Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sara's Gone

(I hope I embedded this right. It's Chris Medina's song, What Are Words.)

Sara rounded on Tom, her stomach feeling like the bottom had dropped away. Tom sat there in front of the TV, his legs splayed out, his filthy shirt half open. He probably hadn't seen a comb in days.

"Why do you act this way?" she asked, shaking inside. She knew what was coming. The frost. He would turn the full force of his vitriol on her. Sara braced herself.

His eyes iced over. "What way? What do you want me to say, Sara? You always have something you want and you never can tell me what it is."

"That's because you don't care enough to want to know. You sit there watching football from the minute you get home right through dinner. You're on that couch until you fall into bed sometime after I've been asleep for hours."

"So what. I like football."

"Clearly. She's your mistress. She lures you away from everything else in the world, including me."

His laughter, derisive and cold, chilled her to the core. "You think football is female? That's rich. You're such a dim bulb. Anyway, football doesn't make demands of me. It doesn't try to 'talk' at me and make me do stupid stuff like take out the trash. Yammer, yammer, yammer, Sara. When did you get to be such a nag?"

Sara swore to herself she wasn't going to let him see her cry. That was for later in the darkness of their bedroom when she lay like a cold husk between the sheets. So many times before she'd simply given up and gone to hide in the dark to lick her wounds. She'd tried talking to him, but she always got the feeling that he was mentally trying to move her aside from in front of the TV so he wouldn't miss a play.

But now she was done. "Jam a fork in me," she muttered to herself.

"What was that?" Tom asked, never looking away from the running figures on the turf. "Hey, do something useful for a change and get me a cold one."

"Get it yourself. I'm out of here." She yanked on her hoody and caught up her purse, slamming the door behind her. Where am I going to go? I've got no money and a quarter of a tank of gas. The tin words echoed in her head.

Nowhere. I'm going nowhere. For years I've let my marriage slip away until the only thing left is inertia. We're like roommates who don't even like each other. We've got nothing in common and nothing to say to each other. How did that happen?

She unlocked the car and bounded in, slamming the door on the distant sounds of the match. "How I hate that game!" she exclaimed. And then she yelled it, filling the car with her anguish. She pounded the steering wheel until she felt something snap in the side of her hand. She swore and cradled her hand in her lap, breathing like a freight train, fighting back tears of anguish.

She could handle that kind of pain. It was the other, deeper, soul-sucking despair that threatened to devour her whole.

How did I get here from there?

She leaned her head back against the rest and closed her eyes, willing the pain in her hand to go away. Memories, like anesthesia, dimmed the ache in her palm.

She remembered when she'd first met Tom. He'd been a janitor at a school where she taught. Every day she'd looked forward to seeing his cheerful smile. He'd been nothing special to look at in his blue coveralls, but she could tell he enjoyed her company.

Tom sightings had gotten her through a messy break-up with an old fiancé. He'd been there for her when things seemed bleak. But that sadness couldn't be compared to how she felt now.

This felt like a true betrayal. The ex fiancé had been a passing fad--nothing invested, nothing much to ditch along the way. She'd realized almost as soon as the gold ringed her finger that marriage would never happen. Tom helped her figure out how to kick the other guy good-bye.

Tom had been so different back then. He'd looked into her eyes when they talked. She had loved the spark of playful friendliness she saw there--loved when it flared to passion. He'd laughed at her jokes and told her things he thought about. They'd shared dreams and plans and hopes for the future.

Now? Nothing.

He didn't want to go anywhere or do anything with her. If there was a way to avoid making plans, he did. If he could get out of going with her even to the store, he would. He found excuses to do everything with his friends unless there was a game on. Then he'd hunker down like a bear in hibernation mode.

"Maybe I should just start driving and not stop until the gas runs out," she hissed into the night. "Maybe my marriage is like this old car: on its last gasp. It's probably ready to be junked." Her voice sounded shrill in the confines of the car. She stopped yelling and just sat there, hurting.


But Tom wasn't garbage. The man she'd married had to still be in there somewhere under all the scrap metal and greasy fast food wrappers and crusty old rubber bits. He had loved her then. And she loved him back. When he finally got up the guts to ask her to marry him, she hadn't looked back, or sideways, or forward. She'd simply said, "Yes." He'd been enough for her then. Why not now?

Because he cared then.

When did he stop finding me valuable? Why?

And then it hit her. "It's me. I've stopped thinking of him as my prince. I started thinking of him as the janitor instead of the shining knight who came to rescue me. I let him slip away. I let football edge me out. I let him make me a victim. And now he sees me as the cleaning woman instead of his princess."

She looked up at the crystal-studded velvet sky above her. She took an ocean-sized breath. "I will not bow to defeat. I am the princess, not the cleaning woman. I'm going to go in there and act like it. I'm going to be his queen and I'm going to treat him like the prince I thought he was when we first met."

She hugged herself and let the tears loose at last, washing away the grief and pain. She dug a wadded up tissue from her purse and dabbed away the evidence. Then she went in, climbing over Tom's outstretched legs. His glazed eyes caught her only as she passed him.

"Where'd you go?"

"Nowhere. Everywhere. I went to my castle."

He threw her a look as she slipped into the kitchen.

The crowd on the TV roared at a touchdown and Tom stomped his feet. "Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' about! Git er done!"

His mouth dropped open when she brought out a frosty soda and a bowl of popcorn. She sat down on the couch and handed him the treats. He stared at her like she'd suddenly grown a huge wart on her nose.

"Here," she said, cuddling into his side. "Thought you'd be hungry. Playing ref for the NFL is a thirsty job."

She felt his arm come around her and pull her close. She looked up to see him gazing down at her, completely missing a key play.

"I'm sorry. I've been a jerk lately." He leaned in and kissed her lips. It was the gentle, silky kiss she remembered from so long ago.

"Yes you have. I think you lost your way."

"Maybe. Okay, yes."

She put everything into the next kiss. The TV crowd went wild, like an invocation.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Man in the Van

This thing has been banging around in my head every time I run past this van and the empty place where it once rested:

There's a little old man
Who lives in his van
It is parked in the park every day.

He's got stacks of books
On the seats, in the nooks
I think he has something to say.

I heard the bright tune
Of his ukulele in June 
His cracked voice singing along.

And I ask in the dark
Why he lives in the park
And I'm the one sharing his song.

As I run past his car
I feel his sharp stare
And I know there's a story inside

Does he have a wife
Or a family or life?
Or simply a black past to hide?

It's been two weeks
Since my cautious peeks
Have seen the old van in the park

I wish I could know
If he had somewhere to go
Or just disappeared in the dark.

How far afield
Is my home four-wheeled?
With its battered doors closed on the world

Will I end up there
In an old lawn chair
With my life neatly packed up and furled?

Life is a game
With your word and your name
And the things you can do with your mind

But the life you make's
A big gamble with stakes
Unless you've an anchor, I find.

My family and God
Make a strong iron rod
To a life with magnificent gifts.

So before it's too late
To banish the hate
I must mend all the troubles and rifts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Crampy Little Boxes


My daughter and I have been watching a series of talks on the TED network. These talks range all over the spectrum of odd, innovative, extra-box-ial thinking. These people have been pushing far past the barriers of normalcy into the crazy, mind-bending, and amazing.

What these talks have done is impel me into a state of questioning:

*What are my limitations in this life?
*Are they physical, mental, emotional, or societal?
*How often are they self-imposed?
*What kinds of scenarios spark such impositions?
*Are my perceptions always correct about what others say about and to me?
*How often are the boundaries picked out by those around me?
*Are they impenetrable walls of steel or are they made of soap bubble?

For two days we've watched people take bazookas to long-standing ideas and blast them into smithereens. There was a woman who scuba dives in a wheelchair. There was a woman who wants to leave no toxic waste when she dies, so she has developed a mushroom suit which will cleanse her remains of toxicity. There was a man who paints with candles and food. There was a man who has developed a substance called a Superfluid, which, when cold enough, acts as something neither solid, liquid, or gaseous. The ideas simply pour out of them, and are germinating inside me.

I live a proscribed life. I do many of the same things every day/week/month/year. There is a routine which mishaps rarely puncture. At times I feel claustrophobic in my littleness, despite the lure of a book or the Internet or other mind-stretching devices. I find myself wishing I could simply get in my car and turn it on and drive. And keep on driving until the car can't drive any further because of the salt water inside it. It's not a suicidal urge, but a need to break out of the sameness.

What stops me? That's a good question. Sometimes the impulse to stop and think is so much smaller than the urge to fly that I am amazed. Mostly it's inertia and my personal fears about what it means to break the box. I think that is so with most people. What happens to box-breakers and the escaped? How intrepidly to we try to find out?

I find I am often defined by those around me. They construct a series of boxes into which they stuff me. Some of the boxes are fairly spacious. Some are so cramped that there is barely room to take a full breath. I perceive people thinking things like:

"This is my mom. She annoys me every time she opens her mouth. She's always asking me to do chores or how I'm feeling about some boy. I wish she'd go away."

"My daughters are piglets."

"My wife keeps moving my stuff when she cleans. I wish she'd just leave my things alone, but now and then she snaps and then I can't find anything for weeks."

"My mom is wrong about eighty-five percent of the time. It's so embarrassing when she tells a story because she gets so much of it wrong."

"That woman is scatterbrained, over-bearing, and I pity you for having her for a mother."

"Oh. We didn't even know you had a job. What do you do? Write? Have you gotten anything published? Why haven't I ever heard of that book?"

"My mom is an okay cook. But keep her away from pickle water. She put that in the stew once and it was horrible."

"This is my eldest daughter. She's an artist."


What if I've honed my cooking skills and have never again added pickle water to the stew? Still I am bound by the stigma of once having done so. What if I've moved beyond being simply an artist? What if I've worked hard to become a singer? Or a dancer? Or a scientist? Or an architect? Or a rodeo clown? An architect may not be a bad thing, but it may be obsolete. Maybe I've moved on to marine biology or found a love of rescuing cats. What if I've developed a love for having a clean bedroom? What if I've spent 364 other days not "hiding" my husband's stuff? What if I've lost a leg and can no longer be a world-renowned ballroom dancer? What if I've had to slow down due to asthma and can no longer climb to the top of El Capitan?

No matter. The boxes are devilishly difficult to break out of. Some of these receptacles we construct when the poor person is in diapers and we never let them out, sometimes even post mortem. Who hasn't heard someone say, "Oh that was So-and-so. He had Alzheimer's." As if that malady was the be-all, end-all of his life. What about the thousands of other things which made up his experience? Why did the sum of his life accomplishments and challenges equal only Alzheimer's?

We watched a speech today by a woman talking about the ability of photography to influence history, not simply document it. She showed pictures of several men who had been wrongly convicted by accusers who had seen pictures of the perpetrator in line-ups. Sometimes, because of a reintroduction of the picture in another line-up, that person develops a perception that the accused is the villain because the picture was reinforced that way. In effect, the victim sometimes paints the perceived perpetrator how he or she has been trained to see that person. Our minds try to construct boxes which, at times, are ridiculously wrong-sized.

We have all experienced the phenomenon of the "Spin Doctor"--someone who is skilled at taking a fact and altering it in such a way as to cause the general public to sway away from the truth towards a more palatable falsehood. Kings, presidents, and dictators have employed these creatures since time immemorial to clean up after them. How difficult is it to see beyond the false fronts to the real meat of the matter? Do we try?

How often do we reinforce wrong perceptions of a person based on faulty thought processes or flawed information? And how often do we help that poor person batter out of the box?

I am on a life-long search for truth. I cannot afford to construct unbreakable false boxes. For just as I want to avoid being pigeon-holed, so, too, do others.