How To Find What You Came Here For

Welcome to the worlds that populate my brain!
The short stories you find here are the product
of a vastly overactive imagination
powered by coffee and M&Ms.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Good-Bye, Aunt Ruby

Aunt Ruby was always bigger than life to me when I was growing up.  Tall, fiery red hair, and a huge voice that could be heard over any family gathering.  I was fascinated by her when I was little.
When I was about thirteen, Aunt Ruby let me come with a group of her students to see “The Nutcracker.”  I think I was almost more excited to be included with her high school students than I was about seeing my first professional production of the classic ballet.

I remember watching her with her students on that trip.  On the way down they talked about everything from school to family to the trials of teenage relationships.  On the way back, they talked about the amazing production – the beautiful sets and costumes, the amazing tree that grew right before our eyes, the male dancer that nearly dropped the dancer playing Clara during a lift.  She loved them, and they loved her.  This is one of my favorite memories of her – happy and excited, doing what she loved.

Because of her, I wanted to be a teacher.  I wanted to touch lives the way she did.  I wanted to have a purpose.  I wanted to love my job.

It always seemed that whatever she did, whatever she felt, it was with everything she had and with every single part of herself.  There were no half-measures.  When I was younger, I admired that; as an adult, I worried about it.

Looking back now, I can see how her no-holds-barred approach fed into her alcoholism.  I don't know how long she had a problem - I didn't become aware of it until seven or eight years ago - but I know that as hard as anyone else was on her, it wasn't even close to how hard she was on herself.  

I can’t pretend to understand everything that happened in her life or all of the choices she made.  Joy and sorrow, fear and hope; sometimes Aunt Ruby’s life seemed like nothing but extremes with no gentle middle ground for peace.  It was exhausting to watch, it had to have been even more exhausting to live.

And now, finally, there is peace.  We don’t feel that peace yet – this was the last rock thrown in the pond and even though the center is now calm, the ripples and waves are still traveling.  Questions and regrets still rock everyone who loved her.

When I’m searching for peace, Romans 8:9-11, 37-39 reminds me:

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Aunt Ruby struggled with her addiction, and in the end it probably caused her death...or at least contributed to it.  I don't know if she finally won that battle.  What I do know is that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love, not our weaknesses or our failures, or any of the mistakes we make.  That is what gives me hope, and what will give me peace.  I know in God’s loving arms Aunt Ruby is whole and complete, and nothing that came before matters.  

Ruby Bowker
Home & Whole
July 22, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sugar & Spice

I am not nice.

I am short and fat, and as a rule I have a vaguely pleasant look on my face.  This can lead the people I meet to think I’m nice…or sweet…or biddable.  A classic case of mistaken identity.
I used to be, though.

I was raised to speak politely and use my manners.  By example, I learned that women who were quiet and accommodating were “good,” and women who were loud and demanding were “bad.”

I was a good girl…for the first half of my life.

Then I had kids.

It’s not really fair to blame it on the kids, though.  The evil lurked deep in me long before hormones worked their mental magic.  Rather, I’d say the kids simply provided situational conduits that guided my more natural inclinations to the surface.

When my youngest son was gravely ill, being nice got us nowhere with the doctors.  They ignored our concerns while we watched him get skinnier and weaker.

Sleep deprivation and desperation created the first conduit for my inner bitch to surface.  I blew like Mount Vesuvius…and they admitted our son to the hospital and finally tracked down the infection that nearly killed him.

Years later, I found myself at the emergency room with our oldest son.  He’d had a catheter inserted through his abdomen to drain his bladder while we waited on surgery, and it had stopped draining.

The surgeon told us to go to the local ER.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “it’s probably blocked.  Any ER can handle this.”

Except ours.  Two nurses discussed the problem, and decided they were going to reverse the flow of the catheter and let an entire bag of saline empty into his bladder.

“How are you getting it out if the catheter still doesn’t work?” I asked.

“Oh, well then he can just pee…”

“If he could PEE,” I said, in the eerily calm tone of voice I’ve developed for these situations, “then he wouldn’t NEED the catheter.”

I paused before I spoke again, “I have a rule.  You don’t get to put anything in my kid unless you have a plan for getting it out.  A WORKABLE plan.  And by workable, I mean, that I, personally, think it will work.”

They found a new plan.  A workable plan.

Nice doesn’t work sometimes.  Cast-iron bitch?  That works.

Lesson learned.

Welcome!  This post was a response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club - we were supposed to write a memoir piece that either started or ended with "Lesson learned."  Most of my lessons have been learned through or because of my kids.  As always, thanks for stopping by and please leave a comment or critique!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Moment Between

 Clicks and whirs defined Sam’s life.
Mr. Addison had bought him a digital camera, but it wasn’t the same.  He could turn on a feature that made sounds similar to his Nikon, but his keen ear told him the sound was fake.

Sam knew that he’d have to start using the digital camera.  Film wasn’t easily available, and the chemicals he used to develop his pictures were scarce as well.  Losing the familiarity of his Nikon was rapidly becoming a primary anxiety in his life.

“He’s an odd one, but his pictures are amazing!” Sam could hear Mr. Addison’s voice from his office through the cacophony of sounds coming from the cubicles on their floor.  His boss was talking to the new guy.  New people always asked about him.

His fingers tapped restlessly as the photographs he’d taken flew across his screen. 

The fluorescent lights flickered endlessly.

Computer monitors sent out their high-pitched whine.

Printers jerked to life and sent sheets of paper slapping through rollers.

High voices and low voices rose and fell and the occasional whisper hissed.

Cell phones buzzed restlessly.

Office chairs squeaked and groaned.

The scent of a flowery perfume snaked through to join the musky scent of another perfume.  A quick flash of something citrus was there and then gone.

Doors opened and shut.

The air conditioning hummed.

A stack of papers fell from someone’s desk.

A brief, tinny dial tone blared as desk phone was dialed – cut off when the handset was lifted.

A fly buzzed and thumped against a window.

Bitter coffee stung his nose.

The pop and snap of bubble gum joined the crunch and smack of an apple.

The flying pictures on Sam’s screen stopped suddenly on the one he was seeking.  A few seconds later he jerked himself out of his chair and through Mr. Addison’s door.

“Giraffe’s in the e-mail.  Going to the gorillas Mr. Addison.  Got my phone.” 

Mr. Addison smiled, nodded, and ignored both the interruption and Sam’s machine-gun delivery.  “Thanks Sam, let me know when you’re back.”

He stalked over the paths to the gorilla enclosure, head down, arms tight, camera secure against his chest.

Moving around the observation area, he suddenly stopped and lifted the camera.

Only in that moment was his world quiet and still.  Everything frozen in his lens, captured in the space between the click and the whir.

Photo courtesy The Husband...taken at the NC Zoo

This post is a response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club  to write about this photograph:

As the parent of a teenager diagnosed with Aspergers and ADHD, I have struggled to explain what the world is like for him.  Sights, sounds, smells, textures - everything that we easily block out when we need to - all crash into him without any filter at all.  His world is chaos - an explosion of experience that never stops.  This post is what I imagine his life might be like someday - in that shadowy future I can't quite see.

As always, your comments and critique are very welcome! 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Let's Dance!

My Personal Fantasy
When I was very little - about four - my mom enrolled me in dance classes.

I was excited about becoming a dancing princess.  My mom was excited about me developing some coordination.

We were both doomed to disappointment.
A significant number of my very early memories involve falling: falling down the basement stairs, falling out of my bed, falling off the front porch, falling from the top of the biggest slide in the playground, falling for no apparent reason at all except that gravity hated me.

My mom was starting to worry that I'd actually hurt myself sooner or later.  When she brought her concern to our family doctor (the week after I nearly severed my arm by sticking it through a plate glass door), he suggested either gymnastics or dance lessons.  One look at the apparatus in the gymnasium had my mom calling our local dance instructor.

I was so excited on the first night of class I could hardly be still - not that anyone would have noticed since being still wasn't part of my repertoire!  I bopped from foot to foot while my mom talked with the instructor.

"Mrs. Brown, my daughter is…well…a little clumsy."

"Don't worry, I've had plenty of experience with clumsy girls.  Dance will do wonders for her!"  The instructor spoke with all the confidence of a woman who'd never seen me fall out of my chair at dinner.

"I hope so."  My mom gave me a hug and hurried out to wait in the station wagon - mothers were not allowed in the basement dance studio.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first class, even though my shoes (the smallest the store carried) were several sizes too big.  Mrs. Brown recommended to my mom that I not wear shoes to class…at least until my feet grew a little.  She didn't mention the blonde girl with the ice bag pressed to a rapidly bruising eye - the one who'd been standing across the room when an enthusiastic kick had launched my shoe directly at her head.

I danced in bare feet for our second class, but my fellow princesses-in-training still gave me a wide berth.  Despite their caution, one girl went home with my hand print on her cheek as the result of a catastrophic loss of balance during a spin. 

"How is she doing, Mrs. Brown?" my mother asked warily - she'd seen the looks I was getting from the other students.

Mrs. Brown was struggling to maintain her confidence.  "She's making progress…she's trying very hard!"  She turned in time to see me tumble headfirst off the bench from where I'd been tying my shoes.  "No child is hopeless!" she declared.

My Personal Reality
A little wrinkle of doubt pleated my mom's forehead as we left the basement.

I could barely wait for the third night of class.  I raced for the stairs and before I realized what was happening, I was tumbling down them.  Experience had taught me to relax into the fall…unfortunately the three girls I took with me weren't as accustomed to bouncing down wooden stairs.  We landed in a tangle of arms and legs on the braided rug at the bottom of the stairs.

In the shocked silence that preceded the wails and sobs of the three casualties of my ongoing war with gravity, I heard Mrs. Brown call my mother's name.

A few days later I was bopping from foot to foot on the deck of a swimming pool while my mom spoke to the coach of the swim team, "My daughter's a little clumsy, Coach."

This post is a response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club to write about RHYTHM.  My lack of coordination (and rhythm) comes as no surprise to those who know me, love me, and make sure they aren't below me on the stairs.  In college, my friends had a game they called "Geri Tipping."  Although this sounds like a drinking game, no alcohol was actually involved - I simply have NO sense of balance at all!  Comments and crit are welcome as always!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

To Dream Of Shoes

***Tissues recommended***

Dobry dreamed about shoes.
She didn't dream about shoes the way some women did - indulgent fantasies about glittering straps and heels and wildly extravagant footwear that served no other purpose than to be pretty.  Even awake she wasn't the sort of woman who stopped at window displays and discussed the virtue of one style over another. 

Her closet contained only two pairs of shoes: a pair of house slippers her husband had given her for her birthday years ago, and a pair of sensible black shoes with a small strap across the top that fastened with a small silver buckle.

Her daughter had a closet full of shoes in the large, comfortable house she shared with her successful husband.  Now that Beth and her husband had retired, they made a point of picking her up from her apartment at the assisted living facility and bringing her into the city to visit.  Dobry enjoyed the time she got to spend with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, even if it meant that sooner or later Beth would also take her shopping.

"Mom, don't you think those shoes are gorgeous?" Beth would ask.

Dobry would smile at the sparkle in her daughter's eyes and reply, "Not as gorgeous as my brilliant daughter."

Beth would roll her eyes, laugh, and try again to interest her mother in the mosaic of shoes on display. 

"I think those blue ones would be beautiful with that dress you bought to wear for your anniversary, and they look like they'd be nice and comfortable.  Let me buy them for you."

Dobry would just shrug and move to a different department, without ever looking at the shoes.  Her daughter would sigh and follow, shaking her head over her mother's stubbornness.

For Beth, shoes were a colorful accessory and nothing more.  She didn't understand her mother's aversion, and Dobry was glad for it.

Her daughter would never look at a shoe display in the department store and think of a mountain of shoes waiting to be sorted by size.  She would never wake in the night, smelling dry leather and smoke that hadn't existed since she was a little girl.

When Dobry dreamed of shoes, they were always sturdy and brown and piled high in the middle of a brick courtyard.  She could feel the rough leather in her hands as she picked up each shoe, determined the size at a glance, and tossed them into the appropriate pile.  She worked in rhythm with the girls and women around her; the rhythm allowed her to close her mind to the reality the mountain of shoes represented.  She could pretend not to notice the black smoke pouring out of the low brick building that always preceded a new mound of shoes to be sorted.

Her dreams always ended the same way - picking up a child's shoe and seeing a flash of color.  Her rhythm broken, she turned the shoe in her hands until she saw the yellow flower on the toe.  The flower she'd painted to help her little sister remember which shoe to put on her right foot, and which to put on her left.  The stink of the smoke belching out of the building overwhelmed her, forcing her to her knees as she cried silently and clutched the small shoe to her pounding heart.

Of all the memories Dobry had shared with her children of that horrific time and what came after, this memory she'd kept for herself.  Some things were too painful, too personal even for family…maybe especially for family.

Better that Beth think she was too cheap to buy more than one pair of shoes at a time than to know that sometimes, her mother dreamed about shoes.  

This post is in response to a prompt from The Red Dress ClubOur assignment was to write about shoes.  Unfortunately, I apparently do not possess the gene that makes shoes fascinating to most women.  I own a pair of dress shoes for work/church, and a pair of tennis shoes for everything else.  When I started brainstorming about this writing assignment, one image that came to mind:  a picture I'd seen in high school of Auschwitz, and the piles and piles of shoes.  Thank you for taking the time to read, and for your comments and critiques!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Daggers of Womanhood

Fair warning for those plucky male readers who occasionally stop by:  the following post contains classified information of the feminine kind.  Proceed at your own risk!

I got my period when I was thirteen.  Every other girl I knew had started their period when they were twelve.  I was on a swim team with girls from eight years old up to eighteen, so there was very little I didn't know about the female body.  I "knew" that you got your period in the sixth grade - that's why they showed you the movie about it at the beginning of the school year.

My friend and I giggled through that movie.  We were tomboys of the first order, and the idea that our bodies would someday betray us by breaking into spontaneous womanhood was laughable.  I'd seen the older girls in the locker room - I already knew I didn't want boobs, and now that I'd seen the movie I was sure I didn't want my period either.

Then one by one, my friends all fell to dagger of womanhood…until there was - me.  It never occurred to me to pretend that I'd gotten it, so my lack became a topic of conversation.  Mothers of girls I swam with would corner me as I came out of the locker room, tired, wet, and smelling strongly of chlorine, to reassure me that I was "normal."  All the reassurances wore me down…I started worrying that there was something wrong with me.

When the big day arrived I was unprepared.  It was very early on a Saturday morning - so early the light was just barely turning everything blue and the air was chilly.  My mom, who was tethered to our home every other day of my life, was away at a conference for community swim teams, so my dad dropped me off at the pool.

In a routine set after eight years, I breathed in the scent of chlorine and felt the familiar rush of adrenaline it always gave me.  I turned right, weaving around the cinder block wall that blocked the girl's locker room from the lobby.  I was wide-awake, unlike the majority of the other girls struggling into suits that were still damp and cold from practice the night before. 

I dropped my duffel bag in front of my locker and sat down to untie my shoes and slide them off with my toes.  Standing, I slid my warm-up pants down along with my panties…and then sat down hard on the smooth wooden bench.

Blood, like an unwanted beacon of maturity, stained my plain white panties.

A few years earlier, I'd accidentally shoved my arm through a glass door.  I'd bled profusely enough to have my mom calling the doctor, who recommended butterfly bandages and a trip to the neighboring town's ER if the bleeding didn't stop.  A few years before that, I'd cracked my head open at a drive-in movie when a family friend tripped and dropped me.  All of that blood never bothered me, but that small red smear dropped my heart into my stomach like a rock.

One of the older girls noticed and called my coach, who called my dad.  When he arrived, silent as always, my coach told him, “Your little girl has become a woman.”

He was confused.

She tried again, using a variety of euphemisms – some of which I knew, none of which my dad understood.  Finally, she gave up on discretion and blurted, “She got her period.  She can’t swim today.”  I heard the girls start giggling.  

 All the blood in my dad’s face drained as my face flushed in embarrassment.  He nodded and took me out to the truck. 

We drove back home in silence, both wishing for my mom.

This post was written in response to a prompt from The Red Dress ClubOur prompt was to write about an embarrassing moment from our past.  I truly drew a blank until I was reminded of that moment when I was no longer a young girl, but I found myself still wishing for my mommy.