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A young woman, walking to her car after the parade Saturday. Gasparilla, the annual pirate invasion. The sun is high, the sounds of revelry all around, but that doesn’t stop him from grabbing her, throwing her to the ground. Later, after she finds a police officer and asks for help, they tell her she owes a fine, something from juvenile court a few years back. She says she paid it, it must be a clerical error. They handcuff her, take her to jail, refuse to give her the pill that will prevent a pregnancy. We’ve come a long way, baby.
I remember this story I read once about a woman whose husband was going out one night, and she didn't want him to. She wanted more than anything for him to stay home with her, because although it was unspoken between them, she knew he had someone else. And so in her desperation, she lifted her skirt and started doing the cancan as he walked to the door.
I’ve never met a man I’d do the cancan for. Not even my husband. I’d say “Go if you don’t want me.” Do I have too much pride? Or not enough passion?
Did you know you can buy an Excuse Me Belt? If you are not sufficiently disconnected from the people around you, you can purchase this yellow flag that attaches to a harness around your waist. It swings back and forth in front of you while you walk, so people will get out of your way and you don't have to touch anybody. And it reads "Excuse Me!" so you don't have to talk to anyone either. I don't know about you, but I don't want to feel any more alienated than I already do. But maybe if I were misophobic...
Shit. I forgot all about this. I was lying in bed telling myself the same story I’ve been telling myself since I was 14 (the details may change, but the story is always the same), and I remembered. It’s cold and I’m shivering and I have to get up in three hours and I can’t fucking sleep! So I’m just doing this to get it over with so I can get back to not sleeping. Shit. 25 more words. How am I going to function tomorrow? Maybe I should stop with the story. Maybe it just winds me up more.
Carl saunters down the aisle and slides in next to me, like he does every day after school. I pretend I don’t notice him. I pretend I don’t like it when he reaches across me to lower the window, the back of his hand brushing against my shirt. His sisters ride the bus too. They glare at me and sometimes whisper. But one day they are friendly and ask me if I can sleep over. I’m not afraid of this dumb country boy, but I have a good radar for cunning little bitches. I lie, tell them I’m not allowed.
For the most part I have always been a good girl. The sort who has only had one lover, and married him. Who's never gone to a frat party, never cheated, never willfully played with a man’s heart, and never worn heels more than a couple of inches tall. But sometimes I get the urge to do something
. Like slip off my panties, carefully fold them inside a package with pink tissue paper, and mail them to a prisoner. Some huge guy with tattoos, a limited vocabulary and a bad temper, the sort I’d never choose in real life.
People are heroes
villains. I didn’t always understand this. When I was young I fought with my grandfather. Old and ignorant, he’d use words like nigger and spic and was not a bit inclined to be schooled by a teenager. I’d retaliate by making him feel stupid. Easy, with his sixth-grade education. One day after he was dead, I was brushing my little girl’s hair and this memory came through so clearly it stilled my hand, choked me with sobs. My grandfather brushing my own hair. Reverently, with the most tenderness anyone has ever shown me, my whole life.
George was gumming his oatmeal and scanning the mayhem in the newspaper when he heard a scrabbling noise. A squirrel, clinging to the window screen, trying to scratch its way up the glass. The creature’s eyes skittered around madly. Later that morning, George was in his office when a bird flew into the window. It bounced off and came back again and again, with a frantic flutter of wings. What George didn’t know was that he was the main character in the new Steven King novel, and these odd events in an otherwise routine morning foreshadowed something far more sinister.
For our honeymoon we rented a cabin in the mountains. The October leaves were the colors of spices: cinnamon, saffron and paprika. We made love in the woods, and it was beautiful. But one day there came a swarm. Not locusts, but ladybugs. You think they’re cute until you feel their little exoskeletons crunch under your feet by the dozens. We’d take turns sweeping them up. Hundreds. Thousands. In our bed. In our hair. Some even hitched back home with us in our luggage, and two weeks later we were still relocating strays to the garden. Organic Appalachian pest control.
Sometimes I wish I were not married. Like tonight. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about something else. But how, when my eyes are burning and I want to club him with the goddamn remote control. It’s terrible going from my honeymoon on my last entry to this. My best friend says that having her baby, when she was just seventeen, saved her life. Tonight I knew why. Because your child, when she is young, is the only one who adores you, who thinks you are perfect, who has only pure love to give.
My List of Worthlessness
Sunday: made the bed; washed and folded laundry; did household shopping; priced vacuum cleaners because he wants me to spend more time cleaning the house; took our daughter to get new shoes and a haircut; picked out Valentines with our daughter and helped her fill them out; cooked dinner; got a head start on Monday’s work; kept our daughter with me all day so my husband could have time to himself; paid his truck payment; rubbed our daughter’s feet until she fell asleep.
Time to self: zero.
Sum total of value to my husband: zero. Worthless.
The annual summer party hosted by the accounting firm I work for. It’s at the country club and there are a bunch of old CPAs in polo shirts and golf shorts. Stuffy, even outside in the sunshine. How did it end? Better than it started. Some people embarrass themselves at company parties by drinking too much alcohol. Not me. I grabbed a girl from graphic design and we hijacked a golf cart. We tore around the course till the battery died, whooping at the stiffs as we passed them by, making wagers on who we’d run over first. Good times.
Last night I dreamed we were swimming in the lake. It was a beautiful day, and the water was calm, but toward the deep part where you couldn’t see the bottom, there was a man. He was luring the children because he wanted to drown them.
The thought of losing her is always there. Sometimes right in front, like a post-traumatic flashback, except it’s some horrible future I’m imagining, rather than the past. And other times I shove it under the mattress, out of sight. But when I lie down I can still feel its hard, sharp corners under me.
I feel silly about that entry from three days ago. I was entrenched in self-pity at the moment. But today was Valentines Day, and he brought home flowers in a lovely crystal vase that has daisies carved into it. I brought out the white table cloth and let our little girl sprinkle hearts all over it, then I lit a candle. After dinner, a dessert I’d made with strawberries and whipped cream. We even danced afterward, and I pretended I didn’t feel it when he stepped on my bare feet. We haven’t been together since we were kids for nothing.
Above the headboard of our bed, five indentations. You can see them through the new paint. The couple who lived here before us made them. I imagine them having lots of sex to pound small holes in the wall. When we viewed the house with the agent, I remember seeing the husband's stack of magazines only partially hidden in the closet. The neighbors tell us stories about them. After Christmas they would set their tree aflame in the driveway, and on Independence Day they would shoot illegal fireworks all over the neighborhood. Such fire and noise! And now, so quiet.
I set this goal to invite friends for dinner. So I did. But I had no idea where I was going to seat them at my little table. So today I found a small used furniture store and right away saw what I wanted. Rich maple, highlighted with black paint and faint gold flowers. It looked old; it had character. I bought the table, chairs, bench, even the hutch, for $700. After I got home, I thought I’d do some research, see what I had. WWII era, the hutch alone worth $1800, each chair $250. Invite friends over more often!
I have this recurring fear of her being hurt and scared, and not being able to help her. How would I bear the helplessness and anguish? Love is frightening, especially parental love, because it’s on a level beyond. It shouldn’t even be called the same thing. There should be a word just for mother’s love. There are mothers who listen to their children cry in hunger, mothers who care for their children through cancer, mothers whose children are stolen. Sometimes the thought it could be me stills my breath, keeps me awake at night as I clutch my baby closer.
I have this collection of articles. The meat factory worker nicknamed “Honey Monster” who did a belly flop on a co-worker and cracked his ribs. The old guy who went to city hall on his riding lawn mower, shot the mayor over a water bill dispute, then rode back home. The blood-soaked murderer who walked into Wal-Mart and bought trash bags with a blood-stained $100 bill. I guess it’s kind of sick that I think these things are funny. But I also clip stories like the 5’2” 100-pound stripper who beat a pack of pit bulls off a little boy.
Synesthesia. The joining of senses. To hear a color, see a sound, taste a word. Not metaphor, poetry or LSD, but a conscious experience of the holistic nature of perception. A piece of music might look like fireworks exploding. The ripple of water could sound like a cello. Each letter may have a distinct personality and appearance. A synesthete may be able to tell you about the sound of red or paint a picture of what her best friend’s voice looks like. He may only date girls with pleasant-tasting names. Franz Liszt, Nikola Tesla, Duke Ellington, Vladimir Nabokov – all synesthetes.
Kaleidoscope. Illusion. Ethereal. Thistle. Zephyr. Jerusalem. Indonesian. Peloponnesian. Onomatopoeia. Marijuana. Velveteen. Tangerine. Nectarine. Quixotic. Piquant. Aqueous. Aquiline. Calliope. Anemone. Armadillo. Illuminate. Irreverent. Halcyon. Cerulean. Murmuring. Mellifluous. Effervescent. Evanescent. Isosceles. Sesame. Paroxysm. Pistachio. Piscean. Serpentine. Byzantine. Bedazzle. Epiphany. Symphony. Gossamer. Glycerin. Glistening. Scintillate. Precipitous. Luminescent. Luscious. Susurrus. Deliquescent. Delicious. Diaphanous. Euphoria. Ephemera. Illustrious. Felicitous. Metamorphosis. Quiver. Mesmerize. Osmosis. Marinara. Solicitous. Soliloquy. Serendipitous. Whisper. Vicissitude. Alluvium. Rhapsodic. Symbiotic. Balsamic. Bandoleer. Molecular. Sequacious. Possibility. Preliminary. Whippoorwill. Wisteria. Taciturn. Assassinate. Synonymous. Synopsis. Ubiquitous. Loquacious.
Bombastic. Bamboozle. Insufferable. Skullduggery. Hoosegow. Hippopotamus. Cockamamie. Rapscallion. Hullabaloo. Wazoo. Willy-nilly. Niminy-piminy. Boing. Lickety-split. Higgledy-piggledy. Scallywag. Nimrod. Nincompoop. Snollygoster. Mugwump.
I dreamed we were floating on an inflatable tube at the beach. It was warm and sunny, and you were nestled on my lap. The waves must have lulled us to sleep, because I awoke to find we had drifted out to sea. Only now my arms were empty. You were gone! Slipped off the side while we were dreaming, drowned while I all I knew was peace and oblivion. Ships passed by. People were talking and laughing, but they didn’t see me. I was invisible, lost at sea, utterly alone.
I am so afraid of losing you. So afraid.
Bedtime Reference Manual
Why There Are No Monsters In The Closet
1. There are no monsters allowed on our street. Our street is off limits!
2. All monsters have a curfew. If they stayed out this late, their mommies would spank them.
3. Monsters are afraid of Daddy. If he catches them hiding in the closet, he will beat them with his hockey stick, and they will cry.
4. Monsters don’t like to eat sweet girls. They only eat mean, sour girls.
5. Monsters don’t wear clothes. That means they don’t want to hang out in your closet.
Ely has a jeri curl and gold teeth and loves The Isley Brothers. When he answers the phone, he says “Who ‘dis?” He lets us stay with him because he feels sorry for us. Also probably because my mom puts out. He’s nice to her and doesn’t beat her, so she likes him. And he gives her money. Every day he comes home from work with a briefcase full of cash. His kids are about my mom’s age, and they live in the apartment upstairs. They don’t like us because we’re white and he takes care of us.
Ely had a classic corvette he loved to cruise in. It was curvy and candy-red, with chrome under the hood. But he’d taken out the seats to have them restored, so he would flip over a 5-gallon paint bucket and ride around on it. His other car was a Cadillac. They were always sparkly clean, because he owned a car wash. He also owned the house we stayed in and a couple others. He’d never gotten around to putting in heat, though, so in the winter we all would pile up in his king-size bed with him, warm and safe.
My mother and Ely were just friends until her surgery. My step-father said no to the sterilization, but she did it anyway. When she got home, he left her outside, struggling up the steps, hunched over with her hand protecting the raw incision. He said when she got inside, he was going to beat her, then turned his back and slammed the door. So she made her way back to the car and to Ely’s. He ran to her side, carried her in, made a clean bed, bought prescriptions and bandages and a new nightgown, scrubbed the bathroom, bathed her.
Every day when I take my little girl to school, we have to pass the children’s cemetery. Last week there was a funeral, a family putting their baby in the ground. It was the saddest goddamn thing ever. She wanted to know why I was crying, so I lied.
My childhood friend’s baby is buried there. She carried her for nine months, and then one day she stopped moving, and there was no heartbeat. The doctor induced contractions, and she had to push her dead baby girl out of her body. How does a woman bear a labor so sorrowful?
The girl is ringing up my batteries when this middle-aged guy approaches the counter. She tells me the total is $4.27. “Excuse me, miss,” he says, with this grin on his face like he’s in on a joke nobody else knows. “Can you help me find the condoms? I need extra small, please.”
My creep alarm is clanging, so I shoot him a dirty look to move him along. But his eyes are locked on her. She’s blushing, averting her eyes, and he’s staring her down. “Hey!” I say. Now I have his attention. “Finger cots. Aisle twelve, first aid.”
Noey. Ferris wheel, county fair. Sweet and chaste.
David. Autumn hayride. Self-conscious with braces, but a dark and starry night. Warm and tingly.
Sean. In his car outside of Ely’s house. Hot.
Edward, senior year, walking with me after school. First of many that would get us sent to detention - together. A bit mismatched as kissers; my mouth is much bigger. But he smells so good.
Jeremy, before I married Edward. In my kitchen. Best kisser ever. And, ironically, gay.
Surprised by a guy on the dance floor. I think he was drunk.
Stranger, hockey game. Another drunken ambush.
The Tip Jar