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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Thursday



"This must be Thursday. I could never get the hang of Thursdays." - Douglas Adams, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In Hungarian "On Thursday" is csütörtökön. This is one of my favorite words. I love the precision required to say it correctly. How foreign it feels in my mouth. I've forgotten most of what I learned, but this particular phrase has stuck. I have a treasured collection of linguistic oddments that are part of my internal vernacular. Sometimes I say them out loud to myself, like a child playing with her toys. Once I had to do so in empty rooms, lest people fret. The rise of earpieces and cell phones has done wonders for my perceived sanity.

It's a lovely morning for sleeping in -- overcast, damp, and 63 degrees. The dogs believe it to be a perfect day for a walk. We're agreeing to disagree. The house is quiet, except for occasional song from the more ambition robins in our neighborhood. The oven is ticking as it preheats -- cinnamon rolls should get us all moving, although I'm tempted to abandon responsibility and leave the kids abed. I take comfort in standing guard over my slumbering sweetlings. 

I was reminded this morning that one of my two superpowers is rescuing trapped insects and small mammals. This morning we saved a Very Large dragonfly from the bag of apricots on the kitchen counter. I have no idea how it got in there. I couldn't catch it with a container, but at the offer of a fingertip it gingerly stepped aboard for the ride outside, even allowing some photos before hurtling into the brightening sky.

The other is the appearance that I always know where I am and where I'm going. I have been approached around the world by strangers needing directions, sometimes in their own country where I am a visitor.

For the record, my sidekick power is making animal noises. Really. I can imitate most domesticated animals (including livestock). Comes in handy when distracting the villain.

Text copied from Facebook at my mother's request

Friday, June 27, 2014

From the Dusty Corners of My Hard Drive

Just ran across this, er, salute to Poe which I wrote in response to a Poets of G+ Community prompt for National Poetry Month. It is silly and made me laugh, so I thought I'd share it. 

The Dogs
See the puppies with their tails
Wagging tails!
With furry smiles and joyful leaps they happily regale
How they wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
With obvious delight
While tiny children giggle
And even grownups sniggle
And everything about them seems just perfectly alright
Barking: ruff ruff ruff ruff ruff
Pretending to be tough
Running laps around the living room like tiny springtime gales
Wagging tails, tails, tails, tails, tails, tails
The whirling and the spinning fluffy tails.

See the doggies with their paws
Giant paws!
What muddy tracks and messes these beloved pups can cause
How they scurry, scurry, scurry
With evident delight
To greet another furry
or guard against all worry
Always ready to defend against a stranger in the night
Drinking: lap, lap, lap, lap, lap
before a twitching nap
Pacing ‘round the house with clickety-tapping claws
Giant paws paws paws paws paws paws paws
The scratching and the thumping massive paws.

See the canines with their teeth
Pointed teeth!
So sharp and white and perilously unsheathed
How they glisten, glisten, glisten
With pendulous saliva
A shiver comes, a frisson
of tension. Be still, listen
Pray a fearless warrior does in time arrive
Clasp your hands upon your laps
Hope for werewolf traps
Strongly made of iron but in hammered silver wreathed
Lest beasts eat, eat, eat, eat, eat
Feast upon the mortals, flesh between their teeth.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rational rationale

I have thought about guns a great deal since my father committed suicide by handgun when I was in ninth grade.

I say that not to elicit sympathy, but as a starting point for this essay. A little background: my parents were divorced when I was an infant; I had little contact with my father before he died; and my mother provided such a rich community of elders that his absence seemed incidental. Nonetheless, his death has affected me in ways I am still discovering.

All of this is by way of explaining the very personal relationship I have with gun control efforts, especially those around handguns. Not long before my father died, the "Brady Bill" brought national attention to gun control efforts. I supported the movement then; my conviction was deepened by my father's death and has been cemented over time.

That said, as distasteful as I find them, I am not against gun ownership. My husband has rifles and uses them. My son has practiced marksmanship with his Scout pack. A number of my friends enjoy a day at the shooting range. I respect that. I have even surprised people in the past -- those who have heard (or read) me rant about gun control -- with my ardent support of hunters, albeit from the perspective that they play a vital role in wildlife management.

I am aware that the basic regulations for which I advocate would not have saved my father's life. He owned his weapons legally and had a permit. I know also that his suicide was really a symptom of a lifetime of alcohol abuse. If he was truly intent on ending his life, he would have found a way.

The thing is, with suicide by gun there is very little margin of error. There are plenty of statistics (yes, yes, I know -- lies, damn lies, and statistics) tallying gun deaths. What many people don't realize is that two-thirds of those are suicides. Having a gun vastly increases the odds of someone attempting and succeeding in trying to kill themselves. Especially, unfortunately, people under the age of 18. It is so easy. 

As for other deaths? Looser laws in any one state vastly increases the homocide rate there as well. Locations with regulations around gun storage (locked up and unloaded) see far fewer accidental fatalities. I'm not going to turn this into a numbers game -- there are plenty of much better researched and dedicated pages for that. What I am going to say, after nearly 30 years of thinking about it, is that I truly believe that most of these deaths -- suicide, homocide, accidental -- were preventable with simple, common sense measures. I don't intend to strip guns away from people. I do believe that we can ask them to be responsible -- much as I am required to prove a certain level of responsibility before owning or operating a vehicle. Growing up in my little valley, getting a hunting license and going on your first hunt was a rite of passage. I remember all the kids excitedly talking about signing up for the hunter safety courses their parents required before going into the woods. That step was part and parcel of growing up and being a "good" -- as in moral and ethical -- hunter. I don't know why that has changed.

I have heard at length (from my husband, among others) the argument that people rely too much on the government to keep them safe, and that it's a "nanny state". You know what? We as a nation have proven that necessary. After struggling to keep eight-year olds calm and quiet through lockdown drills, after mourning too many mass shootings, after seeing pictures of men and women carrying firearms through Target, I don't trust my fellow citizens to act in our collective best interest. The roughly 32,000 gun deaths last year are my measure of why I believe the following basics should be implemented:
  • Require all gun owners to take a use and safety course. I'd encourage them to go further and go through some simulation training. This would be for everyone's safety. I have been in enough mildly emergency situations that I don't trust people to behave well under stress, let alone a situation where gunfire might be needed. I really, really, really don't want an untrained, panicking person trying to use a gun.
  • Require background checks for ALL sales. Period.
  • Restrict large capacity ammunition clips.
  • Restrict multi-weapon sales, especially through unlicensed dealers. This is where many of the weapons used unlawfully come from.
I'm sure there are more, but I didn't start this post with the intent to list out my solutions. As I said, there are better and more passionate sites for that. All I wanted to do was tie the political back to the personal. So many folks cry out for RKBA (the Right to Keep and Bear Arms). I think, sometimes, they forget the people behind the calls for regulation.

I was not close to my father. I may never have been, even if he had lived. Nonetheless, his death affected me profoundly. Most immediately came the knowledge that I was "half an orphan". My mother's mortality was highlighted by my father's death, deepening a sense of the fragility of family which had been instilled three years prior with the death of my maternal grandmother.

The longer-lasting, more complicated impact came from my imagination. Here's what I think I know: as a result of his alcoholic behavior, his third wife left him. She found him when she returned to the house sometime during the week. 

From there my vivid imagination takes over, filling in the gaps. I can see him angrily drinking while watching the Broncos lose. I smell the oil as he breaks down the gun, wiping it clean, reassembling. Repeating, maybe, as he drinks more. Easing toward tears, frustration melting into an overwhelming sense of failure. Walking to his bedroom. Lying down on the pastel bedspread. The shot, and a fan of chunky blood on the wall. 

I have carried those images in my head for more than twenty years now. I have no idea if they are even vaguely accurate. I don't care to find out.

All I want, really, is that no one else have to live with their version of this sorrow.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Absentee

In my first memory of my father, we are assembling a two-wheel bicycle together. I must have been six or seven, and he'd come to visit for the first time. I was blessedly oblivious of the grown-up politics of divorce, and took to heart the promise he made to come back and remove the training wheels when I was ready. He never did.

I'm sure there was more contact somewhere in there, but my next memory is of crossing a frozen parking lot from my mother's car to his -- like a prisoner in an exchange between countries -- when I went to stay with him for the first time. I played video games (Donkey Kong) for the first time in my life.

On the third -- and final -- visit that I remember, his wife and I baked an apple pie for his birthday. I met a half-sister whose existence was previously unknown to me, got my period, and wound up in a fight with him.

Needless to say, Father's Day held little meaning for me for many years. I didn't mourn the absence of a father because I never had one.

Two marriages changed that: my mother's, and my own. 

The man my mother married has become a father to me. He is constant and kind. He is loving, and forgiving. He sends me cards when I am blue and offers gentle guidance when I feel lost. Sometimes, now, I get flashes of jealousy for people who grew up with a father. The feeling passes quickly, but is a reminder of just how fortunate I am now.

For my husband, fatherhood is a challenge. I believe he was abused, although the family mythos is that the boys "deserved" the treatment they got. He told me once, "I don't want to be like my dad." He isn't, although it's a struggle. We work hard to find a path together, and don't always succeed. Still, he loves our children with depth and desperation, and they know it. He is great for wrestling and board games. He is instilling in them a tremendous work ethic. The kids are unaware of how much knowledge they have absorbed from his lectures, but I hear and see it in their school lessons. He tries, over and over and over again to give them what he never had -- support and unconditional love and an awareness of just how very proud he is of their efforts and accomplishments.

I know now what I never had, and am grateful for what I do have: a man who has become my dad, and the man who fights every day to be a good father to our children. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Women of a Certain Age

I woke sobbing this morning, the voice of a newly dead man echoing in my head.

I always thought that becoming a woman of a certain age meant something joyful -- being no longer burdened by other peoples' judgements, and free to have adventures.

Instead it seems to mean saying goodbye. One friend has lost her mother. Another buried her father. Two friends have stood by as their mothers endured terrible complications from awful surgeries. My own mother has some health concerns. And the dead man? I don't know that I could have called him a friend, but he was kind to me when I was a child. When visiting my hometown I looked forward to running into him and catching up.

Remember being desperate to grow up? To understand the ripple of laughter that went around the room full of adults? As if being taller was the ticket to entering a special carnival full of shiny lights and amusements. Now I look around and ask: when does the fun start?

This gloom will pass. A good shamble this morning already has put me in a better mood. Still, I feel diminished by this, and so many other, deaths.

However my still-amorphous beliefs resolve themselves, I do believe I'll see again those I've lost, and become whole. Until then, a toast to those who have gone before.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

War No More, or A Small Triumph

The tiny boy slipped between the fence posts of the bakery patio. His mother called him back, but a mischievous giggle told me he was headed for trouble. I've had toddlers. They're ornery beings. Rising to let her pass (I was closer to the gateway), I did a quick calculation and instead sprinted to the street corner just in time. Well, maybe not just in time. He had 15 feet to go, and it's a quiet neighborhood. I blocked his path then herded him back to his mother. She thanked me and I finished my cinnamon roll while basking in a tiny sense of triumph. Not for intervening -- there were enough people around that someone would have stepped in -- but for how I did it. I sprinted. I ran full tilt, legs long and stretching, down the sidewalk, and when finished I wasn't even breathing hard.

That may not sound like much, but it is a big change. Until fairly recently my body was a meatsuit only good for carrying my brain around. Sometime in the past year, that ended. It's not a truce. It's a peace. I've finally come to appreciate my whole self. Most surprisingly, I don't hate any of my parts. I am, shall we say, unfashionably lumpy. My belly will only be flat if someone takes a scalpel to it. I have granny wings. Exercising makes my breasts shrink and my thighs grow. My personal best is a 17 minute mile. But underneath it all I have rock-hard muscles, and a brain to match. I am a creature of the mind and the body. I can climb mountains and write. I can bicycle to a picnic in the park and do kitchen science with my kids.

Last week was tough. I didn't walk at all. The dogs stared at me in particularly guilt-inducing ways. I was sleep deprived and work stressed and there were a couple of authoritative articles about weight loss that made me feel helpless. My pedometer refused to budge, mostly because I wasn't. My scale was just as stubborn. For this first time, however, I didn't hate myself, or rampage through the cupboards trying to find solace in a bag of chips. I told myself that it was an off week and I'd get back on track.

Which is why Miss Awesome, the dogs, and I geared up and headed to the bakery in the first place. Oh, sure, the cinnamon roll was a delicious motivator. But really, I wanted a good walk to clear my head and strengthen my heart.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Wink of an Eye

Wires hung limply from the headlight socket, ends lightly scratching the concrete driveway as they twitched in the breeze. The otherwise pristine Beetle slouched in a vaguely lopsided way. The effect was distressingly like a medieval torture victim whose freedom cost an eye. The lamp itself was gone, spirited away without scratches or broken glass.

Lyss groaned and gave a satisfyingly loud kick to the metal trash can beside the garage. She felt violated. A glance at her cell phone showed there was no time to deal with this, so she gently tucked the wires in as far as they would go and headed to work.

Much later — after calls to the police and the insurance company and the repair shop — Lyss headed to the pub where her friends were waiting. She flagged the waiter, ordered a bottle of beer, and dropped into a chair.

“Fucking Monday. Some asshole stole Lady’s headlight this morning. Or last night. I don’t know.” She rubbed her face with both hands. 

“Oh no! It's like your happy beetle has a black eye!” Shelley frowned sweetly.

“What?!” Evan set his elbows on the tabletop. “Who the hell steals a headlight?”

“Dunno.” The waiter placed a napkin on the table and started to set down the beer, but Lyss intercepted and took a gulp. After a relieved sigh she continued, “Insurance is gonna pay for it, but covering the deductible means extra hours at work, or cutting something out this summer.”

“Fucker.” That word always sounded funny in Shelley’s gentle Appalachian accent. 

Lyss giggled and lifted her beer. “You can say that again.” She waited. “No, really!”

“FUCKER!” Shelley smiled at her friend’s second chuckle. “Why a headlight? That can’t be easy to remove, and nobody’s going to buy it, are they?”

Lyss frowned. “The cops say it’s not uncommon. ‘High-end accessory’ they called it. Volvo side mirrors get stolen a lot, too. Something about the high cost of O.M.E. parts.”

Shelley rolled her eyes. “O.E.M.! Original equipment. Not knock-offs.”

“Whatever. Anyway, it’s a quick and easy repair, so she won’t be in the shop for long.”

Evan nodded. “That’s good.”

They all relaxed back into their chairs and sipped their drinks quietly for a moment, enjoying a friendship that didn’t always require words.

“Hey Lyss?” Shelley glanced sideways. “Do you want me to track them down and destroy them?” 

Lyss met Shelley’s eyes and replied fiercely, “Yes! Please destroy them. My poor baby.”

“Okay then.” Shelley reached for their hands and nodded at them to complete the circle. Evan grinned and reached for Lyss’s hand. Shelley closed her eyes a moment, then snapped them open. She slowly intoned
     Thief in the night
     Stealer of light
     May your evil be returned
     A hundredfold!
A reflection of light crossed the room and paused momentarily on Shelley. A glass broke in the kitchen and they all — even Shelley — jumped. Laughing, she reclaimed her hands and pronounced “Evil mojo sent. Beware, evildoers!”

Chuckling and shaking his head, Evan ordered another round as the conversation turned to more cheerful topics.

* * *

The vehicle — technically a Volkswagon Beetle, but an embarrassment to that name — was a Frankencar, with parts “acquired” from front yards and junk yards. Fenders from the seventies had been forced into compliance with doorjambs from newer models using appallingly liberal amounts of Bondo and sheet metal screws. Nothing quite matched. Nothing actually fit. It was uncomfortable to look at — there were no lines, no harmony of purpose. The overall effect was made worse by intermittent rust patches and a spastic application of remaindered house paint the color and consistency of vomit. Still, it ran. Frances was enchanted by the reedy cricket chirp of the engine. He had found what remained of the frame and engine in a junk yard and “liberated” it, along with a first round of parts. He added more as the reanimation project progressed. He took great pride in his creation. Everyone agreed that it was unique, even if they didn’t appreciate the artfulness with which he had stitched the thing together.

Frances tugged the driver’s side door open and, leaning in, fumbled the key into the ignition. The starter groaned into action and he laughed with delight as the little engine burred. It had taken most of an hour, some wire nuts, and almost an entire roll of duct tape, but he finally had two working headlights. The new one bulged hugely from the much-smaller socket and was partially obscured by the tape which held it in place. A passerby might get the impression of a defeated boxer whose eye had swollen from abuse. Nonetheless, what was not blocked glowed with a brightness that made the first light almost unnecessary.

He turned off the car and went inside to wash. 

* * *

Pollen rained from clear skies. The nightly news ignored stories of earthbound mayhem in favor of extensive weather reports. Meteorologists, shell-shocked by the sudden interest in their craft, drew giant colorful diagrams of wind patterns and tried repeatedly to explain the drifts of yellow. There was no scientific explanation. Shelley knew, though. While others wiped streaming eyes with handkerchiefs and took allergy pills in double-doses, her eyes were clear. The wind bore the deep green scent of hollows and the dust of grassy balds. It smelled of home. There was magic in the pollen, borne up through ancient granite, charged by seams of coal, and thrust skyward by oak and pine. She had called it with her simple rhyme. Called, but not tamed it. Something had been loosed, and was hunting.

* * *

Frances paced the sweltering kitchen while he ate a random collection of leftovers. The pollen had finally abated enough to leave the house. It wasn’t all gone, but several storms had blown through and washed most of the wretched stuff into meandering outlines in the gutter. His car, however, hadn’t come clean. Yellow motes were embedded in every brush mark. He tried sweeping and wiping and even washing, but the paint peeled off in giant scabs that left it looking diseased. He’d have to paint it again. The car still ran, though, and he was restless. 

Stalking out of the house, Frances didn’t bother to lock the door. He yanked the car open and wedged himself in. Throwing it into gear he swerved into the street and gunned it down the block, barely glancing at the cross street as he barreled past the stop sign. Fast. He needed to go fast. He leaned over and rolled down the passenger window, angling the fly window to catch as much tepid air as possible. The sun would be down soon, and everything would cool off. Four-forty a/c, he told himself. Four windows at forty miles an hour. The joke brought a small smile to his face.

Every stop light was against him: turning red as he approached, taking forever to go green. The bloody sunset reflected from windows all around, blinding him. The city was unbearable. He turned on to Highway 6 and lurched his way toward the interstate. He pulled a death metal cassette from the pile on the passenger seat and shoved it brutally into the tape deck he’d found — still in its car, of course — over in the hoity-toity part of town. He cranked the volume and shouted along vaguely with the German he didn’t understand. 

Slowly the lights fell away and the road opened up. He stomped on the accelerator, shifting through the gears, ignoring a metallic cry from the little engine. Fresh air flowed in, tickling his arm and ruffling his hair. His sweat dried. He overtook other cars and swerved around them, cutting as close as possible, laughing at the terrified expressions highlighted by their dashboard lights. 

The road began to climb. He downshifted, car bucking as he ground into third. The engine screamed into the red as he forced the little car to race up the hill. Tall pines loomed over the road now, moon flickering between, until the road narrowed and they closed over him. He leaned into the curves and accelerated out of them like a shot, disregarding the weathered center lines. Still holding the pedal to the floor Frances was cresting the hill, exhilarating in a moment of flight, in the sensation of the car falling away from him, when both headlights winked out.

* * *

“Sheesh.”

“Yeah. Guy musta been going, well, shit, a hundred? One twenty?” 

The two policemen skittered several yards down the embankment to where the mangled frame of a car lay at the base of a gigantic oak tree. The bark was scattered, heart wood splintered and bare almost eight feet off the ground. More parts were scattered down the hill like the tail of a meteor. It was as if the car had dramatically fallen apart at the seams. No two pieces were still connected.

“The hell is this stuff?” The first officer scraped at the ground with the toe of his boot. Yellow powder dusted the entire debris field. “Looks like some clown came by and poured cornmeal everywhere. Who the hell would do that?”

“No fucking clue. Hey there!” The second officer waved at an investigator who was leaning over the largest chunk of wreckage. “Whatcha got?”

“Weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. No skid marks on the road,” he waved up the hill they’d just come down, “and it looks like the car fucking flew into this tree. I have no clue how fast he had to been going for that to happen. And here’s the weird bit. He should be hamburger. I mean, look at this shit.” The investigator toed a piece of metal which might have been a door panel, but was too misshapen to tell. “But he’s not. Looks like he just got out of the shower.” The others leaned in and nodded in bemused agreement. 

“What the fuck is that powder all over everything?” 

“That? That shit is pollen. Came in through the busted windshield. Tell you the truth, I was kinda freaked out by it, until someone figured it got shaken out of the tree when he hit.”

“Makes sense, I guess, specially after the past coupla weeks. Still, it’s kinda weird, being only here and all.”

“Yep. But I’m not gonna worry about it. Dumbass had it coming. At least no one else was hurt.” They all nodded in silent agreement. The investigator clicked his pen and jotted down another note. 

The two officers turned and walked down the hill, glancing deliberately at the bits and pieces lying everywhere. Seeing nothing of note, they eventually turned and climbed back toward the road. They stopped once when a flash of light caught them by surprise. A moment’s investigation proved it was just a shiny new headlight, winking in the sun.


Inspired by a couple of truly awesome women I'm fortunate enough to count as friends.