Monday, May 30, 2011

Off Center Right

Off center right
The Bud Light blends in with the Colgate.
There’s black on your feet from the pavement,
There’s black on your heels from your life.

The violin speaks to me,
Tells me what I should be,
But I just keep scratchin’ my head
Pullin’ sand away from the beach,
Pullin’ memories away as best I can.

No such thing as reality
Keeps occurring before my eyes.
Keeps falling away like a note played too long,
Like the symphony I created in my mind.

Off center right
The truth blends in with the lies.
There’s black on my mind from the pulling,
There’s black on my soul from my life.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Good Faith

(Experimental Fiction based on the Pecha Kucha style) 

[The Awakening]
 I’ve never felt more insignificant than the time I stood and stared into the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean.  The darkness went on forever, the sea and the sky mixed into oblivion.  I felt like I had rediscovered life.  And in the same breath, I wondered if I had witnessed death. 

 I watched my daughter sleeping and I wondered what graceful hand molded the perfection that I beheld.  Surely there had to have been something beyond my comprehension that had taken great care to create such a masterpiece.  It was art. No accident.

[The Afterlife]
 I saw faith extinguished once.  It floated away like a child’s lost balloon, vanishing into a white field of nothingness.  It was when she buried her child, a baby girl.  Was two days enough time to determine her fate?

 The smell of latex and death hung in the air.  I cried as I watched the strongest man I knew hollowed to a shell of his former self.  As he stood on the brink of uncertainty, the pain in his eyes showed that he was ready to go. And just like that, he knew.
I watched as a child was baptized in the name of the Father, white gown flowing in the water of rebirth and righteousness. Into death, into the water, we fall into an abyss of oblivion: a complete state of unknowing, forgetting all of the life that we have lived, not even knowing the finality of death.  What if we never know?

[Seeing is Believing]
At a Christian summer camp, I sat alone in front of a silent lake.  The stars were hand placed in the vast night sky.  I felt life in everything around me.  My heart was moved to passion: I knew the truth.

[The Truth Shall Set You Free]
Years later I flipped through thin pages of books decorated with the musings of wise men like Paine and Byron.  Reason became my way, dispassionate intelligence was my truth, the present was my only life. 

[The Brotherhood]
A sea of red tail lights like eyes of demons.  Every passenger in a world of their own.  If we all drove right off the edge of the earth, would we just wind up on the other side? Reinvented in another life and time?

I stared into the center of a sunflower and watched the petals explode like flames in the wind.  There was spirit.  There was vitality.  There was life.

[Houses of the Holy]
I watched my daughter as she lay on her stomach painting yellow and orange suns.  The idea that her happiness was only temporary, that her spark would one day be extinguished, was a lie I wasn’t willing to swallow.

   [Where the Sidewalk Ends]

My foundation was cracked like the jagged breaks in the sidewalk.  But instead of liquid damnation bubbling at my feet, a tree sprouted and grew.


On my way to Washington, D.C. I drove through Virginia.  I had never seen so many magnificent trees in my life.  Beautiful bursts of vivid orange and red that seemed to bleed from the branches.  Trees of life.

In the dark, my breath was still visible on the cold night’s air.  If I held my breath, would that make me invisible?  What it all cease to matter?  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  For those who know the most, sometimes suffer for their knowledge.

[Ants go Marching]
I watched a group of ants carrying cookie crumbs off my floor.  They moved to and fro, each in their own world.  I wonder if they knew how close to death they were.  I wonder if it even mattered?  I wondered if we even mattered?

Reflected in his glasses, I could see a light.  A spark of mortality, the knowledge of death.  A cloud of certainty floated across his forehead, as his thoughts came to life and imagination became existence. 

Some imagine that witnessing paradise is like a blinding glare of hot white light behind the eyes.  I imagine that it will be like the soft glow of a candle, where enlightenment is softly spread throughout.  The candle is sometimes so blinding that we tend to neglect it.

There’s a 170 ft. cross that I pass each evening on my way home from work.  There it stands each day, with the glow of the setting sun behind it.  I feel the cold from the shadow it creates.

I stare at the sun with my eyes closed, bright red heat reflected behind my eyelids.  Every night when I close my eyes to slumber, I wonder if my eyes will eternally behold the heat.

On road trips back home, we traveled through a small town where the only thing around was the smell of sulfur and barbecue. Stairtown: population 35.  It was said that this town held the staircase to hell.  When you’re young you’ll believe anything.  I guess it’s the same when you’re old.

I sit at work and the phone is ringing, the clock is ticking, cars are passing, wind is blowing, the world is turning.  What if it just stopped?  What if it just ceased to exist?  What if it was all over and we were none the wiser? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Words Between Us

You were a trumpet player or a firefighter or a policeman.  You were whatever I wanted you to be at the time that would make me proud to be called your daughter.  In actuality, I don’t recall you working a day in your life.  But as a child, I was only capable of seeing my world in black and white.  I painted my own reality of you.  A paint-by-number father that I came to love, and who loved me in return.   
I was only able to visit you once or twice a year on major holidays.  If my Mom had it her way, I would never have seen you again after the divorce.  Fortunately for you, you lived with your mother and father who always hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, which were more like family reunions.  I always felt a nervous excitement as we made the turn by the general corner store, drove over the highest rolling hillside, and turned onto Hazelhurst Street.  Cordial and sincere hugs and kisses were exchanged among generations of aunts, uncles and cousins.  The dull walls of Big Mama’s living room were aglow with the energy of familiarity and comfort, passing like sparklers from one hand to the next.  But I always saved a little magic, a little something extra for you.  You were always my last and most important hug of the day.  In retrospect, I realize you were always last because you were finishing up a beer in the kitchen or garage, but sometimes it’s easier to just let the magic remain.  It’s hard to recall those memories.  Like struggling to put a face to a name, I struggle to put feelings to events.  But in my mind I see these moments, these snapshots of you and me.  Maybe you lifted me up in the air, or maybe I felt the whiskers of your chin on my forehead, either way, I remember being near you, the sour beer on your breath felt like home.  Your body would shake as you embraced me.  Your hands were never steady.  But I felt as secure in your arms as a child should feel.  The world was right in my eyes. 
I imagine the conversations were often the same.  You would ask me how I was doing or talk about missing me. 
“Baby girl!  I’ve missed you so much.  How have you been?” After a few more drinks our chat would always turn into a therapy session.  There I’d sit, all pigtails and curls, and listen to you cry about all of the lost time and promise to do better.  You would get your life together.  You just needed some time.  “I’ll send y’all some money or something when I can finally get ahold of some.  I just need a little time to get myself together.  The lord is working on me”.  You would even start talking about how you ruined your marriage. “Your mama is a good woman.  I messed it up.  I had a good woman and just didn’t treat her the way she needed to be treated.”  After all of the confessions were on the table, the tears would follow.  Once you started to cry, I started to cry too.  Then all of your sisters would ask what you did this time to make me cry, and my mom would angrily dry my tears.  It wasn’t really the words or the empty promises that left me heartsick, it was the pain in your eyes that made me hurt for you.  As a child, I knew no concept of grief or pain or sorrow or helplessness…but I felt it for you.  I felt it through you, and I feel it to this day.  Today, for you I feel nothing more than pity.  As an adult I can see things as they really were and your tears mean nothing more to me than a side effect of your drunken state.  But as a child I wasn’t so able.  As a child, I mistook your tears and my empathy for love.  It meant that I had someone who cared for me and missed me.  Someone who cried for me and loved me. 
And back then, all that mattered was that I was loved. 

Those trips are often hard for me to recall.  I remember the simple things like pickles from the corner store or Popsicles freezing to my lip.  I don’t remember the conversations or the words of advice or the life lessons.  There’s nothing there to remember except a little girl who just wanted to be close to the man she looked up to more than any other person in the world.  And so I stood next to you, while you drank beer after beer, while you sang sad love songs, while you talked to everyone other than me.  I stood right next to you, waiting for you to give me anything you had to offer.  But it was me who always left feeling emptier than when I arrived. 
As the night progressed and the beer ran out, people would walk home or to the next destination for the evening.  Your destination was always the garage.  I remember I would sleep with you in the garage against the protests of all the adults, especially my mom.  There were two outdated, mismatched loveseats and a tiny T.V. that picked up local channels.  There was a shabby wooden dining table covered with ashtrays and empty beer cans from the game of dominoes played by the men earlier in the evening.  There were years and years of memories in that garage: vinyl records, cowboy hats, overstuffed cardboard boxes, worn out clothing.  Everything in the garage looked as if it had been drowned in sepia, everything except you. 
Your face glistened with life as the night progressed.  You would put on your Otis Redding record and sing to me.  I can still hear the truth in the words you sang, can still hear the country twang at the end of the notes.  I remember you most by your dusty country western boots and cans of cheap beer.  You would even let me taste it every once in a while.  It’s strange, but to this day, I smile when I think about that show of affection.  It still makes me happy.  Those nights were some of the most intimate memories I have with you.  Nights when I was just happy to be near you again.  As the night would wear down, I would fall asleep to the theme song from M.A.S.H playing on the television.  It was always a sad tune for me because it meant that you were asleep and our time together had come to an end.  I remember once, waking up in the middle of the night and seeing a green gecko scurrying across the wall, and in that moment I felt so alone.  I was a young girl, sad and scared.  I had my father lying across from me in the same room to console me and tell me everything was fine.  But I never bothered to wake him.  Though he was there in front of me as my father, he was never really there in my mind.  And so I lay under the dusty stars and listened to M.A.S.H and fell asleep alone and afraid.  During those visits, I don’t know if you ever tucked me in bed, or kissed my forehead as I slept, or stared at the innocent face you had created but I like to think that you did.  In that dusty and motionless garage, you were my father.  You talked to me, you cared for me, you held me, you watched over me, and you loved me.  In those memories, you were everything that I needed. 
When I look back at my childhood, it’s almost as if I’m outside of myself looking at someone else.  Like looking at a completely different being.  I look back on that strange child, the child I call myself and I see a child who was a creator.  There I sat with a childlike imagination and sculpted and molded you out of found memories and wishful thinking.  I erected you out of childlike innocence and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  You were my idol, but always manmade: prone to letdowns, prone to disappointments.  Twenty years later, that child has disappeared, vanished like vapor.  And you’ve withered away to nothing more than dirt.  In twenty five years of my life I received one birthday gift from you: a cheap, gold Mickey Mouse necklace that made me breakout in a rash the first and only time I wore it.  When I was fifteen, I wondered why you weren’t around to chase off the bad boys that had started to break my heart and steal my innocence.  When I was twenty, a single mom with a newly broken home, you consoled me by offering me a sip of beer.  I declined.
Being an adult and having to coming to realize that what I had previously created in my mind was sometimes too much for me to handle.  Reality hit me like a jab to the gut, and all of my love for you fell to the floor in a thousand broken promises.  The only person left to clean up the mess was me.  I’m still trying to clean it to this day.   


You were a single mother.  You were a hard working single mother who hardly had time for your kids.  You were always the one to say no, always the one to ruin my plans.  More importantly, you were the one who kept me away from him.  But how could I be mad at you when you were the one who chose to stay?  According to my sisters, you actually stole me from him, picked me up from school one day and drove me eight hours to your home in Louisiana.  Many of the details of the early days in Metairie are just sketches in my mind, one line blurring into the other.  I remember Slinkys dancing down staircases.  I remember the excitement that settled on the end of the day as we watched soccer games in the park.  I remember the Ms. Piggy stuffed animal you gave me that I took with me everywhere I went.  You even washed her red felt dress when you washed my clothes, leaving us both in white cotton underwear.  That’s the type of love that I needed and deserved.  Who could be angry about that?  I could, and I was for longer than I care to remember.   
Those memories come from a blissfully unaware world, a world where divorce had never touched my tongue, and deadbeat was a foreign sound to my ears.  But as I grew older, I became a Daddy’s Girl.  The one that he was the happiest to see.  The one who reminded him the most of himself.  I was the only one that was young enough to be blindsided.  You became just an afterthought.  The sad part about it all is that you’re like a phantom in these memories, vaguely appearing to whisper a don’t in my ear, or to pull me closer to prove your love.  But the more you tried to protect me, the more I pulled away.  You knew first hand what type of man he was.  You were married to him for ten years.  Everyone in his family knew what type of man he was.  That’s why they welcomed you, treated you like their own sister.  You saw the sadness in my face every time he let me down.  You were the one who had to dry my tears and answer the questions about why my Dad wasn’t around.  You were just trying to protect what was left of our family.  But I didn’t know.  How could I know?  I was just a little girl trying to make sense of it all.
 I look back and feel a sense of remorse for all of the misplaced I love yous and misguided admiration.  But when I was young, you were nothing more to me than the person who always said no, the person who didn’t have time to care, and the person who kept me from the one person who I wanted to be with the most. 
I remember taking a trip to visit him when I was six or seven years old.  I sat in the backseat watching oilrigs dressed up as watermelons or rocket ships.  When we began to smell sulfur and my sisters and I blamed each other for stinking up the car, I knew we were getting close. My tongue would swell with all the things I wanted to tell him about my life.  As I thought about my new best friend or how I made the honor roll again, you would coach me on what I should and shouldn’t do, what I could and couldn’t say.
“What we do in our home is none of his business.  If he starts asking questions about me or what I’m doing don’t tell him…Don’t let him make you cry.  You know how his is, gonna try and make you feel sorry for him.  Don’t go back in the garage with him, you need to stay in the front with me.”
 I tried to tune you out as best as I could, leaving your words behind like the thirsty grass flying by my window.  But the words might as well have been said about me. 
“He’s no good.  He’s worthless.  If he cared like he said he does, he would be here.”
Those words, heavy as bricks, added to the wall that was between you and I already.  Those words, made me love him more than I would ever love you.
            There’s nothing that stands out about that visit other than the departure.  It was the usual holiday celebration with family where the men would drink and slam down dominoes on the table while the women would smoke cigarettes and gossip over spades.  All of this fellowship set to a background of savory gravies and sweet bundt cakes.  There was usually a minimum of three drunken men, swearing and talking about things they wouldn’t remember in the morning.  There were usually two guys who claimed to be cousins or uncles who said I was too young to remember who they were.  They had names like Booty or Calvin.  For the longest time I thought I had a white brother named Steve.  Turns out he was just a brother by name, not relation.  Through all of the excitement, I was always right next to him like a little puppy, just waiting for a pat on the head.  We usually only stayed the night, and we would leave for the three hour car drive before afternoon had set.  The next morning, when the car was loaded and goodbyes were exchanged, I knelt in the backseat, looking out of the rear window clouded by a mixture of fog and tears.  As we drove away, I watched as he stood in the middle of the road, shaking his head with a sadness so heavy that even I carry the weight of it to this day.  In hindsight, that’s the last time I remember being Daddy’s girl.  As a child, in that moment, I wasn’t capable of seeing anything but my sadness.
I look at that memory today, and I see him being less of a superhero and more of a broken man.  The sadness has faded with the child that no longer lives in me, and I’m left with nothing but embarrassment.  I’m embarrassed about the man that he was, more than the man that he never became.  In that split second of eternity he has become more real to me than ever.  As he stands there in my mind, in the middle of a country road, he begins to shrink. His pitiful hands are on his head as if praying to a god for the opportunity to make everything right.  He was never looking for the opportunity.  He never made it right. 
As a child I always knew he would make things right if given the chance.  But I guess God was on your side.  Because God never gave him a chance, and neither did you. 

You tried to cheer me up with candy and sweet talk.  You tried to use affection, and tried to use reason.  There was even a pony ride involved that day.  I sat on the pony going round and round in circles, mouth salty with a mix of tears and snot.  Nothing you could do was good enough. Finally you snapped and yelled at me to be quiet and stop crying over him.  I listened to you repeat words and phrases like drunk, worth shit, and alone until finally, my swollen eyes closed from exhaustion.  When I recall that day, I don’t think about my tears or my loss.  I have no pity for his dejection and hopelessness. Your sadness was the only genuine sadness that day.  It’s hard for me to recognize this almost twenty years later because I couldn’t see it as a child.  I didn’t see your tears.  I see any pain.  You didn’t want me like he wanted me.  But as an adult, and more importantly as a mother, I can see the quiet sorrow I forced you to carry, that you willingly carried because you loved me.  

            Over the years, our relationship was unpredictable.  Everyday, just like the weather, we went through highs and lows.  You taught me how to dance to salsa music while cleaning house on Saturdays.  You would yell at me when you came home and my sister and I were fighting over dirty dishes.  You showed me what “real” music was while singing Marvin Gaye or Al Green tunes in the car on the way to school.  You threw away the CD’s that sounded like Devil worshipping or that had weapons on the front sleeve.  You called me when I was at my friend’s house just to check up.  You yelled at me for phone calls at midnight.  You grounded me when I missed curfew.  You missed volleyball and tennis matches all the time.  You were mean to all of my boyfriends.  You dried my tears when all of my boyfriends were mean to me.  We fought about the same things that most mothers and daughters fight about.  But our relationship never faded, though the anger and resentment has waned.  There was a lot that I never said to you, a lot of words left dangling in the open space between us.  I didn’t know how to grab them when I was younger.  But now I know.


            I look back on muggy summer days when I dipped my tiny toes in clear creek waters, when my only concern was not touching the rocks covered in green slime.  Summer days when barbecue stained winds danced playfully in my curly hair, and when squatting and playing with rolly pollies was a favorite pastime.  I miss the days when life was simple.  When love was a sip of beer and anger was a pony ride.  But reality hit year after year as I realized the man that I had imagined into existence became nothing more than a bottle of booze and a regret. 

Sometimes I wish that there was a better ending to our story, some sort of happily ever after.  Maybe he would find that little bit of time that he always spoke of and be able to be the man that I always imagined him to be: the firefighter, the policeman, the hero.  Maybe it was a birthday card, a letter in the mail, an unexpected email.  It was something that would elevate my story.  Something that would take it to a new and unexpected place.  But there’s none of that in our story.  It’s been years since I’ve talked to you, years since I’ve seen your face.  The last I heard of you, you were in rehab or sober living.  You had a job and were finally getting on with your life, and so am I.  I’m recognizing a lot of truths that I wasn’t capable of recognizing before, truths about life, and truths about myself.  Truths that help me write the story of where I’ve come from, what I’ve done, and who I am today.  The final period has been dotted and that chapter of my story is over.  No cliffhangers, no surprise endings, just our story, plain and simple. 

Our story, on the other hand, isn’t so straightforward.  Our saga still continues.  No clean ending here.  I see you more than I would like to.  You call me and I forward you to voicemail.  We argue about parenting styles and responsibilities.  But our story is still a work in progress.  There’s still time to revise and revisit, to cut, copy and paste.  There’s still blank pages to fill with maybes and what ifs and all of the hypothetical statements that may come to pass.  Maybe we’ll learn how to say we’re sorry one day.  Maybe we’ll continue our love hate relationship because we don’t know any other way.  Maybe no words will need to be exchanged because we’ve seen them dangling between us for years and years.  But those words will fill the blank pages and keep our story going until we feel we’ve finally reached the end.