Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 3)

Noah Knows Chapters 7 – 10

Chapters 1 & 2 here
Chapters 3 & 4 here
Chapters 5 & 6  here

 

~Seven~

Noah knew things. Noah knows mama would sing to him when he would tell her things. Noah knows Noah knows. He liked how it sounded and he would laugh and sing it along with her.

Most of the time they were little things, like how the phone was about to ring or what ad was coming up on the television, but sometimes they were big. He didn’t like knowing the big things; the big things were not funny and mama never sang Noah knows to him about them. Mostly she would just hug him and rock him in her lap when he told her because the big things were sad and scary and there was nothing either of them could do about them.

She cried when he told her about the baby squirrel. She cried more than he did, and he wasn’t sure why because she once said squirrels were just rats with bushy tails. But she cried a lot and rocked him and didn’t let him go until he asked if he could please go play. Mama was funny sometimes. He didn’t know much about her. He tried a little bit once, a tiny bit because he was curious. He pushed a little, but nothing happened. She was closed up to him, and he was glad.

Some people were closed up. For those who weren’t, he didn’t try to find stuff out. Usually it just happened that he knew it, like it dropped into his head from a long way away. Other times, if he was really curious, he pushed with his mind and things dropped. Mama told him one day that this was a very bad thing to do and he should never do it, that it was like peeking through a hole in the bathroom door; it was rude, and so he didn’t do it after that.

But he couldn’t help the things that dropped by themselves.

He knew, for instance, that his preschool teacher had a baby that died when it was not even born. He knew that even though she had three other children, she thought about that baby all the time and sometimes still cried because of it. She named the baby Ruby Lee but hadn’t told anybody that it had a name. Grown-ups were really funny, but really interesting too. The kids in his class didn’t have much going on in their minds except how much they hated peas and didn’t understand math and stuff like that. Grown-ups were way more interesting.

But he didn’t push anymore because Mama said it was bad, and he believed her.

School was hard for him because the things that dropped got really distracting sometimes. Sometimes the stuff that came into his head was so noisy that he couldn’t hear his teacher telling him it was lunchtime or where to put his coat. He couldn’t tell her what was really happening; Mama told him he must never tell anyone because nobody would believe him and they would call him a liar but he thought there was probably an even better reason than that.

One night, he watched the movie “E.T.” Mama was nervous that he might be scared but he wasn’t scared at all, not even a little bit, until the part where the grown-ups take E.T. away from Elliot. They strapped E.T. to a table and Noah knew then they were going to cut him up, just chop him into little pieces to try to find out how he could fly and do magic. He understood that adults always think that’s the best way to figure out magic; by chopping the thing up and looking inside it. It was stupid and they ruined everything but they couldn’t help it, just like a cat needed to kill squirrels.

It was weird but he knew they would do the same to him; Mama didn’t even have to say it.

 

~Eight~

Mr. McGraw bought a Tracker bass boat with a cherry red diamond-coat finish, and he posted photographs of it all around his office and spoke of it as “her” and “she” to anyone who would listen. He also bought a bigger hat and the largest belt buckle Miranda had ever seen, although only half of it showed, peeking out from under his indomitable gut.

“I swear to God, it’s the size of a dinner plate,” she said to her mother, Lucy, stopping in to discuss Christmas dinner plans and Noah’s wish list.

“Don’t swear to God, Miranda,” Her mother frowned.

“Sorry, Mom. But you’ve got to come in sometime and see what I’m talking about. McGraw is getting so weird and it’s not just the boat and the belt buckle. His whole demeanor has changed; he tries to get every woman who comes into the place to go for a ride sometime on his boat. Like it’s a freaking yacht and he’s the prince of Arabia!”

“Well, let the man have a little fun, dear. He could probably use some female companionship.”

“Well, sure,” Miranda said. “But I race the other girls to get done each night so I don’t have to be alone with him, or Joanie either, for that matter. She’s really weird, too. I think they’re dating or something; they are always whispering together in his office. He used to be a harmless old guy, but now he’s so…”

“Do you think he’s dangerous?” Lucy furrowed her brow.

“I guess not,” Miranda sighed. “I’m fairly sure he’s just—obsessed. But he’s a big guy and can be kind of formidable. He plays every lottery there is now, too, and all the horse races. He’s decided he’s on a roll but he hasn’t won anything since. I wish he’d win millions and retire. At least then he’d stop thinking Noah is the key to everything.”

“Does he? Still?”

“He asks about him all the time, like he’s hoping I’ll let him pick winners for him at the races.”

“Maybe you should lodge a complaint? Like a harassment thing?”

“He’s not harassing anybody…” Miranda shifted uneasily as she recalled the encounter in her foyer. “At any rate, Joanie likes the attention. I hope they are dating. Maybe if she had sex once in a while it would lighten her up a little. She gives me the death glare all day long.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Lucy said, grimacing. “Joanie seems kind of dangerous, from what you’ve told me. I don’t like the idea of you being alone with her for sure.”

“Let’s talk about something nice now. Sorry I brought all that up; Christmas dinner is a way more enjoyable topic.”

“Still, I don’t like to think about you being in any danger,” her mother said. “It was bad enough with you on your own after Hugh’s trial. Your father and I sure enjoyed having you and Noah here. Are you doing all right in that little duplex? Is it safe?”

“I love it, mom. I know you enjoy having the house to yourselves again. We’re fine. I have a good job and I like being independent.”

“I just wish you got more out of that bastard.”

“Me too,” Miranda said.

“Honestly, if I knew he pushed you into signing a pre-nup I would have insisted that you not marry him at all. I would have thrown a fit.”

“And I would have married him anyway. What did I know? I was a ditzy, starry eyed cheerleader. I liked his attention. Everybody thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. Even you and dad.”

“He had us all fooled,” her mother said, sadly. “And at least we have our sweet Noah, don’t we? So there’s always a silver lining. But if that bastard ever comes near you again–”

“Mom, don’t get all worked up. Hugh’s in prison, and hopefully he’ll stay there for good. I’m just glad we were able to get enough from the civil suit for Noah’s future. My job will get us through until he’s eighteen and can decide what he wants to do with it.”

Her father came into the room and kissed her on the temple. “We really miss you, sugar. I just had a nice chat with Noah in the living room. He’s building a tower with those new blocks you bought, Lucy. He says I’m going to die.” He laughed heartily.

“He did? I’m so sorry Dad. It’s a weird phase he’s going through.”

“Don’t worry one moment. Lord knows that day is coming.”

“Not any time soon, I hope,” Lucy said.

“Did he say when, exactly?” Miranda asked. Her mouth was dry.

“No, just that it was going to happen. What’s wrong, Miranda? You look pale.”

“I’m fine. It’s been an odd couple of weeks. He keeps saying that to people. I don’t like it.”

“Just a phase, like you said, dear,” Lucy said, pouring her daughter a glass of wine. “Children come out with all kinds of strange things. You used to tell people they were pregnant, do you remember that?”

“What? No. I don’t remember that at all. How old was I?”

“Probably the same age as Noah. A little younger. About three I think. A few times you were right and they really were pregnant and they didn’t know it, or they had just found out. Made us wonder if you had some special gift for a while.” Lucy and Dale looked at each other and laughed.

“But I wasn’t always right? Not always?”

“Some of them we didn’t even know; just people on the street. Some were friends and out of all of them a few really were pregnant. We figured you heard us talking about it. Actually, those that weren’t pregnant at the time–” Lucy thought for a moment. “Yes, I think they all did go on to have children, eventually. Doesn’t really make you Nostradamus, does it?”

“Of course not.”

Miranda laughed nervously and took several mouthfuls of wine.

“That’s not Kool-Aid, you know.”

Miranda wiped her lips with a napkin and tried to breathe easy. Her hands would not stop shaking.

“Was there anything else? Or anybody else in the family who did stuff like that?”

“Your grandmother—my mother—always said that her mother was something of a clairvoyant. Made a hobby out of reading people’s tea leaves and palms and things like that. Sometimes people would come from miles away to hear what she had to say. And mother herself—you know this—was always uncanny when it came to the races. Remember how she won ten thousand dollars?”

“I do remember,” Miranda said, softly. “I had forgotten, but now I remember.”

They were on summer vacation in her mother’s hometown of Texarkana. The women went to the horse races in Shreveport. When they came sweeping into the house later that evening the tumult of voices brought all the men and children together in a hurry. Eventually the details were sorted out. The story of how Louise picked the winning trifecta and got so excited she screamed and her false teeth shot out of her mouth had become a thing of family legend.

“Your grandmother picked up a little bit of a gambling habit after that,” her mother said. We were a little worried about her because she won so much we didn’t think we could convince her to stop. One day she just up and quit on her own, though. Said she was scared of the money. It was upsetting her life. I can’t imagine being upset by money.”

“Funny,” Miranda said, unsmiling.

“So where’s the clairvoyant in you, babe?” Dale asked, pulling Lucy in for a kiss. “I haven’t noticed you winning any lotteries lately.”

“But I always know what you’re thinking,” Lucy exclaimed, patting her husband on the cheek.

“Please, not right here in front of me,” Miranda groaned.

“Don’t let Noah’s baby talk worry you,” her mother said. “If he has a touch of the Robinson clairvoyance it surely won’t be enough to plan a trip to Vegas. Pretty watered down by now, I think.”

Oh, but what you don’t know! Miranda thought.

 

~Nine~

That night Miranda dreamt she was standing in the rain on a street corner lit by one very yellow and flickering street lamp. The rain was torrential; the drops threw themselves down from heaven like so many tiny kamikaze pilots, violently pelting her flimsy umbrella. She gripped Noah’s hand, hard, fearing she would lose him in the deluge.

Across the street, barely visible through the sheets of water, there was an enormous dark form. Though she could not make out its shape, the sight of it filled her with fear; she tried to turn and run but she was rooted on the spot.

She looked anxiously at her son and found him gazing up at her, his face a halo of serenity but for his small mouth, which had been sewn shut with coarse twine in large, ungainly stitches. She tried to scream but no sound came out, tried to gather him into her arms and sob but could not move an inch.

Don’t be afraid, Mama. Noah said, though his lips couldn’t part to make a sound. Don’t be afraid. He spoke it straight from his mind to hers. But Miranda was afraid, deathly afraid. As she looked up she saw that the object had moved closer and was now in the middle of the street, and though she still could not discern its form she thought it might be a man and grew even more terrified. It was at least twelve feet tall and vaguely rectangular, like a monolithic statue from a savage island, and Miranda began to cry from fear and frustration.

Mama, Daddy is coming, Noah said, nodding down the street, as at that moment a classic old Camaro shot through the drenching rain and skidded to a halt in front of them, blocking the approach of the dark shape.

“Get in,” Dean shouted, as the door popped open. Suddenly released from her paralysis, she clambered into the seat with Noah. There was a roar of rage from all around them as he hit the gas and peeled out, sending up plumes of water from the back tires, and the whole car shook as though something enormous had struck it.

“What the hell was that?” she sobbed, giving voice to all her fears at once.

“Just the future,” Dean said.

Miranda awoke damp with sweat, sheets sticking to her as the cold rays of the December morning stole through her blinds.

Staggering up, she hurried into the silvery darkness of Noah’s room where he lay, impossibly small in his twin bed. She snapped on the bedside lamp and almost cried with relief when she saw his tiny mouth, puckered with consternation at the sudden light, completely free of twine.

“Is it schooltime, Mama?” he asked, his voice grumbly.

“No, honey. No. I’m sorry. It’s Saturday. Go back to sleep now.” She turned the light off and climbed into the bed with him, spooning her body around his small form and pulling him into her chest. She wished she could return him to the womb, surround him with her own flesh and blood where he could come to no harm.

Just the future, Dean said. She could see him in her mind’s eye as clearly as her own face in a mirror. He looked radiant as ever, glowing with good health, and not phantasmal in the slightest. She knew that his appearance in her dream had something to do with the conversation she had earlier with her parents, but that did not make it any less real. His eyes had rested upon her and Noah with longing and sorrow, as they always did in her dreams, and a great pang of loneliness settled over her.

 

~Ten~

“You’ve got commitment issues, hon.”

Miranda and Nancy were arguing. Sitting in the mall food court, resting their shop-weary feet and waiting on Hannah, another childhood friend, they heatedly discussed Miranda’s sex life.

“Maybe I do. Who the hell could blame me?”

“Seriously. I know Hugh was a bad burn, but come on! You’ve had how many one night stands now? And all of them your fault, you know.”

“My fault? My fault how?”

“I mean, they didn’t have to be one night stands. You’re the one who decided that. Every one of those guys would have gone out with you again, but you never call anybody back. I’m worried about you, hon.”

“Hey, I use protection,” Miranda said defensively.

“That’s not what I’m worried about.” Nancy sighed. “Although I’m glad to hear it.”

“None of those guys was worth a call back.”

“And you’re basing this on what kind of evidence? You didn’t even give them a chance.”

“Because they all left before morning, that’s why. I want a guy who sticks around, you know, maybe even offers to make me breakfast, dammit. Not some loser who can’t stand to look at me in the bright light of day. They might leave me their numbers but I have my standards.”

“Honey,” Nancy said, taking Miranda’s hand in hers. “I’m just asking you to think about it. Maybe it’s time to get some counseling. Therapy might make you feel better; make you ready to take a chance on somebody.”

“I guess,” Miranda said reluctantly. “You have a point.”

Hannah walked up then, arms full of bags. “Looks like we’re talking about something serious?”

“My love life,” Miranda said. “Apparently I have commitment issues.”

“But you do, Randy. You do.”

“Ugh. Don’t call me that. It was a good nickname when I was a kid, but now it sounds almost perverted.”

Hannah laughed. “I see what you mean. You don’t have any problem getting men, just keeping them.”

“I’m just a little gun-shy, I guess.”

“Understandable. I would be too. We’re going out tonight; would you come with us? We’re going to the Red Dirt Dance Hall for a Christmas party; it’s going to be loads of fun. Maybe your dream guy will be there. You know, the one you actually call back?”

“I don’t know, guys.” Miranda felt suddenly weary. “I’m really tired. Haven’t been sleeping well. Had a doozy of a nightmare last night. Maybe I should pass.”

“Well, shoot,” Nancy said. “I was going to tell you there’s a guy Tom knows who’s coming. He’s really nice, Miranda. Really. We were going to introduce you. Please come. If you don’t like him, you can leave.”

“Really? Just leave, immediately?”

“Yes. We won’t hold it against you.” Hannah nodded in agreement.

“All right then. I’ll try.”

 

The Red Dirt Dance Hall, within walking distance from Miranda’s duplex, was crowded and noisy with the energy of a live band. She felt the eyes of several men upon her as she walked in, and that made her happy.

She had been especially careful with her makeup, picking out colors that made her large eyes even more emphatic, arching her brows and hollowing out her cheekbones. She had put her thick red hair up in a loose bun with just enough tendrils hanging down to be enticing. Her jeans were tight and her shirt was form fitting and her cowboy boots were suddenly itching to two-step. The fatigue fell away as she heard the live band and she was glad she had come. All the crazy in her life had earned her this moment, and she was going to make the most of every minute.

She claimed a spot at the bar by draping her coat over the back of a chair, slid herself up, and ordered a bourbon on the rocks. She was flanked on one side by a couple who were very into each other, possibly a first or second date, and on the other by a tall man who seemed to be alone. He gave her an appraising look as she leaned onto the bar to take a long slug on her drink, and she returned it in kind.

He was almost ridiculously good looking, with thick blond waves covering his head and blue eyes that wrinkled at the corners from plenty of laughter. He smiled and she saw that he was blessed with dimples, too.

“You here all alone?” he shouted above the music.

“Waiting for friends,” she said. “You?”

“Same. Want to dance while we wait?”

Nice and friendly. And there were those dimples again. She drained her drink, feeling warm all the way down to her toes, and nodded.

His name was Mike, and he spun her around the dance floor through three songs until she was breathless and begged to go back to the bar. His hand was large and warm and work-worn as he led her back to their seats, where he ordered for them both.

“You hot?” he laughed, fanning her with his cowboy hat.

“Yes!” she shouted, downing her drink in one go and finding it swiftly replaced with another. The door opened and the burst of cold November night air felt like heaven on her skin. She pressed closer to Mike and pretended to be chilled, and was gratified when he put his arm around her waist.

Nancy and Hannah arrived with their boyfriends, Tom and Joel, and when they located Miranda they wasted no time in spiriting her off to the bathroom for a conference.

“Hon, that’s him!” Nancy said excitedly as soon as the door was shut. “That’s the guy Tom wanted to introduce you to. Isn’t he amazing?”

“He’s the best thing here,” Hannah giggled.

“I’m telling Joel you said that,” Miranda teased, rolling her eyes. “But yeah, he seems really nice. And don’t worry about getting me home. I have a feeling I won’t be alone.”

“Three cheers for not going home alone,” Nancy said, and the six or seven other women in the bathroom cheered with them.

“How about a slow dance?” Mike asked as she returned. She nodded and finished her drink and they went back to the dance floor.

Slow dancing is not a skill that comes naturally to most people, Miranda knew, but he was good at everything, it seemed, and pulled her close, hand pressed against her lower back. She reached up to put her arms around his neck and smiled her most charming smile, which, she had found, was fairly potent. The room was spinning gently and every disturbing thought was successfully drowned out by a combination of alcohol and male attention.

She felt light and happy and cared about nothing at all except this man with the riveting blue eyes whose pelvis was swaying against hers in an intoxicating way.

He bent forward and kissed her, searching her tongue with his. He tasted pleasingly of beer and pretzel salt and she returned the search with one of her own, becoming more breathless by the moment.

Mike let out a contented sigh and smiled at her. “That’s a nice flavor,” he said. “Got any more?”

“Maybe you’ll find out,” she said, rocking her hips against his. “I have all kinds of flavors.”

He spun her away and laughed loudly when she staggered back to him, then dipped her for good measure before planting a kiss on her neck.

She couldn’t imagine a better time, and thought the only danger was in the night ending too soon, going home too early with this man and his dimples, having sex and passing out. She was not yet ready for it to end with the usual cold awakening to slanting sunlight on an empty bed.

She had a good feeling about Mike, for whatever that was worth–she didn’t think he was a closet axe murderer–but he was also a little too eager, and she was planning to stay until the very last call. So she pushed away from him and returned to the bar, feigning fatigue, and he followed her to order more drinks.

This was good, she thought. This was just what she needed. She looked around the room. There were beautiful women everywhere, from tightly toned brunettes to blondes with enormous assets. None of them had a fraction of a clue about the power they wielded. Lonely and bored, even the most beautiful was afraid of being alone. All of them were too anxious to settle, far too ready to hit the deck with any clueless and panting young man.

She would not be that, no. She would stretch this night out; make Mr. Dimples work for it before she took him home.

Only she didn’t. Within a few minutes, when he asked if she’d like to step out for some fresh air, she nodded and that had been the end of that. Home was a mere step or two away it seemed, and they groped each other all the way there, desperation growing by the moment.

After fumbling the door open and throwing twenties at the babysitter (who left in a hurry), they fell onto her bed and Mike proved himself good at everything, indeed. And as they rolled over, exhausted and sated, she smiled to herself and slipped into a blissfully dreamless sleep.

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.

#10

 
I awoke
from a dream of you
to reality
and the noise
of fighting
children
and thus
the day began
Yet you followed me
the scent of you
clean
like
cut grass
and
your voice
like rumbling
thunder
low
in my ear
telling me
all will
be well
and so
I continue to dream
though I am
awake.

Now

I feel better than I have in a long time.

Like, a really, really long time.

Much of it is proper medication. During my last low point, a couple of months ago, my doctor put me on Effexor, and that is when things slowly started looking up. I quit dreading each day. Things like taking a shower no longer seemed insurmountably difficult. I no longer felt like I was walking through peanut butter. People ceased annoying the hell out of me. I stopped weeping at random moments. The crushing weight on my chest lightened.

The sky was bluer. The sun was shinier. The birdsong was tweetier. My kids’ laughter was brighter. The thought of the future didn’t fill me with apprehension.

This may sound ridiculous to some, but to others, it may offer a glimmer of hope. If you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression, it can take time to get the meds right. Don’t give up.  There are infinite combinations of medications. One will work for you, if you keep working with your doctor to find it. I was diagnosed as bipolar over three years ago, and I have been on various meds for just that long before hitting upon this magical combo (Latuda, Abilify, Effexor). Also, I’m taking turmeric, which has been shown to decrease inflammation (inflammation has been linked to depression).

Other than medication, I’ve been doing some things just for me. I’m taking banjo lessons, and going to a writer’s group. I’m writing a little each day. Sometimes a lot. These are enormous things, and things I have to fight not to feel guilty about. How twisted is that? I start to feel guilty for leaving the house, or telling Judah “I’m working” when he makes his 1,001st demand on my time, and then I slap myself (metaphorically) and keep going.

Then there’s the weather. Sunny. Highs in the 70s and low 80s. Fresh breezes blowing. Fluffy clouds in the sky.

I’m so glad I can appreciate it.

There was a time, not long ago, that I wouldn’t have been able to.

That was then, though. For now, I’m riding this wave as long as I can.

 

I Wish You Summer

Summer is upon us. Summer. Oh, what a glorious word! Even though I am an old woman of 46, I can still well remember the bliss that was waking up the first day of summer vacation and the enormous sense of relief when the thought bloomed: I have no homework. None. Zip. Nada. For like, ever.

Or it might as well have been forever. Because, come on? That fateful day in late August when the larnin’ all begins again? A million miles away. At least a million. Maybe more. Who can tell? The calendar no longer holds any meaning. Days of the week blur together in a wash of sun-drenched hues.

What do I wish for you, oh children of summertime? It’s pretty simple, really.

I wish you a summer like I had when I was a kid.

I wish you long days full of heat and cicadas and fireflies and sun and stars. Long draughts of root beer with vanilla ice cream floating in the midst of it.

I wish you watermelon, cut into slices that you hold by the rind in your hand over the green lawn, letting the juice drip down your chin and all the way to your elbows, taking turns seeing who can spit the seeds the farthest.

I wish you chases and games of tag and skinned knees so you can pick the scabs later when you are bored and your mom is too busy to drive you to the mall.

I wish you trips to the library, air redolent with ink-saturated pages, hundreds and thousands of worlds to visit with the turn of one page; vibrant covers that entice and draw you in to places far beyond your small experiences, stories that enrich and light fires within your breasts. I wish you flashlight-reading under the covers of your bed, in tents out on the grass, and at sleepovers when everyone else has succumbed to the sandman already but you…you’ve got to read just one. more. page.

I wish you swimming. I wish you jumping for the first time off the high dive, dizzying heights and staggering limits, freefalling into the sparkling blue water and making the biggest splash possible with your small body. I wish you the clean exhaustion that comes from being out in the sun and in the chlorine-scented water, the feeling of satisfaction from pushing your body and your courage to its limits.

I wish you bike rides and tennis matches, roller-skating forays and hopscotch battles drawn with chalk lines over the uneven surface of the sidewalk.

I wish you boredom, and the challenge that it brings your numbed imaginations to come up with something new yet again to do. I wish for your parents to not feel the need to fill your every waking second with activity, so that you are forced to stare into empty space for just a while and fathom something deeper than yourselves.

I wish you fishing. I wish you worms on hooks and thrashing trout and sunfish and crappie on the end of your line. I wish you someone to help you get them off in case you are squeamish. I wish you the feel of cold scales in your hand and the joy of releasing them back into the water you drew them from. Or, if you prefer, the taste of fresh fish you caught yourself fried in a pan with butter and breadcrumbs.

I wish you freedom, just a hair more than you were given last summer. After all, you are one year older. I wish you shenanigans. I wish you just a small amount of trouble that never gets found out, that remains the secret between you and your very best friends forever and ever.

I wish you movies with lines that wrap around the block in anticipation. I wish you darkened theaters and popcorn and previews and gasps of surprise and jumps of alarm and giggles of excitement and all the things that the torn ticket represents.

I wish you relatives, plenty of relatives to visit and to come visiting. I wish you grandparents and aunts and uncles that put you on your best behavior and then relieve you with a wink. I wish you trips in the car with the steady thump-thump of the highway below you as you play the alphabet game and license plate bingo. I wish you lots of time at the kids’ table with cousins that make you laugh until milk comes out your nose.

I wish you siblings, and friends. I wish you people to fight with and hang out with and imagine with and dream with and laugh with and cry with.

I wish you memories. So many memories. I wish you plenty of time in the long, sun drenched days to come to make your own.

 

Things Nobody Tells You

So somebody just placed a wet, squirmy newly-born babe in your arms. It’s beautiful. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, actually.  It’s perfection, from its exquisitely formed fingers to its nubbin of a nose. Perfection. A vision of the Almighty.

Yes, that newborn might as well be God Himself, in the flesh. He’s come to earth to save your soul from selfishness, pride, impatience, and greed. He’s come to show you just how imperfect you are, until you fall to your knees and cry out for help.

He’s come to make you something bigger, something better.

But here’s what no one tells you.

Here’s what no one tell you it will take.

It will take you, watching that wee babe struggle to tie his shoes until you want to grab the laces and soothe “I’ll do it” for him. It will take you, watching her labor over a homework assignment that you can’t help with because you weren’t there, hanging over her shoulder all day at school so that you know what the teacher wants, until she’s done in the wee hours of the morning. It will take you, throwing your hands up in the air more times than you care to admit and saying “I’m sorry, I don’t have the answers you need.”

It will take ADHD diagnoses, dyslexia tests, fretting about mental issues, and sleepless nights worrying about scores and grades and countless meaningless numbers.

It will take you, letting go when you most want to hold on tight.

It will take you, trusting when you want to snatch back and say NO.

NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY WITH ME.

NO, YOU CANNOT HAVE YOUR WAY HERE, IT’S TOO PAINFUL TO BEAR.

NO, THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR.

It means sometimes your kid tells you that they’re constricted with social anxiety, overwrought with the terror of human interaction, afraid they will never feel at ease in any given situation that other seem to have no problem with.

It means sometimes they don’t leave when everyone else’s kid seems to be moving on, doing the normal thing, and achieving all the societally-approved markers. It means sometimes they need more help than you were sure they would need, just to get from point A to point B.

It means sometimes your kid falls in love with the wrong person, or the right person at the wrong time, and is left holding the bag in a relationship full of empty dreams and long-reneged promises.

It means conversations full of tears and helplessness.

It means committing to be there to the bitter end, when everybody else bails and everything feels hopeless.

It means being the last one standing.

Standing on promises that you stubbornly cling to.

Standing on the tattered remains of what was your certainty when they were placed, wet and squirming, into your arms.

Nobody tells you things will be this hard.

Nobody tells you, but still…they are.

I’m here to tell you that you are not alone.

We are in this together.

It’s not just hard, it’s impossible.

But here we are.

Can we set aside our preconceived ideals, our notions of what good and right and perfect look like? Can we see the perfection in struggle and the beauty in the agony?

Can we love one another through to the other side, where victory awaits? Or if the other side tarries, can we love one another anyway?

I just don’t know. I’ve rarely seen acceptance like that in action. Far too often, I see parents rejoicing in other parents’ perceived failures because it makes them feel better about their own job. Or parents distancing themselves from other parents who are hurting, as though the pains of one family are contagious. But I believe it is possible.

There are things nobody ever tells you, on the day that newborn is placed in your arms. Are you there, in that hard place now?

You are not alone.

I am there, too.

Can we remove the falsehood and just be real? This shit is hard, folks. I’m here to testify.

Can I get an amen?

 

 

What if

What if the dark night of the soul never ended? What if it went on and on with no relief? What if the valleys never began to rise underfoot, and give way to vistas to take the breath away? What if the shadows remained heavy and suffocating?

This is where I’m at, people. This is my life. The dark night of the soul that goes on and on and on and on and on and on…

I’m opening my veins here. I’m bleeding all over the keyboard.

I’m a fake. I’m a fraud. I say I’m a Christian but I lost my faith several years ago. My life is divided into two time periods, Before and After. I don’t know how to get it back. I don’t know if I’m supposed to get it back. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. So I fake it every day and hope that the fog will lift eventually, but it never does.

There is medication that I take, and sometimes I think it helps. Mostly I think it doesn’t. Again, faking it. Just gritting my teeth for all I’m worth and soldiering on. But my feet are bloody stumps and nobody notices.

Perhaps I live only to be a warning. Don’t come this way, people. Turn back while you still can.

Who else out there feels the same way? I know I can’t be alone. I want to be real, but I am afraid of being judged. Yeah, judged. Afraid of people telling me to pray more, study more, get on my face more. Afraid of being told it’s all my fault that I’m where I am today.

I’ve said my sorry’s. I’ve pleaded for forgiveness. I’ve admitted my mistakes. I’ve repented. And yet the darkness consumes. Why?

The days grind forward and I’m a clod of dirt beneath the wheel, broken and crumbling. Perhaps that’s exactly where God wants me. I just need to learn to surrender. What choice do I have, anyway? He’s going to do what He wants to do in the end, no matter how I feel about it.

Joy comes in the morning. If only there was one.

 

Sober October

October is a month set aside for Infant and Pregnancy Loss Remembrance. Many people will mark the passing of children who left too early, and writing is therapeutic to some.

Like me.

I have had ten miscarriages, a number that will seem, to many, as ludicrous as the number of our living children. Ten? That’s just crazy. Am I in some sort of sick competition? Am I a glutton for punishment? A miscarriage masochist?

None of the above.

With the first (if you are very blessed) you get a modicum of sympathy and understanding. People step forward to tell you about their own experiences; there is a shared community of suffering. As you have more, however, people step back. I don’t know why. Most likely they just run out of things to say.

My own mother fell into this camp. A devout Catholic woman, she was fully vested in our decision to give our reproductive processes up to a higher power, but with each successive bodily betrayal, she grew frustrated, and that frustration was directed at me. I sat drinking my third beer as my body expelled the baby it didn’t want*, and she fussed at me over the phone.

“Well, at least you should be used to it now,” she finally sighed.

Used to it? Used to bleeding into the toilet the life I thought would develop into a breathing soul? Used to the feelings of abandonment, the certainty that I was being punished? Used to the bitter loneliness as I faced the moments in the bathroom alone, struggling to make sense of it all?

These aren’t things you get used to.

She didn’t mean anything by it. She just didn’t know what to say. Having successfully carried five children of her own with relative ease, she is uninitiated into the darker side of pregnancy.

The thing about miscarriage is that you don’t get better at it the more you have. In fact, the pain and sorrow become increasingly horrific. The guilt and confusion multiply, they don’t divide.

With one of our later miscarriages, I birthed into my hands a sac five inches long. A space capsule enclosing the body of its voyager, I could not see the contents and didn’t want to probe the silent depths, but I was certain it was a girl. I wrapped the entire thing in maxi pads and carried it breathlessly to my husband. He suggested we have a burial service at my childhood home.

A month later, we did so. My parents were the only ones aware of the loss besides my husband and me, and they left us to hold our small service in private. My husband held my hands and we prayed over the pathetic remains beneath their flagpole. I named her Zoe, which means Life. It is a special, healing memory, and I strongly encourage anyone who has suffered a pregnancy loss to hold a service of some kind, even if the pain is decades old.

It’s amazing how raw and fresh that old pain can feel, and how simple the things are that can administer relief. An acknowledgement of the loss, or a moment of shared silence while you hold someone’s hand…these are the things that a month of remembrance hopes to encourage.

It is a sad and bereft place, the infant and pregnancy loss camp. It’s not a place anyone chooses willingly.  For those who occupy its halls, a kind word goes a long way.

*this is NOT recommended, by the way. Elevated alcohol levels lead to increased chance of hemorrhage, something I cared very little about at the time.

A fable of sorts

Once upon a time, a man strode across his acreage with single-minded purpose.

He had things upon his mind, this man did. He was busy, with many distractions. His job as an executive in an oil corporation kept him consumed from morning until night with responsibilities and duties; he was, after all, expected to find oil, above and beyond all else, in the unrelenting earth that surrounded him and those who occupied the world at large.

If he did not find it, then his existence was in jeopardy, or at least his subsistence, which to his mind was almost the same thing.

He strode upon the earth that was his: the earth that he had won–hard won, mind you–in an auction where other voices had matched his tone for tone and caliber for caliber (urgent and wanting) and yet he had prevailed above all others and now it was done. The ground was his, the dirt was his, the hard-packed Oklahoma clay that yielded little and yet would (perhaps) give to him what he wanted, awaited his touch, only his touch, to bend to his will and give up its secrets. Perhaps even now it was germinating the same idea that he had–that of provision and affluence.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it designed to keep from him all that he knew it could yield. One factor–the amount of sunshine, or the quantity of rain, the chemicals in the soil, or the infinitesimal creatures that inhabited its granular substance, could interfere with prosperity and happiness, and all his work would be for naught. No matter how many times he circled on his Massey Ferguson tractor, no matter how fluffy he yielded the hard packed soil, there were no guarantees…and yet…he would try…for the desire was less a desire and more an obsession.

Alongside his obsession, there were small people who complicated matters.

He told himself that all of this was for them–all the endless circling, all the churning and strife–but he knew that, ultimately, it was only for himself that he did it, for he loved the solitude that the tractor afforded him, and as the setting sun cast its golden rays upon the sculpted field, he knew his suspicions were correct and the urges were for him alone. Then, falsely rested all the arguments upon his mind, and restlessly did he sleep.

He had a small daughter, he did.

She looked upon him with adoration and fear and nothing less, that much was true. It frightened him, the awareness of her adoration, and so he buried it, as he buried so many things, deep within his psyche where there rested a million unresolved feelings and expectations and desires, and he told himself that it didn’t matter, not really. Not really.

But it did.

Because that small girl, she looked to him for comfort and solace, and found instead a vast chasm of nothingness to greet her questing heart.

And one day, as they strode upon the red clay, her small legs churning to keep apace with his strong, adult limbs, that she noticed the seething storm that gathered on the eastern horizon, the darkening billows that built ever larger upon the skyline, and she panted as she sought to keep up:

Daddy, what if lightening comes?

And her fear was answered by his strong, sure voice,

Why, then we will be with Jesus, in Heaven, and we’ll be all right

And for that, no matter how much error was in him, no matter how fraught with terror his presence was, no matter even if he himself believed the words he spoke, he had gifted her with the feeling of reassurance, and the thought that things might be–just might be–better in the great hereafter, and so she trusted that they would be.

So the child clung to that reassurance and tried to make her way in the world, for no matter how improbably it played out, she could not, would not forget those words, nor the assurance that accompanied them. She could not forget the feelings of joy that had flooded her small frame at their utterance, nor the peace that they had given her heart. For that, she would always love him, for all his horror and hideousness. For that, she would always crave his approval, for all his flaws and foibles.

For that, and for that alone, perhaps, would she cling to faith.

Matt. 7:11

 

 

 

Fat

Today I stripped down in front of a Target dressing room mirror and declared my body good enough.

I was trying on a simple grey t-shirt dress. It required the removal of everything external, and I was surrounded by mirrors. A dreadful prospect, no matter what the circumstances.

For someone who grew up in a household where her beautiful mother was repeatedly debased and accused of being “too fat”, this was A Big Deal.

Who can say the impact that the words we hear over and over again will carry? My mother is a beauty queen–Miss Texarkana 1962 and runner up to Miss Arkansas in the Miss America pageant–and never was she anything remotely close to “too fat” for anyone but my father’s overblown and untouchable perception of what female beauty was.

It was okay to be large, but not TOO large, in some places, but not others. It was allowable to have some excess above the waist as long as it was carefully positioned and never overflowed the boundaries of social grace. To be lacking in that arena, however, was shameful.

I discovered, at some point when pre-tween nosiness was rampant, beneath their bed a strange apparatus made of plastic. My mother informed me plainly that it was a device intended to induce the growth of the bosom.

My father had bought it for her.

He (my father) is a study in inconsistencies and contrast. His view of perfection is irreconcilably narrow. Excess in any form is abhorred, yet, in some areas, excess is embraced, at least privately. Unless you are his own flesh and blood, in which case it becomes embarrassing.

Contradict much?

When I hit puberty and fat began to deposit itself willy-nilly over the contours of my body, he recoiled in horror. Wondered if my mother might be able to find some sort of foundation garments that would reign me in somehow. I was offered money to lose weight.

These things make an impact upon the psyche.

What the hell?

I mean, really? What the hell? What the hell is okay? What the hell is allowable? What the hell is abhorrent? What the hell do you want from me?

These questions have never been adequately answered. So I (and countless others like me) are left to answer these questions on our own. Perfection is overrated. Or perhaps it is within our grasp, if only we can stop the insanity that perfection itself engenders.

Today, when I looked at the dimples, the jiggles, the contours of imperfection and reality that made their mark upon my body, I had a choice to make.

Would I choose peace, or war?

I’m not talking health. I’m not saying the choice was to be healthy or not healthy. I am a pretty healthy person any way you slice it. Low weight. Small BMI. The choice was to be content or not content. The choice was to be at war with myself for ever ad nauseum, or to choose contentment with the body I have been given.

This is a big deal. When one has been handed a genetic profile that includes numerous tendencies including body dysmorphia, then being able to look at oneself, flaws and all, and declare it all good, is something akin to God Himself gazing upon His creation and saying “Yes. Yes, this is what I like. This is fantastic!”

I look fantastic.

I have overcome.

At least for today.

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