Friday, December 1, 2017

Noticing It

         Elizabeth was not sure when she began to notice it, but she did, it being a desire to let go. Subtle at first, the thoughts slipped in and through, silent and a bit foreboding; they disappeared in an instant though, too sudden to grasp, too evasive to fully comprehend. She recognized the potential weight of bearing each, transitory cognition, but was powerless to do anything about the virtual presence of the fleeting reminders that this or that had been important not so long ago. And now, were they not? The new intrusion of it in her life annoyed Elizabeth and yet, she was equally intrigued.
            Why was it surfacing now? What had changed? Of course, she had. The years behind her had begun pulling at her sensibilities, gnawing into the susceptibilities that had made her cling to what, in the past, she had deemed worthy of her desire, vital to her existence, and at the very least, fundamental to her needs.
Elizabeth had entered the decade of her eighties only months before. She was healthy, well, content, and not alone. Her husband, Jonathan, was still around, puttering here and there, seeking a purpose. She too, made do, with simple chores, her embroidery, her books. Ah, what would she do without her books? Why, that was basically all she needed now - the volumes that took her away, that made her think, reflect, react, and still ask an occasional why.
She had wandered onto the veranda, a tall, tumbler of lemonade in one hand and a tattered copy of Marquez’s Love In The Time Of Cholera in the other. How many times had she read that gem? And each time the reading was new, delicious.
She settled back into a cushioned, rattan, wing-backed chair and stared for a moment at the teal water of Jonathan’s handcrafted pond. Below, in the shallows, the lazy movement of koi combined with a slight breeze to create an undulating motion on the surface that shimmered with shards of reflected sunlight. In the distance a grey squirrel, its jaws packed full, darted across the branch of an ancient oak, and somewhere nearby a tiny, hummingbird jetted overhead, chirping its eternal message - be present; enjoy. And instantly there it was again - the longing to be free.
Elizabeth held her breath and then let go . . . and she knew. Importance was this. Value was this. Living was this. She sighed. Why has it taken until the autumn of my life for me to understand? Why? She was filled with emotion - a disparate mix of sadness, satisfaction, angst, and joy, and for the first time ever, she told herself the truth. This is enough. This is enough. I need nothing more.

I wrote this piece on a whim. I created a character, Elizabeth, to help sort out a few things I’ve been considering myself.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Age-Old Conundrum

I’ve been thinking about age lately. I entered a new decade in September of this year. That’s pretty sobering. I celebrated with a glass of Merlot. My son set foot into a new decade too, way back in January. He was quite freaked out about it, but hell, he’s all the better for it. He has almost made it though the year and in just over a month he will have settled into being “forty-something” with several more years to boast the title.
My son and I are not the only ones noticing that time marches on despite any absurd, illogical, or fanciful notions that we might have conjured to stop it. Quite a few of my Facebook friends are being faced with the reality that they will not stay young forever either, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Does anyone remember being not quite “school-age”? We were so anxious to ride that little, yellow, school bus, or to be dropped off on the elementary circle in front of the principal’s office by our moms. Little did we realize when we finally reached the kindergarten gate that it was only the beginning. For many of us, schooling would go on and on and on, and with it the years sprinted along as well.
What about being twelve? Remember? Most of us could not wait for the next year to pass so we would be teenagers. Ah! What were we thinking? Somehow being thirteen would mean we had arrived. That thrill was likely short-lived, however, and we looked ever forward to being sweet sixteen – driver’s license ready. I vividly still recall passing my driving test in the state of Kentucky on my sixteenth birthday. I was on top of the world. (I also earned my first - and only - speeding ticket that year.)
            At eighteen we could register to vote. Now that was a milestone, although I’m afraid with several elections swept out to sea, I’m more than a little disillusioned about the prospect of my vote counting for one, damned thing . . . but that’s another story.
            And twenty-one? That certainly is a marker. Does anyone reading this remember that birthday? For myriad reasons, I would guess, quite a few folks would not. Not to worry. It happened. It’s over. It launched us into adulthood. Adulthood. Shit!
            I understand that for many people turning thirty is a bit traumatic. It was not for me. Thirty-one, though, sent me reeling. I was married, had a toddler and an infant, and I realized I was growing old. Yet, nothing could be done about the situation so I embraced my predicament and move forward to that dreaded forty. 
            I actually enjoyed being in my forties. Those years, while not always happy, were fulfilling in more ways than I can articulate. I grew up the most during my forties; I grew a bit smarter, more confident, much more self-reliant, and, I like to think, wiser to the ways of the world.  
From there I felt poised for the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and perhaps further still. Some of those years are behind me - others ahead. One can never be certain of the future, but I do know this: my grandmother was one month short of being one-hundred; my mother, two months short of ninety-six; and my dad, four days short of one-hundred and three. All lived full, healthy lives. They were fortunate.
Maybe it’s because I am a day older than I was yesterday, but younger than tomorrow, that I have taken some time this afternoon to write about age. I, and a good number of other people, it appears, from my recent contacts, have been contemplating the notion of aging lately, so fleshing out my thoughts on the matter seemed timely.
My older son, who sadly passed away from brain cancer at the age thirty-nine, had a magnet on his refrigerator that read: Young. Old. Just Words. The message struck me when I saw it in his kitchen, and when he died, I snagged the magnet for my own frig. Every day I notice those words and I wonder about the significance of a number - an age - that often labels a person. Furthermore, I can’t help but speculate about our attitudes that surely must contribute to how we feel about where we are in this chronological stream called life. What I do believe is this - we have no control over the years stacking up, but we do have a say in how we hold those years. Save for outlying conditions that may burden us a bit, the rest is up to us.
Young. Old. Just Words.                   

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Secret Molestation

            I thought I’d join the sexual harassment bandwagon by writing this piece.

            The memory was hidden deeply but from time to time it would surface if only for a moment. She would take a deep breath and then shove it back under where it would fester until the next time. And when the heinous recollection did reappear she often asked herself, “Did that really happen?”
            After all, she had been little . . . three maybe, or a month or two younger. How could she possibly remember? But she did. It wasn’t the actual incident that she recalled so well, but the feelings surrounding it. Her loving mother had put her down for a nap in Grandma’s spare room; she was alone on the musky-smelling bed, an old, round-faced, alarm clock having ticked her to sleep. She lay on her back with her arms stretched upward, tiny hands cupped, and chubby legs splayed open beneath a thin, pink blanket – the one that was adorned with happy, white lambs jumping fence after fence after fence. She had been cozy; she had been content; she had been safe . . . until the awful moment when she was not.
            After minutes of slumber, she was roused by a sensation, a sudden knowing. She was not alone. She should have opened her eyes, but she did not. Instead, squeezing them tight, she ludicrously willed her little body to sink straight down through the chenille bedspread beneath her, and farther still, into the mattress below, away, away. A sudden frantic desperation consumed her; she wanted to flail her way out of herself . . . but she could not. And at long last when she was alone again, she lay still, unmoving, feigning the sleep that had been snatched away only moments before. She was silent, her very own voice failing her. She listened though. She listened. She listened well - to quick footsteps clicking down the winding staircase, to a man’s deep and distant cough, to the lonely call of Grandpa’s barn owl, and then to her grandmother’s clock . . . tick, tick, ticking away to another time.
            And there would be another time. Other times. This one, though, was the first time - the memory tenuously locked away, the tarnished key to it tucked in her heart forever.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Floor Etching
Me too

         The news has been brimming lately with lusty accusations, tardy revelations, and full-blown descriptions of sexual harassment and unwelcome sexual advances triggered by individuals in power or by those who use power to supplant a warped need to control. Victims of sexual assault finally are beginning to speak out and that’s a good, although painful, outcome of the current exposure of this enormous problem. With this crisis in mind, I decided to create a fictional piece about how sexual exploitation is not a one-instant ordeal. It becomes embedded in one’s experience. It lives on.

            I saw it there etched into one, dark green, tumbled marble tile on the bathroom floor. It was his face, a bit distorted and slightly soiled but present nonetheless. The man’s eyes were what caught my attention first. They were small, round holes above what appeared to be wide, bloated cheeks, although I could be wrong. His entire face looked bloated; perhaps it was simply fatty though, the way I remembered it, way back then, in a moment I thought I had forgotten, or at least, effectively tucked away into a dirty recess of my mind. Yet those eyes, like eerie, black holes drew me in, and I shuddered, afraid all over again. And the hair . . . it was the same too - a shock of dry, straw-like, nasty brown strands combed sideways over a darkly freckled, bald patch of scalp. I will never, never, forget staring at those hideous blotches as he came toward me, his sinewy arms outstretched . . . reaching, reaching. The vision of that instant in time, when my voice failed me, when my instincts deserted me, when my body was crushed into a patch of gravel, brittle leaves, and mud, when I gave up and in, came back in vivid color this morning when he startled me with his unlikely emergence in a square of grouted stone.
            I knew then that he never fully had disappeared; nor would he. Never. His lengthy absence had been a delusion, and his visage, manifesting itself so strikingly this day, was another stinking jolt to my senses. I felt sick to my stomach. Ashamed. Humiliated. Sad. And, I was reluctant still, to say a word . . . until now.
Me too.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Staircase To Somewhere           

         The piece below was simply writing practice, playing with words. I began with a name, Lucy Mac, and began writing. Below is what I wrote in the course of an hour or a bit more, simply because I needed to write.

Lucy Mac came upon the staircase unexpectedly. She had been stumbling down the sidewalk of a narrow street in the heart of the city for what to her seemed hours. In actuality, however, it had been only minutes . . . twenty maybe, or fifteen. She was that lost in time.
            Lucy had awakened stiff and cold, propped up like a sack of unwanted garbage in a shadowy, dank, narrow stairwell. She was woozy, she had drooled onto her chin, and she was wet between her legs. She was not certain why, but that discomfort had caught her attention in an instant . . . that, instead of the oozing gash on her neck, and the deep purple bruise that bloomed like a pool of dark ink beneath her left eye. With a shaky hand, she reached for a banister that she noticed anchored fortuitously to the wall of the entryway. Where was she? Glancing with blurry eyes from side to side, she concluded she must have been at the entrance of an apartment building, a tenement of some kind. It reeked of mold, of rotting fish, and of urine, both stale and fresh. Slowly she pulled herself to an upright position and then stood, swaying a bit from the effort. Where I am? And how did I get here?
            With no recollection presenting itself, Lucy stepped cautiously down five, concrete steps to the sidewalk below. The street was nearly deserted with only two, young, hoodie-clad figures hurrying like thieves into the door of a corner deli. That meager establishment appeared to be the only offering of life in a place that was strangely silent and just beginning to lighten in the dawn. Lucy stepped forward, confused and unsure. I have to go somewhere. So she continued, step after step after step until, at last, she stopped dead. Ahead of her, she saw movement . . . suddenly lots of it as myriad individuals began spilling out of doorways and alleyways, out of garages and dim passages. Like lemmings, they filed onto the sidewalk and into the street. And with them came noises – the grunting, the coughing, the chatter of voices, both high and low; the rattling of metal, trash containers; the whirl of a small engine; the ratcheting of bicycle gears; a baby’s squeal, the yowl of a feral cat, and the yap of a mongrel yearning to be free. The cacophony of sound, the discord of the living, was both annoying and satisfying for it gave credence to Lucy’s very being.
            She stood still for moments, looking and listening until her eyes blurred and her ears became stuffy, filled with too many stunning dissonances and harmonies to count. It was then that a sudden, cool wind wafted like a phantom from behind her, flipping strands of her hair across her cheeks and into her mouth. Startled, she glanced quickly behind her for a stalker, a fiend, but she was not being followed. Not anymore. And the breeze had heightened her senses. Lucy began walking again, and just as the space between her and the mass of humanity ahead had narrowed uncomfortably, she saw it . . . to her right. An empty stairway jutted upward for thirty, fifty, maybe one hundred steps to a roadway above. Not one soul was climbing up or coming down, not one, until Lucy took that first step up. Her eyes glommed onto the most distant step, her hand grasped the railing to her right and she began the ascent. She had no idea where this passage, these stairs upward, would take her but she was certain she was destined to go up, up and away from a nightmare she could not remember. Something awful surely must have happened but it was lost to Lucy, at least for now, perhaps gone forever, lodged deep, for now, in the recesses of her mind.