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I sit outside at the H. Avenue block party, coffee thermal cup in lawn chair holder; part of me wishes I'd invited all the friends I invite to T.'s birthday parties, say--but the other part remembers laziness, worrying about juggling different personalities. So, only C. Came; now she's on her way home. I feel perfectly content sitting out here with my Neo and a book but don't want anybody to think I'm alone or lonely--the same feeling I had at OL of L playground, running around the asphalt back and forth, hoping the nuns would think I was playing, too.
I hate bittersweet. I want sweetness--honey, maple syrup, molasses--untinged with vinegar. I want fun times with my son today, a nice 7-11 lunchtime walk, without the nagging realization--today is the last real day of his childhood, tomorrow he moves to a college dorm and his own life. I don't want to cry.
Logic helps…I've raised a son who wants to go to college, who did well in high school and earned a scholarship. I've raised a son who teachers routinely praise, saying he's a good person--a son who calls me his role model and his best friend.
Nothing bitter about that.
I hate headcolds. Caught this from my son, who wasn't even able to go to Tuesday's Sox game. I woke up, throat sore, on Friday, the day after he moved into RU. I'd planned to write at Starbucks today; instead I down tea, and thoughts trudge through mud.
I remember telling a boss who used a wheelchair that I felt like cutting my head off, it felt so congested. He scoffed--how dare I complain about something so minor as a cold? That's why J. and I were friends--she used a wheelchair, too, but she didn't shrug off your feelings.
Outside crickets rub tiny wings together and kids play under watchful eyes of moms; I sit drinking decaf hazelnut coffee wishing for words that stretch from little kid summer memories of blonde Cathy who visited our courtyard apartment building every August, to this last summer before my son heads off to college. My feelings are clichés a good editor would delete--that childhood passes by "in the blink of an eye," that you never truly appreciate what you have until it is gone. That mysterious connections run through life and bind us all together and unite our past and present selves.
Why does Holton's "Windy City" engross me so? It starts off describing RU, next door to my alma mater, the school my son will attend. I care about the characters, ache for Paige whose fiancé was murdered, fear for little Butch, who the evil Margo yearns to murder.
Margo's evil fascinates me. Shouldn't I be repulsed, slam shut the book? Does something in me relate to this evil? I can't be alone in this--mysteries like this continually make the bestseller list. Do we repress evil that loves to rise to the surface, if only to recognize itself in a fictional character?
Wed on the Fourth of July, only to separate five years later, finalize the divorce four years after that. When we separated, our son wasn't even a year old.
I remember walking down Michigan Avenue in our wedding finery, cars honking while above fireworks lit up downtown sky with showers of gold. We stopped at Bennigan's; they were closing but fixed up Styrofoam containers-to-go, and we dined in our hotel room equipped with a refrigerator of liquors and Toblerone chocolate. Happy, I ignored deep-down twinges that this marriage a mistake, ignored the hints of cruelty simmering beneath my bridegroom's façade.
Hot July evening, outside on my steps, heavy tree branches expectant, an occasional firefly scurrying; it's going to thunderstorm any minute and pelt down raindrops. I thought I heard a rumble; the air is so heated that it's like s soft wool blanket covering you--but I enjoy being bathed in summer warmth and so I sit on pebbly stairs and write words that don't seem to come so easily at the same desk where, for work, I write about cornea layers and abrasions and dystrophies. Here on H. Street, the cars and buses of I.P. and W. are distant.
I procrastinate, changing my desktop photo, deciding if I want one of T. and me, of the outside of U.S. Cellular, a generic computer flower shot, or a picture of one of our cats looking cute, or a graduation family shot, or a maroon-and-gold graduation shot of T. Instead, I should be writing, stringing words together, picturing vivid images--instead, I dilly and dally. Why do I feel headachy tense? Let me think of positives--instead of watching Star Trek, I sat down intending to write. I'm typing in Write-or-Die now, aiming to hit 100 words. This is a start.
"You have more family than I have," my son says. "I'd love to have siblings."
True. He only knows my side of the family. As a child, I only knew my mom's side; now, except for one cousin, I only know my dad's side. Some, anyway: I don't know the uncle in the same south suburb where I visit friends; I don't know his children, my cousins; one half-brother refuses to recognize me, at our dad's funeral referring to me as "step-sister."
But it's worse for my son--none of his dad's relatives even send him a birthday or Christmas greeting.
I sit in the backyard, ignoring not-rosacea-friendly July sun and disease-carrying mosquitoes. Birds converse or vent emotions--who knows? A few minutes left of my lunch break, from writing about the cornea.
I'm in a foul mood--my cousin was in town--the one relative on my mom's side I'm in contact with, who knows me as D., not just S.'s daughter. But she's back on the road, no time to visit. I should be understanding--instead I picture aunts and uncles and cousins I used to know, gathering together happily. My dad said my aunts had wanted me aborted; I've been surgically removed anyway.
My just-turned eleven-year-old niece sends me a text: "Did you get my email?" I smile; I'd emailed her back just half an hour ago. I wonder if, being adopted, she ever feels on the fringe of the family, and if she senses that's how I feel. I think of her mom, my sister, the little sister I never met until she was nineteen and I was thirty, can't help but wonder what it would have been like if I'd known her when she was still a child. And yet--maybe that makes being an aunt to her daughter even more precious.
I woke up this morning thinking about V., how I failed her as a friend years ago--not meeting her downtown on a subzero blizzard day when she really needed a friend; I chose comfort over friendship. Or was I afraid that going the extra el train ride would be saying how much I valued the friendship, and that embarrassed me?
Then I thought of people who have let me down--if I am to forgive myself my sins, I must forgive theirs. Sometimes people are too weak to do what they should--God created works in project, requiring lots of apologies and forgiveness.
I hate the term "empty nest," I suppose because it sounds, well, empty! And people all say the same things: "Wow, what are you going to do?" "It's going to be quiet for you." "Are you ready?" "What are you going to do?" What am I supposed to say? I'll do what I do now--work, write, hang out with friends. I'm trying to be positive, focus on the rich life my son will lead in a college dorm, but it's as if friends want to make sure I realize I'm going to be lonely and will miss my son. Duh.
The song "Always and Forever" plays on my Pandora and I begin to sign the words, my American Sign Language flowing--I must have practiced and music-signed this song years ago, maybe when I worked for CCHC and was studying at CHS, before I married T. and set my life on a different course. In some alternate universe I didn't marry T. and I went to U of C…but would I be any happier at this very minute, having a son who tells me he loves me before he sets off on a walk to Walgreens, happily listening to sports radio?
A horn concerto streams through my computer and out my speakers; I remember hearing those notes wafting through warm mosquito-y Interlochen, Michigan air, and how I enjoyed the music, sitting and scribbling while wearing cordoruy knickers, making time to practice my violin two hours a day in between cafeteria shifts. Evenings L., A., and I hung out, making s'mores on a grill, putting jigsaw puzzles together. But the summer was overshadowed by E.'s anger--I'm still not sure why she was mad at me--and I now suspect she didn't like me although we called each other best friend and sister.
People don't take walks nowadays, unless they have a dog on a leash or a baby in a stroller. I love walks, going to 7-11 where they think I'm retired because of my age and blue jeans and T-shirts--when in reality I work two jobs, the one that direct-deposits money into my account twice a month, and my writing. I buy the cheapest drink--a small caffeine-free Diet Coke spiked with caffeined Dr. Pepper. Walking back, I people-watch the dogwalkers and the moms or nannies on cell phones with little ones, and relish in dandelions and wonder about names of trees.
Saturday: D. scampers back and forth: I rise and groggily feed the felines two-thirds diabetic and one-third regular chicken-tuna cat food. I snooze until my clock radio goes off. I prepare H.'s insulin--the tricky part is making sure no bubbles are in the syringe. Just when I find H., D. starts playing with the syringe, batting it about. Yikes! Luckily cats can't depress syringes. I prepare a new one, find H. again.
Peapod comes; in true writer's procrastination mode, I put everything away, even heavier stuff I usually leave for T.
Now I'm at Delicious, drinking iced decaf, striving for creativity.
When R. started kindergarten, she hugged her mother and cried. "Never been to preschool or day care, huh," a woman with no smile said. "She'll get used to it fast enough." Her mother had hugged her, crying herself. "Either F.--my husband and I--we took turns watching her." But later that year, her mother started going to the doctor all the time, even staying at the hospital for a few days at a time. Her mother didn't play ball with her anymore, though sometimes still played dolls with her.
"Hey, B." R. looked up from the decimals she despised.
"Here to bother you guys again. Home stinks."
R. didn't know what to say. She'd met B.'s mom last year; B.'s mom hadn’t the hint of a smile on her face. When she'd yanked B.'s arm, it looked like it hurt.
"Fighting even more--my brother went and signed up, the military. Mom is mad as all hell." He grinned, saying a word Mrs. P. and Father P. wouldn't like.
"Everybody wants to leave home, then she gets mad when they do. Man I wish I could join the military."
My mother named me after a fellow mental hospital inmate who killed herself, jumping out a high-story window; I grew up with the difficult-to-spell apostrophed last name of the father who abandoned me. When I Google myself, a namesake is a convicted child abuser. Will new acquaintances likewise do an Internet search and think that's me?
Years ago, I considered changing my name; others seemed to think that strange, so I didn't--now I'm too lazy but enjoy using a pseudonym.
"You seem like a D.," my son says. Maybe names are like tofu, ready to take on flavor and personality.
What to do at 4:30 p.m., done writing about corneas, eye muscles, uveoscleral outflow pathways, and ACT imaging? Ninety-plus degrees out. A mile-walk to Starbucks doesn't appeal; Delicious doesn't have air conditioning. But I've sat here all day focusing on nitpicky technical details; a change of place might help me write creatively about R. and friends. I could go to Avenue, buy shorts, stop at McDonald's to write.
I could go out to eat--just because T. is away dogsitting for my brother doesn't mean I shouldn't treat myself! Soon he'll be at college; I need to be good to myself.
I always think of comebacks when the insulter has gone off happily on his or her merry way.
"You still writing?" my friend's dad asks; he prides himself on his published poems.
I say, "Yes." I should have added, "Are you?"
Years again, E. gave me a book devoted to the art of verbal self-defense. I never read it, later donated it to some book drive.
It would be nice to have insults on the tip of my tongue--maybe. But why devote time I could use to write or hang out with positive friends with whom no self-defense is necessary?
Should I go to St. B's or find a new church home? With the Vatican equating female priests with pedophile priests, can I be Catholic?
Emerson's "Trust thyself" philosophy, and the transcendental belief that we are all part of God, with God inside each one of us, has always resonated with me. So Unitarian Universalism might fit me. One nearby church is in New Town, the other in Uptown. The New Town Web site mentions "business casual" dress, the Uptown one doesn't; wearing business clothes to church seems fake, like needing to put on company manners to talk to God.
My life feels boring--how can I inject excitement? I miss singing, but other choir members aren't especially friendly. I could join a writing class--but where? Story Studio? U of C has a program--could I get in? A wealth of totally online programs exists--but I write distance education courses all day. Vermont? I should call, check out financial aid, find out summer semester dates. I'd love to go away at the end of summer, right before T. starts school, but I suspect the in-residence week is in early June. I hope the mentoring professors are as encouraging as they are critical.
At Dunkin Donuts, I turn in my White Sox ticket and discover the free coffee for fourth inning scoring must be iced. It's watery, and either she forgot to put in blueberry flavoring or she didn't hear me. Sigh. Hard rock--"You don't need money with a face like that!"--strums, blender machine motors whir, ice cubes rattle, somebody drops a metal lid, and kids in line wail--making me pray their parents are kind. Nearby, a young blonde woman types on a laptop; I wonder if she's able to tune out the commotion. I've become a yuppie--I miss the bland quietness of Starbucks.
White Sox details:
Walking to the hot dog stand beforehand, under the viaduct; eating T.'s fries.
The vendor who sells Mexican corn (with mayo, lime, salt, cheese, and pepper) who recognizes me, knows I take it with everything except pepper.
Gene Honda's voice.
Nancy's organ introductions of opposing players ("Young Girl" for someone named Young).
Southpaw. (What IS he/she? A mutant dog???)
The "Nah nah nah nah--nah nah nah nah--hey hey--goodbye" sing-a-long when opposing team retires pitcher.
T. wearing #13 Ozzie jersey.
Free Dunkin Donuts coffee if they score in the fourth inning.
Fireworks colors exploding in sky after home run.
D. says, "Since you're visually impaired too--"
Um--I'm not. At least, I don't think I am--no doctor ever said, "You are legally blind" or "You have low vision."
Of course, I don't have the best eyes; I've always had trouble recognizing people.
"Maybe because I didn't get glasses when I was little," I told my college roommate.
"You're in college now," V. said with "get-over-it" tone.
At L, one coworker asked if I was visually impaired: "I've heard people say you were."
Maybe because I don't drive? I hope no one thinks I'd be ashamed to say I was visually impaired!
"You'll be a wonderful mother some day," the young nurse promised after my mother was thrown out for screaming obscenities. Who had she been cussing--me, nurses, or imaginary people out to get her? I was twenty, a full-length cast on my leg after a car accident. Lifewise, I was trying to discover who I was. I didn't want to be like my mother--but I didn't want to be like relatives who'd let me grow up with her. Negative role models only take you so far; the people who'd left the deepest impression were fictional characters in the books I devoured.
Should I spend three hundred dollars to join to the novelists' group? It seems ideal--not a workshop where work is torn to shreds, or to hear lectures about craft that I've memorized ad nauseum--plot, character, point of view, setting, theme. Instead, moral support and inspiration. A writing buddy to contact you in between monthly meetings. Creative outings. Guest speakers. Once a month, a different member sharing work. But--three hundred bucks that is not in the bank. Still, I dream of publication--this might be a start, and it's definitely cheaper than going back for another MFA. I will budget better.
Lupe was chubby and shy and not great at sports at all but she loved them because the grandfather she'd idolized had been a total sports nut. She'd watched so many games with him, listening to him cheer on the White Sox, his voice hoarse both from cheering and from cussing.
"Dad!" Lupe's mom would yell at him. "Remember Lupe!"
Her grandpa had died two years ago, and now, to keep him alive, Lupe read books about sports and read the Sun-Times sports section and watched baseball games and played with her brothers and friends on the block--but she was lousy.
When I signed up for online dating, I thought I'd be dating often, rejected probably as frequently as my novels get turned down by publishers, but at least I'd be out socializing. No such luck; in the six years I've been on sites, from Classical Music Lovers to eHarmony to Match.Com to Geek to Geek to OK Cupid, I've been on one date and had three phone conversations. Guys online are just as fussy as in "real" life. Sometimes a guy and I will communicate, concluding we are soul mates, and then he sees my picture and decides, well, no.
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