Monday, July 23, 2018

When a Dream Becomes a Poem

In a dream,
I visited an old house
Where students stayed like servants
And the scary old lady of the manor controlled all
Including the old man in the antique wheelchair hidden away upstairs
Behind the house was an English garden with gravel paths and hedges
But also full of hidden dangers
Unseen by all, I hid my personal documents in an empty drawer
Of a huge dresser with shallow drawers
A dresser so tall I couldn’t even see the top
I hid a couple of old books, weathered and water-damaged,
Bound with a tie that ran the length of the books.
I soon found out that I was to leave for Paris the next day,
A one-time opportunity.
And I went to retrieve my papers and books, including my passport.
Not only did I need the passport to go to Paris, I needed it to leave the house, to escape.
And it wasn’t there.  Not only were the documents gone, but the entire piece of furniture.
And every stranger I saw who asked what I was doing had no idea of the dresser I spoke of.
I knew I’d have to go upstairs eventually, but I ventured out into the garden
Where I was afraid of the unseen creatures and traps
...I never found the documents, and woke up when I started up the dark wooden stairs…
In a different dream that was somehow connected, there were vines growing on the
Back of the house, stretching across...and there were green grapes growing on them,
And I was plucking the ones I could reach and eating them.
Two tendrils stretched low, diagonally across the house wall, but the others had been
Trimmed from the top corner, a job left unfinished...and
I was informed by the same old lady that I would have to fire my brother because
He was the one who was supposed to trim the vines and he had left it incomplete.

And I never got to Paris.

**I found this in my Google Docs just now. It was written on April 2, 2016. And I like it.

Friday, December 15, 2017

"What Right Have You To Be Merry?"

..Ebenezer Scrooge asks of his pitiable assistant, Bob Cratchit.  What right indeed? It's that time of year when the expectation is there to be joyous and merry, when the pressure is on for Martha Stewart decorations and the gift that wows your loved one.  There's baking...because cookies aren't a thing in January?  And I don't know about you, but a present out of the blue in March might be even cooler than a bunch of stuff I'm expecting or anticipating in December.  But it's also that time of year when a lot of things just suck for some people.  Let's face it, the effects of the time change never really go away, not until the Spring Solstice rolls around.  Old Ebenezer was probably just suffering from a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder with a healthy dose of social anxiety. 

I can relate.  This time of year is not a joy for me.  It never has been, not really.  I want it to be, though, and I'm not as "scroogey" as to want to boil every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips with his own pudding and bury him with a stake of holly through his heart.  But it's close.  Ebenezer was scarred by the shitty things that happened to him in Christmases past, and he closed his heart to all of it.  It's easier that way, and I get it.  I said recently that there's something about my brain that only lets me remember the bad stuff and not the good.  It's not that the good memories aren't there, but they aren't the pushy ones that force their way to my amygdala and mess with my emotions.

Christmas carols make me cry. I have to listen to the instrumental versions most of the time, because they evoke strong memories of my grandpop standing on the front porch of this very house in a bathrobe listening to my youth group caroling in the front yard.  That was his last Christmas, and he died the following February.  There was a Christmas in the early 80's on which I wasn't allowed to go home to see my mother, and during which my brother and I sat awkwardly and opened presents with my mom in my dad's living room under his scrutinous and, let's face it, hateful looks.  And the mere fact that people aren't with me when I want them to be is an ever-present thing to bear.  We all have those things; I'm not special in any of that, or in any other way, really.   Charles Dickens himself had a crappy childhood and adult life, truth be known, but managed to put a positive spin on the holidays.  Some of us are able to "Bob Cratchit" the crap in our lives away and still easily put a merry spin on things for those we care about, while others of us tend to want to retreat and shut everything out. 

I'm stuck somewhere in the middle.  My instincts are to both bury my head in the covers and hibernate until it's all over, for myself, but also to try to make everything perfect and wonderful for those I love.  It's the struggle of being a Libra, maybe, in that I'm always divided, always striving for balance, but inevitably ending up falling over in my efforts.  So, I put on my jingle bell earrings and my Ms. Santa sweater and try to be festive.  I make traditional Italian pizzelles and try to put up Christmas trees when I know the cats are just going to destroy them and the ornaments we place carefully.  I try to buy perfect presents on a limited budget for the people I love, and my expectations for a joyful, stress-free holiday for myself somehow manage to rise, even though I try like hell to hold them down.

I'm struggling this year more than others.  It's not a secret to the people who are close to me, and there's no shame in admitting it.  Things this Christmas will be very different for me, and for my family, and it's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is stressful because the unknown always is.  Christmas should be about the kids, and they should be able to enjoy it without all the stressors that we have.  But we adults should cut ourselves some slack, also.  If the Christmas party food is a bag of Food Lion pretzels with some Cheez Whiz, then so be it. Enjoy those.  If the lights hang crookedly, or you never even get them hung at all, what's the real loss? 

So, this is me.  Lowering my expectations for a Christmas in a clean, decorated house in a Victorian postcard.  Lowering my expectations to get all my shopping done online as I swore I would.  Lowering my expectations to provide an exceptional holiday for everyone while pushing myself into a nervous breakdown.  Christmas will happen.  In fact, it will be over really fast, maybe faster than some of us want it to be.  And none of the cookies, the wrapping paper, or even the gifts, really, will matter much past that day.  With any luck, though, I'll get to spend time with the people who are most important to me, and to whom my presence is a gift that's appreciated.  And that's all I want for Christmas. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Goodbye, Verona

I have a person very close to me who tells amazing stories about his childhood.  He has an uncanny knack for details about dates, times, and people that never ceases to amaze me, especially considering he has close to a couple of decades on me.  It often makes me wonder about events from my childhood and why I don't have the recall needed to tell a good story.  After all, I'm the "writer," not him.  But he's the talker, the storyteller, and I'm just the muller-over...or would that be the over-mullerer?  But I took a trip down Memory Lane when I visited my elementary alma mater over the weekend, and the stories came rushing back to me, albeit in bits and pieces.

My elementary school, Verona Elementary, is closing at the end of this school year.  (I'm at the :25 mark in that video, chatting with my kindergarten teacher.) I'm taking it a little hard, maybe a little harder than most people.  Let's face it, I take most things harder than most people, but I'm pretty sure that this one is with good reason.  No only did I attend school there, but my mother taught there for forty years.  Yes, forty.  Holy hell, that's a long time! So it's no wonder that Verona has been such a big part of my life.

My mom and I toured the soon-to-close building on Saturday, along with a small crowd attending the open house commemorating the closing.  I got a bumper sticker and a card-stock print of the school, which is pretty nice, but nothing compared to being able to walk the sidewalks and visit the classrooms one more time.  Mom made a production (or so I felt) out of introducing me to people I didn't know, and proudly telling them I was a teacher at "the middle school," and talking about how much time I spent in her classrooms through the years.  And I got choked up.  You see, not only do I have the typical elementary school memories that all kids have, but I have another whole set of memories connected to that school just from being a teacher's kid, and those are just as powerful. Maybe more so.

I met my best friend Angie in kindergarten.  I don't remember how we met, just that we did, and that our kindergarten teacher bit her to show her how it felt after she bit another student.  I swallowed a dime in kindergarten, too.  It hurt like hell.  I got mad because I already knew how to read and we were learning the alphabet.

In first grade, I got glasses.  I also got sent to second grade for reading class because I was so far above grade level.  Unfortunately, I was also a chickenshit, so I think it lasted about five minutes.  Can you blame me?  I was barely six, and thrust into a classroom full of kids who were probably seven and eight, and they seemed so old!  I think my parents split up around this time, too.

In second grade, I fell in love with Joey Chewning, who I'm pretty sure had failed a grade, or at least I thought he had, which made him even more appealing.  He had buck teeth and skinny legs, and I thought he was a bad boy, which is probably why I loved him.  His best friend tried to hold me still so Joey could kiss me on the hopscotch court one day at recess.  I kicked the friend in the shin and ran away, and that was the end of that.  Joey moved to Virginia Beach later that year, and I never heard another word about him.  We spent recess trying to uncover a "gold" utility cap we found against the second grade classrooms; we'd clean it off, get the gravel dust off of it, and use it for a base in our games of tag.  (I looked for that thing the other day; unfortunately, they covered the playground with topsoil and planted grass, and I didn't have time for the vandalism required to dig the damn thing up.)

In third grade, I read Greek myths and had a boy for a best friend for about ten minutes, but I remember it.  My favorite Greek heroine was Atalanta, which maybe explains my tomboy tendencies that year.  Jeff McWhorter threw a snowball at me on the playground (we actually went to school when there was snow on the ground in those days) and broke my glasses.  He apologized, but I held a grudge and never forgave him.  We wrote love notes and asked the boys we liked to write back.

I don't think I liked fourth grade.  I remember 4-H and being made to write "I will not talk in class" one hundred times for homework.  I remember telling my dad that on the phone, him calling the teacher at home, and me getting out of it.  That's embarrassing.  I probably deserved it.

Fifth grade was a turning point in lots of ways.  My BFF and I weren't in the same class, and we both made new friends.  I was jealous of hers, and mine didn't speak any English.  I spent fifth grade on a mission to teach Sandy English and trying to learn Chinese.  We made each other word books, and I went to visit her family in the motel they owned.  I stopped going to "Bible" as we called it, (Weekday Religious Education, for those of you not fortunate enough to have that bit of weirdness in your lives) that year, too, with some newfound conviction that religion didn't have a place in the school day.  I caught some hell over that from a lot of people, but I stuck to my guns.  I gave handwriting lessons, and I learned that racism was a thing.  Our school play was The Jungle Book, in which I was cast as an elephant, which traumatized me a smidge.  No cute costume for me, nope.  I had to wear baggy grey sweatpants, a baggy grey t-shirt, and a paper grocery bag elephant mask with an accordion trunk over my head.  I remember how that grey spray paint smelled--a little like shame.  I got in a fight with a girl named Michelle during a practice, and we both got in school suspension and kicked out of the dress rehearsal.  It was a strange experience to walk into the cafeteria on Saturday, where choir students were performing, to immediately recognize a song from The Jungle Book, which I performed on that very stage.

I watched General Hospital and Rick Springfield in the afternoons in my mom's classroom(s) while I helped her do teachery-stuff.  I put nametags on desks and graded papers.  I used the opaque projector to draw large characters for the bulletin boards, then I colored them with Mr. Sketch smelly markers before they got laminated.  I changed the monthly calendar and cut out leaves and turkeys to hang up for the dates.  I put a staple through my finger trying to reload a stapler.  I bought Tab from the teachers' lounge of those 1970's machines that sold glass bottles that we slid from one side of the machine down metal slots in the drink chest.  Truth be known, I learned how to be a teacher during those years, both from my mom and the whole slew of awesome teachers I had through the years, more so than I did in any college course I ever took.

Years later, I took my own son to visit his "Grammy" in his preschool years.  I'd pick him up at the sitter or at preschool, and we'd stop by for a visit.  He'd explore her classroom and she'd show him off to her teacher friends before we made the requisite stop to the modern playground equipment that was added long after they took out our beloved merry-go-round.  He'd play, and slide down the "firepole," and my focus was on him, not on the school or the possibility that it might not one day be there just as it always had been during my life.

I understand the need to close the school, in a fiscal sense.  But I'm fighting an urge to try to buy every piece of memorabilia possible from that building.  The tiny pastel chairs in the kindergarten and first grade buildings (which must have been great chairs, because they've lasted all this time). The avocado-green bookcases and rolling coat closets that were in every room.  The low-slung counters in the primary grades.  Even the bathroom stall doors that we used to lock and climb over so the next person couldn't get to the toilet.  The large piece of eternal pipe that we used to play on and hide in from the boys who were chasing us.  I can't do that, of course, but I can take the memories with me and smile a little at the fact that my mom remembers things the way I do.

Goodbye, Verona, and thank you.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

When Turkeys Try to Fly

Last weekend, on a road in rural Maryland, I spotted some strange-looking birds in a small flock beside the road.  Too large to be crows or blackbirds, not quite ugly enough to be vultures, I decided they were some type of strange-looking turkey.  The fact that a couple of them flew a small distance into the air further complicated the discussion in the vehicle because, after all...turkeys can't fly.  Or can they?  I insisted they could...but only when they have to...for example, when it prevents their death or dismemberment by minivans hurtling down the road.

Fast forward a few days to Thanksgiving, and the myriad of races and running events unfortunately titled as a "turkey trot."  (There's something in my middle school brain that wants to snicker at the thought of turkey causing the trots, but this post is not about potty humor.)  I had signed up for one of these trendy 5Ks on a whim.  (I get these ideas sometimes lately in which I either think I'm better equipped for something than I really am, or in which I decide that I don't give a rat's ass what people think about me, both of which are anomalies in my brain.  The trouble happens when both of those moods hit at once, as they did when I saw that a friend had signed up to do this race.  It's a cliche, but it sounded like a good idea at the time.)

Anyway, I was signed up for this race, which was to benefit a great cause, The Valley Children's Advocacy Center.  I thought, somewhat stupidly, that 3.2 miles sounds a lot better than 5K, even though they're equivalent.  And I thought, "Ehhhh, two miles is easy...three shouldn't be that much worse."  But as race day approached, my Negative Nancy inner self kicked in.  The idea of the event itself loomed over me.  For someone with a raging case of social anxiety, showing up alone at any event is a daunting task, much less to an event such as this one, in which I'd be very out of my element.  Combine that with a real fear of being the very last person to finish as everyone else gawked at the fat girl finishing awkwardly...well, I chickened out, apologies to all of the maligned fowl.  My internal struggle was real.  Half of me knew that I'd never forgive myself for not going, and half of me just wanted to avoid it at any cost.  As is par for the course, Ms. Self-Doubt won easily. After all, they had my money, what did it matter?

When the alarm went off, I turned it off.  I was just going to go back to sleep and pretend I wasn't supposed to be somewhere.  But then my phone beeped with a "good luck" text message from someone whose opinion I value highly...who also happens to be a coach.  And I begrudgingly told him I wasn't going to go.  He didn't accept that answer, and guilted me in his own special way into getting out of bed and getting dressed, which I did.  I put my big girl panties and my sports bra on, sucked up my growing fear and social anxiety, and went to the event.  At that point, I thought I had the hard part behind me.

What followed was the absolute hardest physical thing I've ever done in my life, and by the time I reached the 1.5 mile mark of the brutally hilly course, I was ready to quit.  Instead of urging myself on and telling myself I could do it, my survival instincts kicked in and I started threatening to cut across the middle or hitch a ride with the event staff in their golf carts.  I was miserable, physically, and growing more and more anxious by the step, as more and more people passed me and left me in their dust.  Even the moms pushing strollers and the guy on crutches easily left me behind.  Each time I heard cheers from the finish line, I wanted to run...or crawl... in the other direction.  The Fat Girl Finishes Last Phobia was in full swing by this point, which made my labored breathing and racing heartbeat all the more difficult to deal with.  And the farther behind I got, the more I wanted to quit.  Fortunately, I had another "coach," who wouldn't let me quit.  He walked with me the whole time, when he easily could have run all or part of it.  He stopped halfway up the most vicious of hills to give me pep talks when I wanted to quit, and he shook his ass cutely at the top of the hills to encourage me to get there in spite of my pain and quivering legs.  Without him, I'd probably still be sitting somewhere along the 10th or 11th hole.

I finished the "race."  I finished--dead last, what I thought was my worst fear.  204th out of 204.  One hour, 13 minutes, and 37 seconds, according to official chip time.  That's a 23 minute mile, not that anyone is counting.  The guy on crutches finished eons ahead of me, as did all of the Stroller Moms. Behind me, I had my own little embarrassing motorcade of golf carts bringing up the chance of me sneaking stealthily across the line and to my car unnoticed.  But.  I.  Finished.  I finished in spite of my shit hip, and in spite of the fact that in order to make it an even playing field, some of the participants would have to carry each other on their backs.  I finished in spite of the fact that it was an emotional struggle to even get there, and in spite of the fact that I was literally in tears behind my sunglasses through a lot of it.  I finished.  And I made people proud of me in the process...all of my coaches, my tiny little cheering section.

What does this have to do with turkeys?

Well, turkeys don't fly because they think they can't.  They're clumsy, and top-heavy, and nobody has ever told them that they can.  They only get short bursts of energy that they can utilize.  In fact, only the wild ones can and will fly, and the others have been bred not to.  Turkeys fly when they need to, not for fun, and they're awkward and silly looking when they do it.  They'll never catch a falcon or an eagle, and they'll never impress anyone when they fly.  But they'll do it, sometimes, and they might even get better at it if they keep trying.  Until then, they'll trot.