this miracle, this baby stretching and cooing in her arms? How dare he come at her like she was some kind of animal when he was the animal—he was the brutal thing that was ruled by only the most rudimentary of emotions: jealousy and fear.

No. She would not be afraid of him. Though she trembled within, she would clad herself in steel and do whatever needed to be done. Bathed in early morning gold, she watched the sun rise and drank in that peculiar newborn perfume emanating from her son’s tiny form.

She felt as though she was being born again, her very DNA was rearranging itself. What once allowed for submissive naiveté reformed into the determined ferocity that gave women the world over the reputation of a mother bear. She breathed deeply and wiped her eyes for the last time. If Hugh came looking for trouble, he would find it. She would make sure of that.

ouch

Some wounds are plain
when we do fall
requiring help
and seen by all

Some wounds we hide
deeply within
let no one see
let no one in

and we don’t want
to seem too weak
remedies shunned
no help we seek

Forgoing care
all logic flout
smiling brightly
while bleeding out.

The Normal Suit

The normal suit
it hangs just there
within your bedroom closet
we all have them
you know the one
no one has ever lost it
just step into
the normal suit
each morning as you rise
no one will care
or ever know
that it’s a great disguise
don’t be yourself
don’t let them see
the true self underneath
for if you do
they’re sure to laugh
and leave you in your grief
oh normal suits
sweet normal suits!
that help us through the day
they make us smile
when tears are close
and give us words to say
like “I’m just fine!”
and “nothing’s wrong”
if anyone should ask
they cover well
from head to toe
and each comes with a mask
Oh normal suits
sweet normal suits!
they only cost your soul
come put them on
they fit so fine
if falseness is your goal.

Baby

There is a child in our family, and I wonder sometimes what it is like to be him. He is the grand finale, the numero ultimo, the baby. I was the middle in my family, number three of five, and I was happy to blend and meld and otherwise fly well under the radar. If I could not do so in the safety of numbers, I would find a book and hide beneath the weight of its pages so as not to be noticed. This is not the case for my son, this thirteenth of thirteen. He is in-your-face, louder-than-life, and does not suffer being ignored.

Perhaps this is to make up for the circumstances surrounding his introduction to our circus of a family; perhaps he is subconsciously making amends for the naughty disappearing act he pulled at six weeks gestation, when the OB looked at me in the ultrasound room and informed me gently that there was no heartbeat, indeed, no detectable bits of humanity left at all, and that I should prepare for another miscarriage. I was distraught, angry, hopeless, miserable, and inconsolable. For a week I railed at God and anyone else who would listen. At the end of seven days I dragged myself back for a follow-up to talk about D&Cs, since nothing physical beyond some spotting was happening. The moment the wand of goo was inserted, the OB said, with a slight raise of his eyebrows: “Oh. Well. Never mind. There’s a baby in there after all. Looks perfect.”

And then I kicked him squarely in the gonads.

Since then, this child has never left any doubt as to his presence. From the time he was born, he breastfed only enough to slake his hunger and not a second more. Never for comfort. It was almost as though he was embarrassed by his needs. When he was ten months old he launched a nursing strike that I was too weary to combat, so bottles he got, and bottles he loved. He is to this day demanding, opinionated, determined, and insightful beyond his years. He calls me out when I do things like throw a wad of gum from the car window (MOMMY THAT’S LITTERING), eschews hugs and kisses with a vengeance, fights with his nearest brother incessantly (they have one another’s buttons memorized), and insists loudly that he is not, nor will he ever be, the baby of the family (I AM NOT A BABY).

And yet, there are moments when he is ill or exceptionally tired that he will crawl into my lap and deign to be rocked for a while. This makes those times all the sweeter for their scarcity.

All his firsts are lasts for me; no one is up and coming behind him, no one will follow in his footsteps or wear his cast-off clothing. He is a solitary, curious little man, this baby of the family, and fiercely independent. I am proud of him, and melancholy, at the same time. But what is there to do? Time marches on, that magnificent, terrible bastard, with no regard for me and my little motherly longings. It will not turn back so I can nurse him once more, nor will it give me another chance to smother his chubby toddler cheeks with kisses. It will not tarry, nor will it dawdle so I can remind myself to enjoy these days of firsts and lasts. If I don’t remember, the grief is mine alone to bear, and bear it I will, for I am not sentimental under most circumstances.

Today the baby graduated from Pre-K. He has a long road to trod before he wears a mortarboard at the close of twelfth grade, and yet the shadow of things to come lies just there, beneath the black nylon, in his grey-green eyes that see, and absorb all. I write, and weep, because I am wise enough to know by now that it matters not how slowly the days pass, they do pass, and the only chance we stand of fighting it is to record it. And so I do. Goodbye preschool; you were full of fun and educational pursuits. Hello, future. Please be kind.

baby

Of Brothers and Buildings

My brother is a builder, which means he crafts beauty from raw materials like wood and screws and nails and insulation. I am firmly convinced that, given enough time, he could build anything you could possibly want, like a second story on your home or a deck that would make all your neighbors jealous. He specializes in renovating homes and has steadily built up a clientele so that he is always in demand from someone or another.

When I was forty-five, I tried to kill myself. The details are unimportant, but the fact that I did not succeed is somewhat more pertinent to this story. When I was released from the hospital, feeling fragile and empty like a blown-out egg at Easter (minus the decorative embellishment) my brother put everything on hold in his life and flew to my side. We spent many late nights talking together, examining the wherefores of my breakdown, and he, as a man of action and perpetual motion, decided what to do. Although my house had plenty of space for my family, my own desk was crammed into a corner of my bedroom, a noisy and often-interrupted carved-out space…an afterthought. Though he could not give me one of the two requirements that Woolf maintained a woman needed to write fiction—money—he could give me the room of my own.

And so work began. We chose the spot in the back yard and he built concrete pylons for the room to anchor to against the sometimes violent Oklahoma wind. Slowly the walls went up, and then the roof. I have many pages of scribbled plans, my brother’s thoughts and figures and lists for Lowe’s and Home Depot. We went to a window outlet and bought a beautiful casement window for one end of the space, along with two standard-edition windows for each of the other sides. It would have just enough room for a built-in desk and cupboards, a sofa, and a chair. No plumbing, but internet.

The finishing touches caused cars to slow down and sometimes stop to gape at the wonder that was my wee house. The gingerbread molding around the roofline reflected my great love of the sea by imitating gentle waves, and a small awning above the door was topped with corrugated steel that shone magical rays upon the roof when the sun shone. He painted it blue-grey with white trim, and I textured the inside walls and colored them ocean blue. The ceiling was white pine imported from Norway, with wainscoting of the same to match. It was a cozy place, a space of solitude and quiet. I strung white fairy lights along the ceiling.

In the short year I had with my wee house, I wrote three novels. They emerged from me like children after long gestations, birthing with a swiftness that left me breathless. I had no idea they were there, just waiting for the space to stretch, swell, and emerge.

My brother is a builder. Sometimes he builds a deck, or renovates a kitchen so that it shines again, or installs a roof. But other times, in the process of putting one board atop another, something magical happens. When he built my wee house, my scattered pieces fit together once more and my mind rested easily within its walls. He wasn’t just crafting a space, he was leaving a testimony to love, a Taj Mahal of brotherly affection—a fraction of the size and twice as beautiful.

wee wee3 wee4 wee5 wee6

Happy Soul-Wrenching, Mentally-Exhausting, Emotion-Spending, Never-Ending, I-Pooped-Out-Offspring Day!

Someone once said that motherhood is “the hardest job you’ll ever love”. I support the sentiment. And it’s nice when you love it. It’s nice when you get the grubby handful of dandelions and a lisped “luh you”. It’s nice when you get the hand-drawn card and self-made verse. It’s nice to get a hug from one of your children. It’s nice when you get help with the housework. It’s nice to have a house full of your very own homemade people.

But *whispers* here’s the truth:

You don’t always love it. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes the disciplining, the lecturing, the emotional roller coaster, the temper tantrums, the educating, the arguments, the doctor visits, the sleepless nights, the stuff that makes your heart ache til you wonder if you’ll ever get any part of this parenting thing right…it makes you feel like running away.

It’s a hard gig, this parenthood thing. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I am often faint of heart.

I took a quiz once that said I should have 0 children. I guess it revealed a deep inner selfishness or something. Maybe too high an instinct for self-preservation. Anyway, it made me laugh. Sometimes I yearn for the cloistered life I used to aspire to. Sometimes I long for singleness and solitude.

But then I look around, and I realize…this is the work of refining. This is the fire. This is the purification process, right here. My children, who sniff out selfishness like bloodhounds and reflect exactly what I have sown and nothing less, are God’s tools for turning me into who I need to be in the here and now.  They are the lathe that carves me into something beautiful. They are the strong hands that mold the lump of clay.

We know that we shape our children, but even more than that, they shape us.

I am not the person I used to be. I am evolving every day. And I have my children, by and large, to thank for that.

So thank you, children. Thank you for bearing with me and putting up with my foibles and all the ways I fail you on a daily basis. I am your fellow sojourner here on earth, and I know nothing about anything. We are in this together. I love you dearly. I praise God for the days I pooped each one of you out.

 

us

 

 

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