Thursday, November 30, 2006

Redefining the Goal

This is it, guys. November 30, the last day of NaNoWriMo.

Drumroll, please: 38,452 words and counting.

I will not get to 50,000 words before midnight. In very un-Jerri fashion, not even going to try. It is so very difficult for me to allow myself to fall short of a goal, to fail at something I set out to do. Yet, I did not write 50,000 words during the month of November and that is a kind of failure. Remembering as I do, that all is within all, it is also a kind of success.

I allowed other things and other people to distract me from my writing on more than one occasion. Today, from the vantage point of knowing I will miss the goal, I would do the same. Sick friends, holidays with my children, my mother's recovery from surgery--these things matter more to me than hitting an arbitrary number. And while I may be justifying my choices to myself, after a time the number did become arbitrary because the last day of November is by no means the last day of this writing experience. Someday soon, 50,000 words will be a distant point in the rear view mirror and the story will still be evolving.

Participating in NaNoWriMo has been one of the great experiences of my life. Some days when I couldn't figure out what to write, I could literally feel the love and support in the air, feel those of you on this journey routing me on and reminding me that the most important thing was to keep going, to keep touching keys until the story found me again. And it works. Putting words on paper every day has become as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth or taking a shower. No, it's more than that, really. It's almost like breathing. It's what I do to stay alive, it's what I do to remember who I was before I had a face.

My characters have become so real to me, so human. I sit in my favorite chair, looking out at the pond, wondering what stories Ruth would never want me to tell, pondering the catalyst for Fred's decline into alcoholism, trying to sit with Phoebe's hurt and fear. And guess what? I am That. That is me. The more I come to know them, the more I know myself and my loved ones. Damn, this fiction thing is FUN!

Reading has become a different thing, too. The more I write, the more amazed I am by the writing of others. I read books now for the stories and for the structure and for complexities of being that never before showed themselves to me.

From the deepest part of my heart, I thank you for your support. I'll probably post snippets from time to time as the stories continue to evolve. I am going to finish LOTO. That's the redefined goal, and it's one I will achieve. Well, Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, as we say down home. Ah hell, the creek can rise all it wants. I'll still be writing, Good Lord willing.

Light and Love and SO much gratitude.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I"m Being Followed by a Moon Shadow

Cat Stevens anyone?

World Market sent me an e-mail this morning, offering a special price on Moon Shadow wine. The label is a crescent moon on a dark sky with a graphic yellow shadow below. Simple. Effective. Lovely.

Whoever designed the label may or may not have been able to draw or paint in a way that reproduces an image realistically, but they sure as hell created something that spoke to me. I love the label enough to buy the wine just to have it in the pantry.

I am capable of drawing such a thing. What I'm not capable of--or not yet capable of--is letting go of the perfect images I want to produce long enough to embrace the simple ones I CAN create. I've longed to be an artist my whole life, longed to draw and paint and generate beautiful ithings.

That's not the kind of skill God gave me.

Still, if I could just quit lusting after what I don't have, I could use and enjoy what I do. It isn't just art I do this with. Add these to the list: men, writing, my body. Oh, hell. Just about everything, when you get down to it. This morning I long to break out of the cage I've built for myself. It's a physical ache that makes me want to claw and scratch and kick at things until I no longer have to present only my best self, no longer care what others think of my work or my house or my hips. Trouble is, it's like clawing at cobwebs.

This cage isn't made of steel or wood or resin--nothing that definite, nothing that easy to shape or change. It's spun from a thousand dreams and expectations and warnings and the stories I've seen play outover my lifetime. And like a spider's web, it changes shape when I bat at it, flexes in the wind behind my flailing, stretches to fit my fist, and then springs back into place when I turn my back, unimpressed by my struggles.

Like most problems, fighting it simply does not work. My dear friend and brother, Mystic Wing, would tell me (HAS told me, many times) that surrender is the only answer.

How do you surrender to a cobweb?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blossoms Dropping All Around Us

My friend Jess, from the blog JessPDX posted this quote the other day: “But listen to me; for one moment, quit being sad. Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.” - Rumi

Rumi's words really got to me because I've been thinking a lot lately about our human need to be right and how much trouble it causes. If only we could stop imagining that "right" or "good" or "happy" is a finite pie that leaves less for us if others get more.

Life is SO not a zero-sum game, as they game theorists call that scenario. Joy begets joy. Sharing creates more. Always has, always will.

Here are two stories that illustrate what I've been thinking about today.

First: my current sister-in-law took on some of the priviledges of that job before my former sister-in-law had relinquished them, if you follow the way I'm drifting. 12 years or so later, some members of my family still find the need to punish her. (Now, having been down the opposite side of that back country road, don't for a moment think I approve or like the idea at all. Not one bit, in fact. But, that's someone else's Karma, not mine. Plus, there's that whole "judge not that ye be not judged" thing.)

Anyway, my former sister-in-law had one cooking specialty--a wonderful chocolate pie. SIL #2 does not bake that pie and does not like for it to be served in her presence. Will not allow it to be served to my brother, in fact. My brother and SIL hosted Thanksgiving for the family last week (other than me and the kids, who celebrated in Mpls, as you know). Guess what pie my sister baked and carried down there?

My sister is not known to be deliberately be unkind, but she can do unconscious along with the best of us. I really think that even after all these years, she still needs to be right about this woman and this situation. She's still so stuck in it that she can't see the blossoms falling all around her.

Second: right now I'm in a coffee shop that offers free wifi. There's a Lexus parked outside, in the prime parking spot by the front door. A woman inside the Lexus is working on her laptop, pirating the wifi without buying coffee, in other words. Several patrons have reported her, have suggested to the management that she be asked to remove her offending car and her offensive person. They are particularly outraged that she's taking up the best parking spot and they had to walk across the lot to come in and buy their coffee or bakery goods.

Other than the extra 29 steps they had to walk, this woman's presence isn't creating any problem for anyone as far as I can tell. Who knows what her reasons for staying in the car may be? Why are people so angry about it? Is it because she drives a car more expensive than theirs? Is it because they are paying outrageous sums for coffee and damn it, so should she? My response to them is the same as my response to my sister: compassion. Peaceful hearts don't harbor such anger over such things, especially when they're not directly related to their own lives.

It's always so easy to see the flaws of others. After recognizing this trait in others, I've been trying to see how it operates in my own life. I don't want to miss the blessings or the blossoms. I want to hear and see and smell and touch them as they drop all around me. In fact, I want to gather them in drifts and bring others to luxuriate in their presence. I want to put them in bottles of good vodka and distill their essence (as I do vanilla beans) to flavor Christmas cookies and morning lattes. I want to put a dab of this essence behind each ear, leaving a trail of joyful fragrance behind me as I travel through my days. I want to put it in little bottles to share with people I love and with others I've not yet met.

More later. Right now I'm headed off to meditate. Maybe stop and buy some little bottles on the way home.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

10 Things

I cultivate an attitude of gratitude every day, but along with the much of America, I'm giving special thanks today. Here are 10 things that deserve notice among the many, many blessings of my life.

1. My children, the members of my immediate family and I are healthy and relatively well in all ways. We are, to quote a psychologist from back in the day, "neurotic but not psychotic."

2. We--my tribe and I--live with plenty and in relative safety. None of us have serious worries about feeding our children or ourselves, and no one shoots at us or plants bombs or land mines near where we live. Some of us worry about whether or not we're truly happy, but even that is a luxury. Folks dodging bullets and bombs rarely stop to consider happiness or the lack thereof.

3. New friends have come into my life this year--friends of my heart; friends of my soul. They have arrived through cyberspace, through phone calls and in person. They have enriched my life, taught me valuable lessons, listened when I desperately needed an ear, and supported me in ways big and small. They have also accepted my support, allowed me to help when aned where possible, and shared laughter and joy as well as troubles.

4. Old friends and I have maintained our friendships despite physical distance. Through e-mail and blogs and cell phones, we reach out and touch one another's hearts now as ever.

5. The pond and its denizens continue to enterain and teach me. The sun rise colors the sky every morning and I wake to a new day along with the squawks and squeaks of the critters. Peace and serenity and the ability to maintain calm despite challenging circumstances are demonstrated every day, and I have a front row seat for the show. I am SO grateful for my home and its surroundings. After owning it for more than 2 years, the miracle of living there still brings me to tears from time to time.

6. Through meditation, yoga, and the lessons of the pond, I've learned to be aware of discomfort without dwelling in it. I can choose happiness over being right on quite a few occasions and find that my ego drives fewer struggles now than ever before. Not "none" mind you, but fewer. Definitely fewer.

7. The work I love continues to support and sustain me.

8. The business I own is finding balance within itself and within my life.

9. The political ciimate of the country is changing, as evidenced by the recent election. People are waking up and taking stock of the mess we're in. Surely, change will not be far behind this awakening.

10. I have the great good fortune of sharing all this with my children today. I am in Minneapolis, staying at my son's apartment, hanging out with him and my daughter. We're putting together a non-traditional but interesting meal later today--steak and cheese fondue with cranberries and broccoli and cauliflower and bread pudding. We'll go to a movie later and play board games this evening. Every stage of their being has had its own joys and sorrows, but I'm finding unexpected joy in this young adult stage. Nothing I've ever experienced as a parent is quite as surprising or wonderful as seeing my children become adults I want to know and hang out with.

Happy, happy. Joy, joy to each of you.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Going Big

Since I stopped posting the stories, I've been playing with leaving cliches in on the first pass and then going deeper, going big with them when I have time to play with them later. Really, really like doing this and I think it makes the writing stronger. Here are a couple of examples. Sure would like to know what you all think.

Light and Love,

On the first pass, this said Ruth would have cross the desert or raging rivers to get to Phoebe. Who knew the hottest place on earth is a spot in the Saharan desert in Libya where the temp. reached 158 in 1922? Or that the Johnstown area of Pa has experienced a number of truly devasting floods, the most recent in 1977? So much to learn, so little time....

Oh, my poor baby. Ruth would have run to Phoebe across the Libyan desert or through the Johnstown floods—Joe Harper and his ridiculous Assault and Battery nonsense be damned—but the fear she would make a bad situation worse, might even endanger Phoebe or the baby, pinned Ruth to the ground beneath the branches of a scraggly lilac bush beside an empty Pizza Hut on the deserted midnight streets of Rosemount, Minnesota on the 22nd day of May, 1998.

First pass referred to this feeling as an addiction:

Ruth watched the Grand Am's taillights disappear again, this time toward Dell's house. The urge to follow them swept Ruth like the ache a recovering meth addict must feel when he sees a pipe floating through his dreams. She fought it off in much the same way, one scorching inhalation, one tortured exhalation at a time.

This one came to me right away, courtesy of GoMama's suggestion that I employ home improvement metaphors in my writing. (Thanks again, T.)

Gwen’s voice, soaring above the choir, joined the refrain and the tongues of the boards in the wood ceiling swelled within their corresponding groves and even the steel beams flexed to accommodate the flow of sound. After a couple of refrains like that, the other instruments dropped out, but the kick drum continued, its deep bass vibrations sending out an irresistible invitation.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Long Time No See

Hey, Everybody. I'm not dead or even dying slowly due to a painful condition that makes me allergic to keyboards or cyberspace.

Nope. I'm writing like crazy, keeping pace to finish 50,000 words of the novel by Nov. 30. Hard to believe, but true.

Stopped posting the stories because I began to feel the pressure of making them readable beyond what allowed me to take risks and delve into my imagination, tossing out crap to find the stuff worth keeping. I've found that if I write enough crap, there'll be some surprising treasures buried within in. Trouble was, my ego has trouble letting me post crap (as least what I recognize as crap), so I found myself writing too close to my vest, with too little risk.

You guys are great--have been great. This is no problem but my own, and deciding not to post the snippets let me give myself permission to wildly overwrite, leave cliches in to be mined later, and so on. Most of all, it turned me loose to take risks.

I've been rereading Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird as I do every few months. Here's a graph that gets me every time.

You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a tood time. You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.

In this crazy NaNoWriMo thing I've undertaken, I've discovered surprising things about myself and found myself in my own heart. All of you who read and comment and support me have midwifed these things into being, and I thank you. So Much.

I'll probably post a few passages from time to time, and I'll try to find time to post normal stuff, too. My connection to all of you is SO important to me. I've missed you.

Much more soon.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Okay, folks. Here it is. It's a long one--you might want a cup of coffee. Or two. At the outset of this snippet, we're at Fred's funeral. Things should be clear from there. If not, please let me know.

Again, I welcome all comments, especially constructive criticism I can put to use in rewrite.

As the great Carrie Wilson Link says, Love (period).

Half the school and every student I ever taught must be here. Ruth fidgeted in her seat and resettled her purse in the chair next to her. Marsha Evans, her morning walking partner and comrade in the battle against shrinking fine arts budgets, stepped into view and Ruth rose to greet her.

“Thank you for coming, Marsha. I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Of course. Want me to sit with you?”

“No,” Ruth blurted. “No. . .thanks. This seat is for. . .I’m saving this seat. . .Phoebe’ll probably be here any minute,” Ruth answered.

Marsha smiled, and pulled out a tissue to wipe her eyes. “Of course,” she said again and walked to the back of the room where she joined the dozen or so others standing against the wall.

During the service, Ruth felt Phoebe’s absence more keenly even than Fred’s. Fred’s death filled her with sadness, but the fullness of it had not yet hit her. Her daughter, her only child, who should be beside her at this moment and was not—it was she who drew the blood from her mother’s heart. Lying in bed the night before, her stomach a Celtic knot and her skin a raw rope burn, Ruth pleaded with God to let Phoebe come to the funeral.

You won’t listen to me now any more than You ever did, but please, please, please. I don’t know if You’re even there, but please let her come home. Please, please bring her home. I’ll do anything you ask— anything she asks. Please. Please. Please.

Ruth was arranging lilacs in a clear glass pitcher when Phoebe and Dell walked into the kitchen together, holding hands and whispering. Phoebe dropped Dell’s hand, stepped forward, and said, “I’ve got good news and bad news, Mom.”

“Let’s start with the good,” Ruth said as she danced over to the radio. Her bare feet slapped the linoleum in time to the Dixie Chicks' "Ready to Run." Natalie Main's soaring voice disappeared, mid-Run, but Ruth finished her trill before she turned back to the kids.

Phoebe pushed her hair out of her eyes and took a deep breath. “Dell and I are getting married.”

Ruth sighed and tried to catch Phoebe’s eye. “Okay, honey, that’s not exactly a surprise. You’ve been wearing the ring since Christmas.”

Phoebe’s eyes rested on the floor in front of her. “The 9th of June.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s two weeks away.”

“We know.”

Ruth gasped. “You’re pregnant?” She thought Phoebe nodded but couldn’t tell for sure. Her hair was draped down over her face, hiding her eyes and her expression. Ruth glanced at Dell, who was absorbed in tracing a hole in his jeans with his fingers.

“You’re can’t get married. You’re barely 18.?”

“I’m 8 months older than you were when you and Dad got married.”

“That was a different time. We had jobs and we’d been saving money forever. How do you two think you’re going to get by?” Ruth demanded. “You better have a plan, cause we’re not paying your bills.”

“Never thought you would.” Dell looked straight into Ruth’s eyes. “We never thought you would.”

“What does that mean?”

Dell started to answer, but Phoebe talked over him. “It means you’ve never cared enough about me to give me what I need.”

“Never cared about you? Never given you what you needed? Who worked every weekend of her life to put braces on your teeth? Who made sure you had decent clothes and went to every damned game you cheered for? Tell me that, will you?” Ruth wiped the sweat off her forehead and pulled her t-shirt away from her neck, fanning herself with it.

“You did, Mom. But that wasn’t what I needed.”

“What did you ever need that I didn’t break my neck to give you?”

Phoebe looked down again, concentrating on her hands as she twisted the ring, a three-quarter carat, marquis-cut diamond. Not just a diamond, an emblem. A talisman. Concrete evidence that she was loved. I needed you to save me, to stand up to him, to take my side, not just try to keep peace when he went nuts. I needed you to love me best.

“To get away from Dad. But you. . . .” Phoebe’s voice trailed off as Ruth shouted over her.

“And getting pregnant at 18, ruining your life, is the way to do it?”

“Maybe not, but you let him get away with whatever he wanted and we’re all paying the price.” Dell again, serving up his opinion.

“So this is my fault? I didn’t leave her father so you had no choice but to get her pregnant and trash all her dreams? How. . .”

This time Phoebe shouted Ruth down. “Choices? You’re talking about choices? You let him gamble away all your money, drink til he couldn’t stand up, embarrass me in front of my friends. He puked in the car, and you cleaned it up. He passed out on the porch, and you dragged him in the house. He pretended to shoot himself, and you patched the fucking roof.

“You should have left him a long time ago, before I was even born.”

“Has your life been so bad you wish you’d never been born?” Ruth wrapped her arms around her waist, arms crossed in the middle, and leaned forward to catch her breath.

“You’ll never know how many times I wish that, Mom." Phoebe paused, meaning to stop there, but the words, the truth she thought so often but had never dared speak, somehow poured out of her. " Some people aren’t cut out to be parents, and maybe Dad’s one of them.”

Ruth jerked up straight. Her right arm uncurled itself from around her waist and flew up behind her head. In one swift motion, her hand whistled down, and the smack of her palm against Phoebe’s cheek echoed through the kitchen. The force of the blow knocked Phoebe sideways and into the corner of the cabinets. She shrieked involuntarily when her face hit the hinges, the squeal of a puppy whose tail has been stepped on or a mouse caught but not killed by a trap.

When she turned to face Ruth again, Phoebe’s eyes were dark with disbelief. Her left eye was also darkened by a small bruise that promised a splendid black eye. “Good answer, Mom. Good goddamn answer. He ruins everything and you hit me."

Dell stepped between the women and said, “Get your stuff, Phee. We're outta here.”

“She’s not going anywhere except her room,” Ruth shouted. “And no music in there, either, young lady.”

“Seriously? You think you’re going to ground me from my stereo? I’m 18 years old. I’m gonna have a baby, for Christ’s sake.” Phoebe stomped off to her room, dragging Dell by the hand.

While Ruth paced back and forth in the kitchen, Phoebe yanked open the hall closet and pulled two suitcases from the top shelf. She stuffed a few pairs of sandals, tennis shoes, and all her party shoes—except the silvery sandals from Homecoming—into the big black one. Next, she upended her underwear drawer over the suitcase, showering the shoes with bras and panties. Her sock and t-shirt drawers got the same treatment before being tossed in the corner. Phoebe paused to wipe her eyes and her nose on her sleeve, then unzipped the smaller suitcase and dumped whole piles of jeans and sweatshirts into it. She pulled her cheerleading uniform off its padded hanger and stuffed it on top. Finally, she tried to close the suitcase.

Dell, who had been staring out the window, suddenly focused on the scene in front of him. Taking in Phoebe’s struggle with the overstuffed suitcase, he said, “No frickin’ way, Phee.”

“Help me.”

Phoebe sat on top of the suitcase while Dell pulled on the zipper, but no matter how many times she stuffed sweatshirt arms and jeans legs back inside, another popped out as soon as she pulled her hand out.

“Lose something. Let’s go.” Dell, who desperately wanted to be gone before Fred showed up, was getting antsy.

Phoebe slid down to her knees in front of the suitcase, opened the lid, and pulled out the first thing she came to: her Rosemont High School cheerleading uniform. Dropping onto her heels, she ran her hands over the shamrock on the sweater, fingered all her pins, then sank her face into its folds. She could smell bonfires and sweat and autumn winds mingled with Clinique Happy and Abercrombie cologne. Cradling the sweater against her face, she slowly rocked back and forth a few times. Suddenly, she threw the sweater aside and stood up decisively. “Zip it.”

Phoebe dragged the small suitcase toward the door. Pausing beside her bed, she picked up the blue-and-white quilt her mom had hand made for her 16th birthday and wrapped herself in it. From behind her, Dell muscled the big black suitcase forward. Nodding toward her and the quilt, he asked, “Taking that?”

“Nah.” Phoebe replied. She shrugged and let the quilt slide off her shoulders and fall to the floor. Dell stepped over it on his way out of the room. When Ruth found the quilt in the floor later, she would tell Marsha that Phoebe had cast it aside like a wet towel from one of her friends’ pool parties.

Phoebe and Dell made their way, one after the other, down the hall. The suitcases bumped along awkwardly beside them, leaving dirty marks on the baby blue walls. When they finally reached the kitchen, Ruth was still pacing. She whirled to face Phoebe and said, “If you leave, don’t ever come back. You won’t be welcome.”

Phoebe’s face tightened like an “after” photo in a plastic surgeon's office. She spit out two words as she and Dell brushed past her mother: “No problem.”

The storm door banged closed behind them. Ruth felt the vibrations all the way to the collagen rods inside the bones of her feet. She pushed the door open again. “Don’t do this,” she called into the darkness. “Trust me, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

Through the quiet night, Ruth could hear footsteps moving quickly down the gravel drive, then two car doors opening and slamming closed. From behind the house, the wind whistled through the trees and an owl hooted. Ruth ran outside and, with no particular goal in mind, paused at the edge of the rose garden. Dell’s car started and the red taillights flashed against the blue trunk; something inside Ruth broke wide open. She bent down, snatched two good-sized rocks from the garden border, and heaved them, one after the other, toward the souped-up Grand Am.

Ruth hurled those rocks with the force of her pain and frustration, disillusionment and loss. Go on. Get out of here. Just go. Later, when she replayed the scene her head over and over like a tape loop run amok, she was never sure whether she had spoken those words aloud or thought them so loudly they echoed through the night.

The sound of the rocks bouncing off Dell’s trunk made Ruth smile savagely. Take that, you little snot. Acting on pure adrenalin, she bent down and grabbed another rock. This one was lodged in the dirt, and its sharp edges cut her hands as she wiggled it loose. When the rock was finally free, Ruth straightened and threw it toward the car with all her might. She didn’t hear anything and was disappointed that it missed.

The owl hooted again, sending shivers down Ruth’s spine. She wrapped her arms around her waist and tried to calm down.

Phoebe wiped blood out of her eyes and stared at her hands above her face. She couldn't see the blood in the dark, but she could feel it coursing down her face and into her hair, her heartbeat pushing the river downstream. The warmth, the smell, the taste of it frightened and confused her. I'm bleeding. What the hell happened? So much blood. So much blood. Phoebe tried to sit up but darkness closed in on her again. She fought it off, certain she would die if she didn't get help soon. Jesus, I'm going to bleed to death if someone doesn't see me.She tried to yell, but it came out as more of a squeak. Clearing her throat, she tried again, this time yelling for her very life.

“Help me.” Silence. “I’m bleeding.” Phoebe's voice floated across the driveway, weak and thready.

Ruth dropped her arms and stood paralyzed, straight and tall as a debutante practicing with a book on her head, trying to comprehend what had happened. That's Phoebe. But she's in the car. Isn't she? She has to be in the car. . . .

The yard light blinked on. “What’sh goin on ou’ there?” Fred yelled from the kitchen door. He had come in through the basement to shower before coming up into the house, his way of defending himself from complaints about the stale, smoky smell he brought home from a long afternoon at the Pale Moon.

Ruth looked toward the Grand Am. The glare of the yard light revealed Phoebe lying on the ground in front of the car, blood gushing from her forehead and dripping down her face. She tried to sit up, but collapsed again. Ruth saw the driver’s door fly open and, a moment later, saw Dell gather Phoebe in his arms. “We gotta get outta here. She’s gone fuckin’ crazy.”

Dell dumped Phoebe onto the passenger’s seat, then flew around to the driver’s side and jumped in. The slam of his door jarred Ruth loose, and she ran toward the car. By the time she got there, Dell was pulling away. Ruth ran along beside the Grand Am for a few steps, trying to grab the door handle to wrench it open. Without shoes, she couldn’t keep up on the gravel drive. When she finally stopped running, she slumped to the ground, screaming, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I'm so sorry,” over and over and over.

Fred, born 13 days late and always much more than a dollar short, came to stand beside Ruth. “Wha’ the hell’sh goin on?” he asked. “Where’sh Phoeb goin’?”

“Get out of the way.” Ruth pushed past him and hurried into the house for her shoes and keys.

“A man’sh got a right to know what’sh goin on in hish own home. Don’ he?”

Ruth ignored him and reached for her keys, which usually hung from a hook beside the door. They weren’t there. She searched her purse and the kitchen countertops, but the keys were nowhere to be found. Precious minutes later, she recognized their weight in the pocket of her jeans, and slapped her forehead.

She clambered into the Honda and streaked down the road toward town, sobbing and shuddering and pounding the steering wheel. Phoebe’s name rang in her head with each sob. As she approached the stoplight just before the turn to the Urgent Care clinic, Ruth’s eyes caught the flash of red lights in her review mirror. Cursing under her breath, she jerked the Honda to the curb and braked, hard.

Joe Harper, Dell’s cousin who’d been a county deputy since Phoebe and Dell were in diapers, sauntered up to the door. He stood there patting his belly and rocking on his heels while Ruth put the window down. She thrust her license through the opening, but Joe waved her off.

“No need for that, Ruth. We’re not going to get official here. I just wanted to tell you that if you show up at the hospital or Dell’s house, I'm going to have to arrest you.”

“Arrest me? What the hell are you talking about?”

“About Assault and Battery. About serious jail time.”

“Are you kidding? I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“You might not ‘a meant to, but you did. She’s got a gash that’s going to take a hell of a lot of stitches to close and maybe even a concussion. The only thing she wants is for you to leave her alone, and right now, I’d say that’s a damn good idea.”

Reluctantly, Ruth swung the Honda around and slowly drove toward her house. Joe followed for several miles. When he finally turned off, Ruth doubled back to town along side roads. When she got within half a mile of the clinic, she parked the Honda and walked furtively along the empty sidewalks, staying out of the streetlights and away from lighted storefronts. In front of the Pizza Hut, she plopped herself on the ground under a lilac bush. From there, she could see the entrance to Urgent Care as well as Dell’s Grand Am in the parking lot.

Ruth pulled down a branch laden with blossoms and twisted one back and forth until it broke off in her hands. When she’d plucked all the buds from one bunch, she broke off another and slowly shredded it as well. By the time Dell led Phoebe out the clinic’s doors, her forehead heavily bandaged and her eyes blacked, Ruth’s lap was filled with twigs and the dirt beneath her legs littered with tiny purple flowers.

Ruth watched the Grand Am's taillights disappear again, this time toward Dell's house. She wanted to scream and cry and smash things but was afraid she'd someone would hear or see her. Instead, she sat there, numb and silent, wondering what to do, where to go.

At sunrise the next morning, Ruth took the ax to the lilac bush outside her bedroom window. She hacked its carcass into manageable hunks and drug them back behind the shed, leaving the old path covered with shredded leaves and tiny, withering blossoms. No matter how many times Ruth blew her nose, their fragrance lingered in her nostrils, long after the cold spring winds scattered their petals across the countryside.

Not Prograstinating, Honestly

I'm keeping up with my word count goals each day, but the piece I'm working on isn't ready to be posted. Still too raw.

Keep trying to remember that this is only a shitty first draft (a la Anne Lamott), but this story wants detail, it wants raw emotion and demands to be told as Truth of the highest order, and I'm not quite there yet.

Will post it soon.

Meantime, thanks for reading.

On another front entirely, I had to be at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast at 6:00am this morning. Massive bummer. My spa was sponsoring a table, so I had to go greet my guests, etc.

The breakfast was a bigger bummer than having to be dressed to the nines and in a place 15 miles from my house by 6:00am. It was held to honor veterans, and the guests of honor were the father and brother of a young man from our town who was killed in Iraq recently.

The speakers were four devout Christians: veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their wives. They spoke fervently about their experiences and their missions and how fundamental prayer and Jesus were to their survival. They showed slides of the prayer schedule arranged by their Sunday Schools so that someone was praying for them every hour of the day and night. They declared that their relationship with Jesus was fundamental to their survival.

I have no problem with the fact that they believe these things. My problem comes with the idea that this is the ONLY way. What of the Muslim woman sitting in the crowd, her head covered with a beautiful scarf? What of the father and brother of the young man who was killed? Did they not pray enough? If they had arranged round-the-clock prayers, would their boy be sitting beside them, eating rubbery scrambled eggs and standing when the veterans were honored? Should they feel responsible for his death?

None of us knows the answer to those questions. Not really. And I think it's arrogant beyond belief to imagine there's only one answer and one, relatively small group owns it completely.

Many paths, one God works for me. The recognition that some live and some die and we have no control over which group we fall into on a given day--that works for me. The Buddhist notion of living so that every day would be a good day to die--one in which you'd been kind to all, been loving to those you love, accepted your responsibilities and embraced the joy available to you--that works for me. Jesus and God play a big part in my spirituality, but in my world, they accept all of us, all colors, all faiths, all words and ways of praying. Intention is all.

Being omnicient and all, my God recognizes all sincere prayer and all loving kindness. I just can't believe God is narrow-minded. Can you?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fiery Waters

Meditated with my eyes open this morning. Just sat in the windows of the sunroom and watched the morning deliver itself to the world. Glorious. Just me, sacred music playing quietly in the background, a few candles, and the stark beauty of the morning. Intentionally breathed in beauty and glory and breathed out doubt and fear and worry. Feel more energized and more ready to write at this moment than ever before in my life. Am going to tackle a very tough story today. It will be included as part of Ruth's life, but it is my own, and it is one of the things Ruth would never want to tell anyone on earth, just as it is one of the things I have told only once or twice, and only to people of my true tribe, of my heart.

Reading yesterday's comments, I feel safe to tell this story, safe to share my heart with this remarkable tribe of folks following the story and helping it be born.

First, a couple of pics from the pond this morning. The one of Marvin and the Pin Duck is out of focus and too dark, but it was the best of the lot, so I'm posting it, too.

Today's story is more of Fred's death, which demanded to be unpacked after yesterday's snippet.

Love, love, and more love to you all.

Wedneday's LOTO

Ruth was peeling potatoes when Fred decided to walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail. He didn’t get out much in those days, and Ruth thought the fresh air and sunshine would do him good. She toyed with the idea of going with him but wanted the potato salad to chill before she started frying the walleye later.

A few minutes after the storm door slammed behind Fred, Ruth heard a small metallic crunch and then a large boom. What she could see out the big window didn’t explain much: a shiny red Dodge Ram pickup at the end of the driveway and hundreds of burning bits of paper floating toward the road, like a tickertape parade in hell. She wiped her wet hands on a flour sack dishtowel and hurried out the door and down the drive.

Before she was halfway there, Ruth could smell stale beer and cigarettes along with burning paper. A couple steps later, those odors were joined by the stench of vomit. She could hear someone retching but couldn’t see anything through the cloud of smoke and dust that had gathered near the mailbox. . .rather, where the mailbox had been. When she got closer, she could see that the truck’s right headlight was broken and its right side mirror torn off. The mailbox squatted on the truck’s hood, right on top of the Dodge medallion.

“Fred? Fred, where are you?” Ruth called, then peered into the truck. It was still running and looked drivable, so she climbed in, jammed the stick into reverse, and backed the thing away from the fire she could only assume was coming from Fred’s portable oxygen. A potent combination of fear and anger surged through her like a hot flash, leaving her forehead damp and her chest bright red. She leaped from the cab and yelled again.

“Damn it, Fred. Answer me.”

“Na way, lady. ‘E can’,” yelled an unfamiliar voice. Rage boiled up inside Ruth as she stomped across the road toward the voice. It was no longer raining paper, but the ground was covered with it. With every step she took, smoking bits of junk mail swirled up from beneath her feet.

When she reached the ditch, Ruth saw a teenaged boy on his hands and knees, clearly in position to throw up again. Fred was lying beside him, nestled in a bed of wild daisies, peaceful as could be. His clothes and hair were a bit singed and his head lay at a funny angle, but other than that, he might have been napping in a wildflower field.

“Oh my God. Fred?” Ruth dropped to her knees and laid her head on his chest. She couldn’t hear his heart beat and couldn’t see or feel him breathing. Thank God I brought my phone.

Ruth rolled onto her back, her head still on Fred’s chest, and fished her phone out of her pocket. She quickly dialed 911 and relayed the necessary information. After the dispatcher assured her that help was on the way, Ruth scrambled back to her knees and began pumping on his chest. Her CPR training from long ago had prepared her for emergencies, but not for emergencies involving her husband of 27 years. She pumped and breathed, pumped and breathed, but had no idea if she was doing it correctly. Not yet, Fred. Not now.

When the paramedics arrived, they immediately recognized Fred as a corpse. Two kind young men relieved Ruth of her futile task and a gentle young woman led her to the ambulance, where she offered her a drink of water and a clean cloth to wipe her streaming eyes. Ruth collapsed onto the back bumper of the ambulance, resting her head against its back door. She watched the proceedings as though from a great distance, both there and not there.

As the paramedics loaded Fred onto a stretcher, one exclaimed, “Jeesh, his clothes are burned, but he’s not. How’d that happen?”

Jared, the kid who hit Fred, replied, “Guess someone taught him Stop, Drop and Roll!”

No one wanted to laugh, but the truth of it was just so ridiculous. Clearly, Fred had been blown across the road, free of the oxygen canister. Judging by the swath of broken weeds, he rolled several feet after he hit the ground. The tall weeds, still wet from a morning rain, must have smothered the flames as he rolled. If the impact hadn’t broken his neck, he’d have walked away with a fine story to tell.

The paramedics turned away from Ruth and covered their mouths with their hands. At first, Ruth was outraged, but within a beat or two, she realized the absurdity of the situation and joined the others in guilty laughter. Jared laughed, full tilt, along with them. When the Rosemont police arrived to take charge, Jared was still laughing. The last Ruth heard from him was a muttered “Stop, Drop, and Roll” as one of the officers eased him into the back of the squad car. Ruth would forever wonder how long it took Jared to stop laughing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

LOTO Tuesday

First and Foremost: Get out and VOTE!

Next, the most amazing thing happened last night while I was writing. A character--Fred--just flat refused to die the way I had in mind for him. Just refused. I tried to let him go with cirhoccis (sp??), but he just wouldn't have it. No matter how I approached it, the whole thing sounded wooded and false. Set the laptop aside and made a pot of tea. By the time the tea cooled, Fred was dead. In his very own, thoroughly interesting way, which only came through when I stopped trying to kill him my way. Now it's time to see if his death is interesting to anyone but me. Please let me know what you think:

In this snippet we're in the bathroom with Ruth. It's Advent and she's getting ready to go to church for a Reconcilation service. A lapsed Catholic, she hasn't ben to church in many, many years but someone told her about a church called St. Joan's where she might feel comfortable. Obviously, there will be lots more to this story since she hasn't even gotten to church yet, but Fred just insisted on dying last night. What's a girl to do?

PS: Thanks for the sharp eyes, Nancy. You were right about the name SNAFU. Gonna make a geneology chart for the characters soon as I get my huge new blackboard finished and hung. Projects, projects!!

Here goes:

Ruth took a long look in the mirror, a final check of her hair and make-up. Her hair, once gloriously, glossily auburn, had faded to salt-and-pepper gray, neither the shiny silver of her mother’s mid-life tresses nor the stubborn darkness her dad took to his grave. Instead, it was dull gray mixed with an almost-black brown that no longer held even a hint of red. Kept the temper, though! Unlike many other women her age, Ruth’s hair had remained thick and full. She kept it in a simple, easy-to-keep bob. Thank God she didn’t need a pouffy, mushroom-head style to camouflage thinning hair or to cover up her scalp. Nodding at herself, Ruth tucked a stray strand behind her left ear and leaned closer to the mirror to examine her skin. Pretty good.

Some of her friends struggled with age spots—hyper-pigmentation their dermatologists called it—but Ruth had been lucky. Same with wrinkles: She hardly had any other than a handful of tiny crinkles beside her eyes. Never thought I’d be happy I got stuck inside all those years. When her friends were watching their kids splash in the city pool, Ruth was helping students struggle through Thompson’s Piano for Beginners. When they were camping along the St. Croix or hiking up on the North Shore, she was accompanying choir practice or private voice lessons. Too busy making a living to sit in the sun.

Ruth turned sideways to look at her profile, and sighed. All those years on a piano bench didn’t do my hind end any good.!

Right after Fred’s funeral, Ruth couldn’t eat a thing; lost 25 pounds before she could turn around. Every night she warmed and then threw away another of the casseroles brought by loving neighbors, getting thinner and thinner every day. With no one expecting meals or nosing around the cabinets for a snack, she forgot to go to the grocery story for days—even weeks. When her stomach growled or her heart ached, she soothed herself with cup after cup of hot water with lemon. Every day or two, she’d drink a Coke just for the calories and promise herself to get to the store soon. Friends and the other teachers at school commented on the way clothes hung on her, but she ignored them all, just the way she tried to ignore the hole in her heart left by Phoebe’s absence at the funeral.

When the grief and guilt started to fade, Ruth’s appetite returned with a vengeance, and she took to eating her favorite comfort foods at every meal: macaroni and cheese, tortilla chips with black beans and melted cheese, toasted French bread and Nutella. Carbohydrates: the widow’s friend. Now she was back to her former weight, a number she’d fought against for two decades. You’d think I’d a stopped eating before it got this bad, damn it. She sucked in her stomach and looked at herself sideways again. No better’n Fred. Can’t quit chocolate any more’n he could quit beer. Wonder if they make Antaabuse for Mars Bars?

By the time Fred died, neither he nor Ruth could keep track of the times he’d quit drinking. Seriously quit. Totally quit. Sort-a quit. He’d done it all. Tried it all. Picked up a nicotine habit and a preference for strong, bitter coffee at AA meetings, learned the lingo of recovery at group counseling, took Antabuse when a district court judge said it was that or jail. Ended up puking his guts out on the floor of the Dakota County jail, begging to die.

In the end, Fred was killed by a drunk driver. In one of life’s richest ironies, the drunk driver was not Fred himself. Instead, a young kid in a bright red pick-up, high on testosterone and cheap beer, hit him one bright summer afternoon about 18 months after Fred's last drink. The impact knocked down both the man and the mailbox, then the explosion from his portable oxygen tank threw him all the way into the ditch on the far side of the road. He came to rest among the daisies, a surprisingly peaceful sight and a much less painful end than the slow suffocation his pulmonologist had predicted.

Monday, November 06, 2006


My dear friend, Mystic Wing, recommended that I try to explain the structure I'm envisioning for my NaNoWriMo novel, Layers of the Onion. The stories I've been posting have been from that novel, as most of you know. It's kind of complicated to explain, but I'm pretty sure it will work when I get all the stories together. Here goes with an attempted explanation:

The front story is that the narrator, Meredith (who has much of my own story) and four women (Ruth, Carolina--Ro, Sarah, and Lynne) meet while waiting for airplanes. To Meredith, whose world is in shambles at the moment, they all seem perfect as they exchange very polite conversation and the surface, simple stories of their lives. As the wait drags on, bit-by-bit, each woman reveals more of herself and more of her true, deep stories. Each is struggling with something big, and in the end, although we won't know what anyone decides or how things turn out, we will see that each is strengthened by the sharing they experience, each heads off to her destination with the realization that everyone has challenges and that hers are manageable if she keeps faith with herself.

Each chapter will be anchored by the airport conversation and then spin off into a third person story of one of the women that's somehow sparked by the stories being shared in the airport. The third person stories will rotate from one woman to another until everyone's stories have played out. The ending I have in mind is pretty close to what happened to me in an airport one morning. It makes me cry just thinking about it. Very powerful.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here's today's story. It will fit into the center of Ruth's story from yesterday. After posting that snippet, I realized we needed to see why Ruth loves Fred so much she can't or won't take Phoebe and run for their lives. LIke so many women who stay in relationships with alcoholics, that's what she grew up with, what she knows. That's her backstory.

One last thing--I'm fascinated with the way the story is unfolding itself in my mind, with the process of it all. I've heard so many, many writers talk about how the characters surprised them, how they take over the story at some point. Oddly enough, that's beginning to happen to this non-fiction writer finding herself through fiction. Yesterday Ruth "told" me she's a music teacher. I hadn't known what her profession would be. Just sort of accidently (I know, I know--there are no accidents), I had used the words "You take my breath away," in dialogue between Ruth and Phoebe. When on a walk along a river near my house yesterday, the idea jumped into my head that Ruth and Phoebe would have a kind of game between themselves of using song titles in conversation and then the other one coming back with another . The songs have to be germain to the conversation and the game is to fit them in context. They'll use songs from the 40's and forward, they'll use country, jazz, pop--the whole gamut. Of course, that led to realizing that Ruth is a music teacher. These are not ideas that I had. They're realizations I came to, as though Ruth and Phoebe always were these people and have been waiting patiently for me to figure it out.

As Ro would say, Lawd mi Gawd, what a miracle!

I'm starting here a bit before Ruth's backstory, so you can see how the game works. Sure would appreciate any comments or suggestions about this. Think it works? No? Better way to go at it? Fill up that comment box, friends. I feel like you're the village and LOTO is the child we're raising together. God bless each of you and fill your lives with the same sort of grace you're sharing with me.


“Oh, Sweetheart. ‘You Take My Breath Away,’” Ruth said.

“Good one, Mom.” Humming Queen’s new song under her breath, Phoebe pulled a rickety chair to the center of the room and stepped onto the seat. The chair wobbled, nearly throwing her to the floor. One of the plastic slides was missing, which made one leg shorter than the others. “Dad said he'd fix this!”

“He’s been real busy, Honey. Hold still." Ruth reached into the old fishbowl on the counter and pulled out a matchbook from the Pale Moon to put under the short leg.

“Yeah, real busy. Busy “Throwing It All Away.” Phoebe snorted, then began dancing and singing, channeling Phil Collins.

Just throwing it all away.
Yes, throwing it all away.
There’s nothing I can say.
We’re throwing it all away.

“Not funny.” Phoebe's singing fell off to humming. “Do you want me to do this or not? If you do, stand still.” Ruth had so hoped they could have a peaceful evening. She had a pot of chili on the stove and a plate of cheese and crackers waiting on the counter. Now they’d spent so much time arguing that Phoebe probably wouldn’t have time to do anything more than shimmy into her cheerleading uniform before she left for the bonfire. Ruth planned to hem the dress while Phoebe was at the ballgame and have it pressed and ready by the time Phoebe and her boyfriend, Dell, came home to change for the dance.

Ruth knelt in the floor, pushed the matchbook under the short leg, and stationed the pincushion beneath her right hand. She folded up a sizable hem before she noticed Phoebe’s feet were bare. “Nice toenail polish, Pheebs, but you’ve got to wear shoes or the hem won't be right.”

Phoebe slapped her forehead with the heel of her right hand in a pretty good imitation of Bart Simpson. “Duh!"

Ruth hated The Simpsons, hated the “Duh” thing, but decided to let it slide for once. They were so close to getting through the evening in one piece.

“Hang on,I’ll grab ‘em.” Phoebe leaped gracefully from the chair and dashed down the hall toward her room, still holding the dress in both hands.

While she was gone, Ruth traced the lines in the old, faded linoleum with a straight pin, thinking back to her senior year and the way Fred had been. Things were so different back then.


Eleanor Petrovski was better than a telegraph, better than a party line. Once she got hold of a story or a piece of information, she wore it like a fancy new hat designed to draw attention to herself. Well, I never! Walter Campbell stumbling out of the Pale Moon. Thought he was on the wagon. Fell off, I reckon. Suppose Nellie Peterson knows? Better stop by on my way home.

Eleanor turned the car toward Nellie’s house, where she was sure to get a warm welcome and maybe a piece of peach pie, if she was lucky.

Nellie had hardly gotten the tea on before Eleanor broke the news. “You’ll never believe what I seen, not half an hour ago,” she began.

“Try me.” Nellie was hungry for gossip, anxious for something juicy to break up the long dreary days of cooking and cleaning up after her husband and three boys.

“Well. . .”

The slam of the front door interrupted Eleanor. Glancing up, she recognized Fred, Nellie’s oldest boy, coming in from the hay field. It’s just Fred. Eleanor went right back to her story. “Walter Campbell just left the Pale Moon. Practically fell down the steps on his way out, and screeched out of the parking lot like a cat with his tail on fire.”

“Can’t be! Walter’s on the wagon. Ain’t he?” Nellie exclaimed.

“Not anymore, he ain’t. Smelled like a brewery when he stumbled past my car.”

The front door slammed again, and when Eleanor glanced up, she saw Fred’s back disappearing down the porch steps.

“What got into him?” she asked.

Nellie watched the dust cloud recede down the dirt road "He's sweet on the Peterson girl. No one in that family gets on very good when Walter’s in his cups. You sure he was drunk? “

“Sure's I can be. . . .”

Fred accelerated into the curves, holding the Olds on as straight a line as possible with its wonky steering. Ruth’s gonna need me.

When he reached the Peterson house, Walter’s car was parked out front, and Fred knew better than to go in. Instead, he drove straight to the old schoolhouse and plopped himself on the old merry-go-round to wait. There were two wooden merry-go-rounds in the schoolyard, and Fred liked the red one better than the white. It was smaller, turned faster, and didn’t have the safety rails of the white one. Made it easier to ease Ruth onto her back, where he could lie beside her. He knew she’d be here as soon as she could get out of the house. If she didn’t show up soon, he’d sneak into her yard as soon as it got dark. He felt better when he stayed where he could hear what was going on and could help if her father started hitting on her. He often imagined breaking down the door and carrying her out of that place, away from the drinking and the screaming and the pain, but so far Ruth had convinced him it would only make things worse in the long run.

Fred was thinking about all this when Ruth slipped onto the merry-go-round and settled herself under his right arm.

“Thought you’d be here. How’d you know?” she asked.

“Two guesses and the first three don’t count.”

“Eleanor Petrovski,” they whispered in unison.

Fred wrapped his arms around Ruth and drew her head onto his chest. “How bad was it?” He hated hearing about her father’s meanness but understood Ruth’s need to talk.

“He's gonna kill us someday. I just know it,” Ruth whispered.

“I’ll never let that happen. You turn 18 in few weeks. After we're married, no one will ever lay a hand on you again." Fred leaned back and back and back until he was lying flat on the dirty red boards with Ruth on top of him. She curled into him and rested her chin on the top of his shoulder.



“This" Ruth said, patting Fred's chest. "is the safest place in the world."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday LOTO: Ruth

This snippet will come about mid-way into tthe revelations of Ruth's life, probably about halfway into the book. WARNING: For you ACOA--this one might be a tough read. Please skip it if you think it might rub salt into old wounds.


The metal storm door slammed behind Fred, the glass rattling in its frame. Phoebe whirled on her mother.

“Shit, Mom. Not tonight. Don’t let him start tonight.” Phoebe’s wails echoed through the dingy little kitchen.

“Shhh. Everything will be all right. Don’t carry on so,” Ruth murmured. Surely Fred won’t pull any of his tricks tonight.

It was Homecoming of Phoebe’s senior year. A cheerleader all four years of high school, captain of the squad this year, and steady girlfriend of the captain of the football team, Phoebe hoped—almost expected—to be crowned Homecoming Queen later that night. Fred knew about it and surely remembered. After all, they’d fought about spending the money for her dress enough.

“Couldn’t he let me have fun just this once? Just one fucking time?”

“Phoebe! That’s enough. If you can’t talk nice, be quiet,” said Ruth. “I mean it now. That’s enough from you.”

“Me? That’s enough from me?” Phoebe was near hysteria. “What about him? When will it be enough from him? Isn’t enough that he’s ruined every good thing that ever happened to me? Does he have to mess this up, too? And what about you? When will it be enough for you? When will you stop letting him walk all over you? You make me sick, Mom.”

Ruth went to the door and peered out the window. She thought about turning on the yard light but didn’t want Fred to know how worried she was. He usually escalated his dramas when he knew he had his audience hooked. Better not throw any more gas on the fire.

Ruth sighed deeply. Phoebe was supposed to be at a pre-game bonfire in an hour, and Ruth still needed to hem her dress for the dance.

“Guess you won’t want sickening old me to hem your dress. Taking care of that yourself, are you?” Ruth knew she shouldn’t push Phoebe any more, but she'd had about all she could take for one day.

“You know I can’t do it myself. You’ve got to do it, Mom. Please. I’m sorry I said that. I just hate what he does to you.” Phoebe sounded desperate.

“I know. I know. Put the dress on and get in here. I’ve got to get it pinned up,” she said. “Bring the pincushion when you come.”

Phoebe ran to her room to collect the beautiful gown. Ruth had been holding back a dollar or two from the grocery fund each week since the middle of summer, saving to help Phoebe buy the perfect dress. Between that money, the money Fred had begrudgingly handed over, and what Phoebe had saved from her job at the A&W, they had just enough. Barely enough, but they’d pulled it off. Ruth felt a little guilty hoarding money for a party dress when they had bills to pay, but she convinced herself it was okay just this once and stashed the dollars in her desk at work. No use taking the chance Fred would find the money and “invest” it in beer and pull tabs down at the VFW.

Phoebe danced into the room, pirouetting and sashaying like a ballroom dancer. A handful of shimmering coral fabric in each hand, she held dress off the floor as she swayed, protecting it from the beer Fred had spilled on his way out the door. Ruth felt tears well in her eyes—tears of pride and joy and relief that Phoebe was going to get this one night, would have at least one happy memory from her teenage years.

The dress could have been made for Phoebe. Other than the length, it fit her perfectly. The strapless bodice enveloped her smallish bust then skimmed her tiny waist. A bugle bead starburst—vibrant but not gaudy—started a couple of inches below her right arm and angled down across the flared skirt, ending in sparks scattered along the right side of the hem.

“Oh Sweetheart. You Take My Breath Away,” Ruth said.

“Good one, Mom.” Humming Air Supply’s song under her breath, Phoebe pulled a rickety chair to the center of the room and stepped onto the seat. The chair wobbled, nearly throwing her to the floor. One of the plastic slides was missing, which made one leg shorter than the others. “I thought Dad was supposed to fix this thing!”

“He’s been really busy, Honey. Hold still. Let me get that.” Ruth reached into the old fishbowl on the counter for a matchbook to put under the short leg.

“Yeah, real busy. Busy Throwing It All Away,” Phoebe snorted.

“Do you want me to do this or not, young lady? If you do, I suggest you stop talking and hold still.” Ruth had so hoped they could have a peaceful evening. She had a pot of chili on the stove and a plate of cheese and crackers waiting on the counter. Now they’d spent so much time arguing that Phoebe probably wouldn’t have time to do anything more than shimmy into her cheerleading uniform before she left for the bonfire. Ruth planned to hem the dress while Phoebe was at the ballgame and have it pressed and ready by the time Phoebe and her boyfriend, Dell, came home to change for the dance.

With the chair stablized, Ruth knelt in the floor beneath it, the pincushion stationed beneath her right hand. She folded up a sizable hem before she noticed Phoebe’s feet were bare. “Nice toenail polish, Pheebs, but you know you have to put your shoes on for me to get the hem right. What are you thinking?”

Phoebe slapped her forehead with the heel of her right hand in a pretty good imitation of Bart Simpson “Duh! Thinking? Who’s thinking? I’ve got dreams to dream here, Mom.”

Ruth hated The Simpsons, hated the “Duh” thing, but decided to let it slide for once. They were so close to getting through the evening in one piece.

“Just a sec—I’ll go grab ‘em.” Phoebe leaped gracefully from the chair and dashed down the hall toward her room, still holding the dress in both hands.

While she was gone, Ruth traced the lines in the old, faded linoleum with a straight pin, thinking back to her senior year and the fun she and Fred had back then. Things were so different. The world held such promise.

Phoebe hopped back into the room, a strappy sandal on her left foot, unbuckled, and another dangling from the fingers of her right hand. She dropped the sandal and lifted her foot. The silvery shoe hit the linoleum. . . .

Blammmmm! Ruth heard the shot and felt the old floor vibrate along with its report. She jumped up and, without a word, she and Phoebe ran out the kitchen door and raced down the worn path to the old shed in the back yard.

Hampered as she was by the shoe situation, Phoebe nearly tripped over a broken lump of concrete, a remnant of the pretty sidewalk that once led to the garden and the shed beyond it. She tore the silvery sandal off her foot and threw it behind her, toward the house, then gathered her skirt back into her hands and ran like hell down the old path.

The garden had gone back to the wild years ago, and the shed now held nothing but Fred’s guns, a shell reloader, plenty of shells, gunpowder, and beer. Lots and lots of beer.

Liquor and guns. Great combo, Pops.

An open padlock hung through the hasp of the latch on the front side of the shed door. Ruth yanked on the rusty handle, but the door was latched from inside. “You okay, Fred?”

Wild laughter floated through the cracks around the door and out into the dark yard. Phoebe swore under breath and let go of the sides of her dress, freeing the long skirt to fall onto the dirt path and the damp grass lining its sides.

“Come on, Pops. Let us in. We just want to see what you’re working on,” Phoebe called, knocking on the door.

“Onliest thin' I’m working on ish a way off thish god-damned planet, away fra you two witchesh.”

Shit. Not with the suicide threats again, Pops.

Oh Fred, honey, don’t do this to yourself.

The slurred words were a bad sign, evidence of mass consumption of liquor. He might not be able to hold a job or a dollar, but Fred Peterson could hold his liquor. Ruth and Phoebe begged pleaded, flattered and cajoled, but Fred wouldn’t open the door. A soft rain—more like a hard mist—began to fall, and both women were cold and tired but too frightened to pay much attention to the rain or the cold or anything beyond Fred’s voice.

“I’m jus gonna get it over wish,” he shouted.

A sudden shot reverberated through the darkness with unimaginable force and noise. Both women instinctively threw their arms up over their heads and stepped back. Phoebe thought she’d seen a flash through the small window and wondered how far the pieces of her family would scatter if all the gunpowder in the shed went off at once. Probably rain Petersons all over Dakota County.



Nothing. Not a sound. Not a peep. Even the neighbor’s dogs had stopped barking temporarily.

“Go turn on the yard light, Phoebe. Hurry. Run,” Ruth called over her shoulder as she ran toward the house. “I’ll get an ax from the garage.”

Phoebe picked up the front of her skirt and ran hell-bent-for-leather to the house. Once inside, she flipped on the switch, turned and ran back to the shed, the back of her dress dragging through mud and rain-soaked grass with every step. As Phoebe reached the house, Ruth threw open the garage door and felt along the wall. When the yard light blinked on, she found the ax hanging in its usual place between the branch loppers and the electric shrub trimmer.

Ax in hand, Ruth raced back to the shed, where Phoebe stood sobbing and shaking. “Stand back, Pheebs,” she said, and swung the ax into the door with all her might. The weathered board splintered, and she swung again. Another couple of swings and she’d made an opening big enough to reach into.

“Help me pull these boards away,” Ruth shouted. Both women grabbed edges of boards and hunks of broken wood, heedless of splinters or scraped knuckles. When the hole was six or eight inches in diameter, Ruth reached in and felt around til she found the hook and eye latch holding the door closed. She flipped the hook up and wrenched the door open.

As the door swung forward, its hinges squealing in protest at the rough treatment, a flashlight clicked on inside the shed. Its beam blinded the women for a moment, but when their vision cleared, they saw Fred, sitting on an old milk stool, laughing at them. In answer to their unasked question, he flicked the flashlight beam up to the ceiling, where he’d blown a small hole through the roof.

“You sha see your faches,” he cackled. “Funniesh sing I ever sheed. . .shawed.”

Phoebe rushed toward Fred as though to beat him with her fists. Fred covered his face with his hands and yelled through his fingers, "Hey. Whas a matter wi you? Can' you take a joke?"

"You think that's funny? I'll show you funny. Let's see how much you can bleed. That'll be funny," Phoebe shouted as she turned and reached for the ax now leaning against the doorframe.

Ruth stepped forward and wrapped Phoebe in her arms. “Forget it, Pheebs. Forget it. The Party's Over." No response from Phoebe, not even a ghost of a smile. "Let’s go see if you can still make the game. And we’ve got to do something about your dress.”

“Do something about my dress? What do you think you’re going to do about my dress? It’s ruined. It’s fucking ruined. Why don’t you do something about him? He’s the one you should be worried about. If he doesn’t kill himself, someday I’m going to do it for him.” Phoebe spat out her words in the rat-a-tat-tat staccato of the semi-automatic she wished she had in her hands.

“Don’t say things you’ll regret later,” her mother counseled. “Let’s just go see what we can do about your night.”

Later Ruth heard Phoebe had been named Homecoming Queen, the first Homecoming Queen in the history of Rosemont High School to miss her own coronation. By the time her name was being announced over the loudspeaker during halftime, Phoebe was deep into her second bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Wine, far from the football field and far from her father’s craziness.

The Irish lost their football game that night. Phoebe lost something, too. So did Ruth, and the pain of her loss lasted far beyond the football season.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Next Installment

This snippet will go after the first piece, Thursday's post. My love to you all.

I arranged my bags at my feet and shifted in the blue plastic chair. I’d been looking forward to John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, but just couldn’t get into it. Too much adrenalin left over from the mad dash through the airport. The people around me were much more interesting at the moment.

Take the lady directly across from me: a middle-aged woman wearing a black cotton cardigan over a crisp white t-shirt and a denim skirt. Her sturdy black sandals looked like they’d logged some miles and the colorful bag at her feet promised the essentials of a seasoned traveler: a book, water, and a change of underwear, just in case. Her salt-and-pepper hair was cut in a short bob, the kind of comb-and-go style that didn’t require a blow dryer or a drawer full of hair goo.

The matte silver cross hanging around her neck caught my eye. I like that. No flashy rhinestones shouting for attention, no faux turquoise making a fashion statement as fake as its stones. Just a simple cross that probably rested inside her shirt, next to her heart, as often as out front for the world to see.

As always, I began making up a story to go with the details I observed. She’s an artist and former nun married to an ex-priest and writer. They’re the loves of one another’s lives and travel the world together. I’ll bet she and her husband create inspirational books and calendars. He takes photographs and they collaborate on the text. They’ve been to Ireland and India and all over western America.

Paris is their favorite city, the place where they met soon after they’d both left The Church. She was living in a little pension through the winter, working in a bakery and painting in her spare time. He was living with a group of former priests, teaching music and writing his memoir. They met in a coffee shop and fell in love over espresso and brioche. Now they live only for each other.

A commotion brought me back to real life with a start. What the heck?

A red-faced man pushed in front of two women who had just stepped up to the ticket counter. “I was first. I was in this line 30 minutes ago, and you’re not helping anyone until you’ve taken care of me first,” he shouted. The man waggled his right index finger in the gate agent’s face and pounded his left fist on the counter in a rhythm that emphasized his words. “I’m.” Pfluuump. “First.” Pfluuump. “First.” Pfluuump.

He must have learned the art of intimidation from the same guy who taught Bob. His technique had all the hallmarks of a practiced bully: volume, implied threats, sound effects—all provided at close range. Bob got right in my face to scream at me. When he really got carried away, I distracted myself by trying to identify what he been eating or drinking: Wendy’s chili was a favorite. So were Reuben sandwiches and LeAnn Chin’s Peking chicken. Those were the daytime favorites. On a winter’s night, it was the acrid smell of Scotch mixed with the strange, honeyed sweetness of Drambuie. In the summer, the pine-needles-and-citrus smell of gin and tonic forced itself into my nostrils. Or, sometimes spiced rum mingled with the racid, chemical smell that came only from Diet Coke belches.

The bewildered women stepped back in confusion. “We didn’t know you were first,” one said. “No one was standing here when we walked up.”

“That’s because I got tired of waiting for these idiots to get their act together and went for coffee.”

The women looked at each other and shook their heads. Clearly, they had no intention of tangling with the guy over so small a matter. For a moment, the gate agent looked like she might challenge him, but backed off when he puffed out his chest and leaned over the counter toward her again.

And so he wins. He’s loud and rude and too mean to fight with, so he always gets his way. It’s not fair.

I glanced back at the woman across the aisle and realized she’d been taking in the scene, too. She looked straight at me and grimaced as if to say, “What can you do with people like that?”

I smiled and said, “Well he’s sure a glass-half-full kind of guy, isn’t he?”

“Yah, Sure. You bet cha,” she answered with a smile. After the movie “Fargo,” lots of Minnesotan’s mocked themselves with this phrase. Funny thing was, they didn’t say it much more now than they had before the movie came out, only now they recognized they were saying it and intended for it to be a joke.

We each retreated back into our own reveries, the brief spark of connection between strangers flaring out, short-lived as a cardboard match on a windy day.

Not wanting to stare, I turned back to my book. Before I’d finished the first page, Red-Faced-Guy was creating another commotion over in the corner. Boarding pass in hand, he turned to walk away but couldn’t resist cursing at the offending women as he passed.

“Pushy damned people. I told you I was first. Who the hell do you think you are?” he stormed as he stomped toward the seating area. When he reached a prime spot, he threw down each item he carried, making as much noise as possible with each. Suitcase. Briefcase. Newspaper. Tickets.

“The thing is…” I realized the woman across the aisle was speaking to me again. “The thing is, he must be as miserable as he makes other people. Don’t you think?”

“Maybe,” I answered. “But it seems like he enjoys making other people uncomfortable,” I said, not sure whether I was talking about Red-Faced Guy or Bob, my freshly-exed husband.

“Now I see how people get killed over this stuff, Mer—rrrie,” Bob growled as he backed me into the corner beside the front hall closet. I hated the way he dragged out my name and emphasized the second syllable to make it sound like a curse word.

Bob put one hand on the taupe wall on each side of me and leaned forward. His face was level with mine and only fractions of an inch away. I could smell the chili and beer he’d had for lunch—aromas not improved by time. In the bright light of the two-story front hall, I could see gray glinting in his hair. More gray than I remembered, but we’d already been fighting this fight for nearly a year, and my hair probably had more gray now, too. Or, it would have without the ministrations of John Charles, my new colorist.

“You can’t make me sign that agreement. I won’t do it,” he continued.

“Fine. Don’t sign it. But please, leave now. Talk to my lawyer about it tomorrow,” I said. While he took in my words, I ducked beneath his left arm and stepped out of the corner, out into the late afternoon sun beaming into the center of the white tile floor.

“No one can make me sign that thing,” he said as he stepped in front of me again.

“Okay, Bob. I’ve said that’s fine. It’s time to leave now,” I repeated. My voice was getting higher and tighter with each repetition.

The open foyer led up to a gallery-style second floor, where white balusters stood sentry in front of the four upstairs bedrooms and the children’s bathroom. Figuring disengagement was the only rational option, I turned and walked up the six stairs to the big landing in the middle of the staircase. At the turn, I’d be able to see whether he was leaving without obviously looking.

He was still standing in the foyer, so I continued up the stairs toward the double doors of my bedroom, two feet beyond the top of the stairs. By the time I reached the top step, I could hear him stomping up. Not good.

I stepped into my room and closed the doors, then walked into the adjoining bathroom and closed that door, too. Slow down, Meredith. Take a deep breath. Another. I was still leaning against the sliding pocket door when he shoved it open so hard it bounced off the rubber bumpers at the end of the track, rattling both the metal frame hidden inside the wall and my bones. I caught myself on the doorframe, barely managing to keep from falling straight into his arms, and stepped away from the bathroom door, out into my newly painted bedroom.

Once again, his face was so close to mine that I could smell his lunch and feel the burn of his anger. “I told you, I’m not going to sign that Temporary Settlement Agreement. It’s absurd. It's ridiculous. It's as….”

“Yes, you told me. Now get out of my house,” I said. Anger and fear were running through my veins, racing each other up my neck and down my shoulders.

“It’s my house. You might live here, but I still pay for it and it’s mine. I’ll do whatever I want with it. I could bulldoze it, burn it down if I wanted, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing you could do.” Bob was really getting cranked up now. He stepped forward with each sentence, and I stepped back. The fear was up in my throat now, choking me with its icy hands.

Before I knew it, I was up against a wall again. This time it was one of the scrumtious pale, pale pink walls of my room. Really not good.

“There’s no reason to get ugly. You wanted a divorce. You’re getting it. Please leave now,” I said again, stepping a couple of feet sideways.

“I haven’t even begun to get ugly. You’re gonna find out what ugly really is if you try to make me sign that thing.”

Before he could get back in front of me, I walked straight past him, toward the stairs and escape. I’d made it down five steps when the front door burst open and the kids came in from school. Bob must have been on my heels, because they both came to screeching halts, their backpacks skidding across the slick tile floor.

“What’s going on?” John called.

Without missing a beat, Bob responded. “Your mother’s going to call the police on me.”

Call the police? Who said anything about the police? And how in the living hell did our lives turn into this?

“I’m not going to call the police,” I said as calmly as I could. “Your father shouldn’t be here and he won’t leave, so I’m going to. That’s all. Anybody want ice cream?”

John and Gracie kicked their backpacks to the wall and followed me out the front door to the van, where they immediately started the usual argument about who got shotgun. I guess it’s true—the more things change, the more they remain the same.

My cell phone rang before we got to the end of our street. It was my attorney calling to tell me Bob had signed the Temporary Settlement Agreement three hours earlier. I could pick up my copies whenever I had time.

Three. Hours. Earlier.

Welcome to the Funhouse.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Meet Ro

Yesterday was filled--and I do mean filled--with interruptions and minor irritations. Personnel issues at the salon, errands to be run, groceries to be purchased for my dad, who was cooking a special supper for Mom, the inevitable "do laundry or wear dirty clothes" crisis. You all know the drill.

The point is, I didn't settle down to work on LOTO until about 9:30pm. I was tired and crabby and more than ready for bed when I revved up the laptop. Thought about chucking it for the day but just couldn't give myself that out. Didn't finish my word allotment or my story until 1:30am, but I did it. And strangely, had much more energy and enthusiasm about life when I finished than when I started. The story and the feeling of watching it unfold in my head and heart simply thrilled me. The process of taking one bit of truth or observation and linking it to a different, unrelated bit to create a different story called "fiction" is new to me, and I love it. Love it with a passion I've only experienced a handful of times in my life--my children, the Counselor, my writing world and the people in it.

They say you should do what you love and the money will follow. I'm gathering buckets to capture the pennies that surely will start falling from heaven any second now.


PS--I'm writing stories as they show up in my head and heart, so this isn't in chronological order as far as the finished story. It's just what was with me last night, asking to be written down.


“When you’ve heard a 14-year-old boy screaming for hours every day while they put him through physical therapy, it changes your ideas about what’s worth getting upset over,” I said.

“Screaming? Why was he screaming?” asked Ruth. Some of the color drained from her face and her eyes glittered as she waited for my answer.

“His name was Jimmy. He got hit by a car when he was riding his bike. No helmet,” I said. Hearing Jimmy’s screams echo in my head again, even in my imagination, gave me goosebumps. I pulled my sweater around my shoulders and briefly explained that Jimmy had been in a coma for months after his accident. After he woke up, he had to get used to being upright again.

“Every day, the nurses strapped him to a big green thing that looked like a ping-pong table. He had to stay there a little longer and they raised his head a little more each day. He screamed from the moment they brought him out of this room until they put him back to bed. Every single day.

“Poor child,” murmured Ruth.

“Oh my God,” said Lynne.

“Be called a gravity table. Agany,” said Ro.

Four heads swiveled toward Ro in unison.

“Sounds like you know,” I said.

“Ya, girl. For true. I was in a wreck tree years ago. In a coma for almost four months after dat. A couple a days after I come to, they be puttin’ me an a gravity table. It was torture,” Ro said. As she spoke, her eyes slid to someplace beyond the gate area, beyond the airport, off to a place only she could see or imagine.


Finding pictures in the water spots on the dirty ceiling tile had been Ro’s main form of entertainment for days. She couldn’t stand the noise or the stupidity of the tv. Couldn’t focus her eyes or her mind long enough to read a book, and the headlines on the magazines made her want to scream. “Fifteen New Ways to Turn Him On.” “The NEW Sex Secrets Your Man Wants You to Know.”

Ro was pretty sure there was nothing new under the sun and hadn’t been for centuries. We’ve been pleasin’ and painin’ each other and crossin’ da line between da two since humans learned to walk up tall, I’m tinkin’. Maybe even before dat.

Besides, dat kind a ting, what can it matter now?

Dark thoughts ran through her mind the morning the nurses wheeled her bed out into the hallway. As the familiar ceiling tiles faded from view and new ones appeared, she found herself mildly interested in what was going on.

“Where 'm I a go?” she asked.

The kind nurse, the short, round, loud one who sometimes brought cool cloths to wipe the scalding tears from Ro’s face and neck, smiled encouragingly.

“Out to join the party,” she said. “You’ve been in that room too long. Time for a change of scenery.”

The other nurse, the quiet, serious one, looked at her shoes and said nothing.

Ro had already learned to tell time by the rhythms of hospital. Shortly after the sun slid into the lower corner of the first window, a flurry of footsteps, quiet chatter, and the thunk of metal charts against a Formica counter signaled the 7:00am shift change. About the time the sun hit the middle of the window, the rattle of trays and silverware foretold breakfast. The arrival of another helping of tasteless gruel made it 7:45, or pretty close to it.

The breakfast trays had come and gone already that morning, and Ro considered asking what time it was. From the opposite end of the hall she heard the squeaky wheels of the phlebotomy cart. Ahhh. Be about 9:15, I’m tinkin. What kind a party be happenin’ at 9:15 in da mornin’?

“Party? I didn’ hear any ting about a party,” she said, tipping her face up toward the nurse standing behind her head.

“Ehhhh. You just weren’t listening. We told you yesterday you’d be taking a trip today. This is it. All the way to the Big Circle.”

Cathie, the kind nurse, always talked like she was trying to be heard above a crowd. Her unruly hair usually looked like it needed to be combed, and sometimes Ro noticed food stuck in the corners of her mouth or between her teeth. Still, she was Ro’s absolute favorite. When she heard a loud, “Hey there, kiddo,” from the doorway, Ro knew the next 8 to 12 hours would be good ones. Or, at least, not entirely bad ones.

“An’ what am I ta be doin’ out at da Big Circle?” Ro asked.

“Finding your sea legs again,” Cathie answered. “Are you ready?”

The only possible answer was no. Ro was not ready to find her sea legs, not ready for anything but being left alone to think. The last thing she remembered before waking up in this place was Wade turning to smile at her, his booming laughter bouncing around inside the little red Accord.

“Don’ ya be worryin about dat,” he had said. “I’ll make sure der’s plenty a good grub at da party, if I have ta make it ma self.”

Wade was always laughing at Ro for the way she ate. She insisted on fresh vegetables, lots of fruit, and plenty of bottled water every day. No boxed or packaged food sat waiting in the cabinets of her apartment. Instead, she stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work each night, much the same way her mother and her grandmother before her had walked to the market each day, choosing just enough fruits and vegetables for the day.

Wade, on the other hand, lived on fast food. The faster, the better. When he felt like going all out, he microwaved a frozen dinner, but most of the time he cruised through whatever drive-thru was closest when he got hungry.

“Like I’d be eatin what you be cookin’.” Ro said. “Ya crazy, mon.”

“Yeah, girl, crazy. Crazy in love wit you.”

And that was it. No matter how she tried, Ro couldn’t find any pictures, any sounds, any ideas about what happened after that. Next thing she knew, she was hearing the voices of strangers talking about her. The people seemed to be in the same room with her, but their voices came from far, far away. She tried to open her eyes, but the lights were so bright they made her head hurt. She tried once or twice before the blackness floated up around her like a warm blanket, and she let herself drift back into its soft, sweet embrace.

In the end, a smell made her fight her way up and out into the light from the dark hole where she’d been hiding. The smell was definitely not a fragrance, but not really an odor, either. Something in between, something that made her long to see her mother. It drifted past her nose, beckoning to her senses like the hand formed in the smoke from a genie’s bottle in the old cartoons her nephews watched on Nickelodeon. It led her up, up, up toward the light, motioning to her from the corner of the room. A familiar sound filled the room, too. Somehow, Ro thought the smell and the sound belonged together, but she couldn’t think why.

When she finally opened her eyes, the only thing that made sense was the connection between the smell and the sound. A beautiful, dark-skinned woman was mopping the bathroom floor. The smell of disinfectant and the sound of the mop swooshing back and forth, back and forth, played tricks with Ro’s head, and she called out, “Ma. What ya’ doin’ here?”

Immediately, Ro chided herself. What’s da matter wit me. Ma be dead 5 years or more.Yeah? Between the mopping and the shapes and colors of the tiny braids covering the back of the woman’s head, Ro was confused. Her head hurt and she was beginning to ache all over. She was about to close her eyes and let the darkness erase all her questions when a man in a knee-length white coat walked up to the side of the bed.

“Welcome back,” he said.

It had been a bitter, cold welcome they offered. No one would tell her what had happened, other than to say her she’d been in an accident. When she asked for Wade, they shushed her like a child and gave her shots that sent her right back to the black places. It didn’t take long to stop asking. And now the nurses wanted to know if she was ready to “find her sea legs.”

Lawd mi Gawd. I don' tink so.

“Okay, here we go. You just lay still and let us do all the work,” the stern nurse said.

Ro heard counting and felt herself being picked up and swung to her left like she was a heavy board being heaved onto a porch rail. When she came to rest, she looked over her shoulder to figure out where she was. All she could see was a flat, bright green surface. Maybe some kind of table or something. But why. . . .

Cathie’s voice boomed out from somewhere near Ro’s feet. “You’ve been horizontal so long your heart has adjusted itself to the idea. We’ve got to get your circulation system up and pumping again before you can get to work on walking.”

Her voice and manner might be rough, but Cathie had the kindest eyes Ro had ever seen on a white woman, and Ro trusted those eyes. She watched Cathie’s hands pull big straps across the front of her hospital gown and snap them together like a seat belt. Next, Cathie pulled another set of straps across Ro’s legs and tightened them.

“You feel that, kiddo?” Don’t want to pinch you, but we can’t let you fall off your ride, either.” Cathie sounded just a little too cheerful, the kind of voice you’d use to coax a child to take a pill or stand still for a shot.

“Na. Can’ feel a ting,” Ro said.

“Believe me, that’s good,” was Cathie’s reply.

What could possibly be good about not feeling anything?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Onions Make Me Cry

Chopping onions makes me cry. So does reading your comments from yesterday, but in the good way. The REALLY good way. Thank you to each of each, especially Go Mama, who left her first note.

I've read blogs where people wonder if blog relationships are real. I've never doubted it, for some reason. And this morning, I can literally feel you (as Go Mama says) at my back, holding faith for me. My gratitude is just as real, just as tangible.

Writing the first scene from LOTO yesterday left me jubliant. I did my allotted 1700 words and more. Time slipped away while I sat in the red leather chair facing the pond. Marvin and the pin duck floated by, even came up on the bank below the windows for a bit. I sat there, lost in the memories I was describing and the feeling of writing in this way, the way I've longed to try for such a very, very long time.

Wasn't going to post yesterday's writing, but the comments changed my mind. You'll find it below. But first, a couple of pictures from Halloween. It was the best Halloween I've had since the kids were little and we danced through the neighborhood together, bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the mysteries of the night.

Layers of the Onion

No God damn reason for this. None at all. Panting and fuming, I ran down the Gold Concourse at the Minneapolis airport. We weren’t even having sex. I was watching him clean his closet, for God’s sake.

I was late, late for a very important date. Important to me, anyway: a weekend home with my folks. Time to rest and relax and have someone cook my meals and cater to my whims for a couple of days. Heaven on the half shell.

And now, instead of a little R&R, I was being treated to the interminable run to the very last gate—Of course it would be the very last gate—of the longest concourse in the airport. My trusty canvas and leather backpack from Eddie Bauer and my favorite black duffle bag seemed light when I threw them into the car, but they got heavier and more awkward with every step. Halfway down the concourse I switched the bags from one hand to the other, but all I got for my trouble was bruises on the other leg, too.

Travelers streamed past me, some clearly travel worn, some excited, some Minnesota-winter pale and others burned and peeling. All of them seemed to be moving slowly and taking up much more room than necessary or polite. I didn’t exactly run over anyone, but I did find myself muttering “Excuse me,” over and over.

When I decided to run home to Mom and Dad, I didn’t intend to run so literally.

Finally, finally, I cruised up to the gate the baggage agent had directed me to, and flopped my ticket on the counter. My backpack slipped off my shoulders and down my arms, landing at my feet with a thwack. Damn! Wonder what just broke in there?

When I finally glanced at the gate agent, it was clear the news was not good.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. We announced a gate change about 20 minutes ago. This flight is departing from the Gate 18A on the Green Concourse. In 7 minutes,” the man said.

“But the guy at the baggage counter told me to come here. Look, he even wrote it down,” I wailed.

“Again, I’m sorry. He made a mistake.” Firm, practiced politeness.

I grabbed my ticket, gathered my bags and took off running again, my leather heels clacking in concert with my bags banging against each other and my legs.

“I’ll get a cart to take you, Ma’am,” called the agent.

“Tell him I’ll met him somewhere along the concourse,” I yelled over my shoulder. No time to waste waiting.

When the cart approached me about 200 yards down the concourse, I jumped in front of it and yelled, “I’m your girl. Let’s go.” The driver pulled a Uie and I swung into the seat beside him while the cart was still moving.

“In a hurry, I take it,” he said.

“Yes, and it’s my own damn fault. Don’t run anyone down getting there, but let’s make time,” I replied.

“Hang on,” was all he said.

Hang on. That’s all I can do: Hang on til I can get to Mom and Dad’s. What the hell was I thinking this morning?

As usual, Spencer and I had waked up early and made slow, elegant love in the dawning light. The door to his little deck was cracked open despite the cold, and through it we could hear the wind ruffling the leaves of the giant oak trees in his back yard, dogs barking, and an early morning train rumbling by. Actually, those were the background noises we could have heard that morning or any other in Spencer’s neighborhood, and for all I know, he did hear them. All I heard was the beating of my heart and his, the slight rasp of his morning beard on my skin, and the endearing little ummmm, ummmm, ummmmm noises he made when we kissed or touched intimately.

After, we showered and I climbed back into his bed while he rustled up some breakfast. Toasted bagels and fresh fruit, sliced and artistically arranged on small plates, one for each of us. We balanced our plates and coffee mugs in our laps and read the Minneapolis Star Tribune, sharing favorite sections and occasional comments. Our ability to be quiet together, to be essentially alone even when we were in the same room, was one of the things I loved most about our relationship.

It didn’t hurt that our circadian rhythms were well matched, as were our politics, our spiritual views, and our love for our respective children. It also didn’t hurt that Spencer was 6’2” and gorgeous. A marathon runner at 49, his waist tapered to a shapely butt and his sturdy legs rippled with muscles, but it was his chest that got me every time. Broad, tan shoulders, sculpted biceps, and just the right amount of golden hair scattered across the center. Young girls may fall for naked chests these days, but give me a man with some hair, some texture to him. Give me this man, every time.

After we finished our breakfast and the newspaper, we started to get dressed for the drive to the airport. When Spencer reached into his closet for a shirt and a pair of jeans, clothes tumbled down from every which direction, onto his head and his feet. With the kind of snarl that was typical whenever “housekeeping stuff” was required, he sorted through the things that fell and began a half-hearted attempt at organization. I watched from my place in the center of the bed, fascinated by the way his muscles moved as he bent and stretched.

And that’s why I had to run through this damn airport. Cause I couldn’t make myself move when he was standing there naked, waiting to be adored.

I did adore him, and he knew it. Especially that morning when he glanced into the mirrored closet doors and caught me watching him. I’m not saying he exactly preened after that, but neither did he shy away from showing me his hard won physique. And right now, the only things that adoration was getting me were a stitch in my side, pains in my shoulders, and a headache that could set Chicago on fire.

The screech of the cart’s brakes told me that we’d arrived at the gate. I jumped out, thanked the driver, and dashed to the counter. Again, one look told me the news was not good.

“I’m supposed to be on Flight 2596 to Kansas City,” I said.

“We’ve been paging you since you checked in up front. You didn’t answer,” said a lovely young woman dressed in a Northwest uniform. As she talked, her jaunty little red-and-white scarf bobbled up and down.

“The guy at the baggage counter sent me to Gate 24A,” I explained.

“That’s why you didn’t answer the page. You were on the wrong concourse.” The young woman’s shoulders were squared and up near her earlobes. She seemed prepared for trouble. “I’m really sorry, but the flight couldn’t wait any longer. They just pushed off,”

“Of course they did,” I said, irritation plain in my voice.

I took a beat and repeated, “Of course they did.” But this time, I meant it sincerely. An entire plane full of people could not and should not have been delayed because I couldn’t get my sorry butt in gear. They had places to go, people to see. And they’d made the effort to be on time. There truly was no reason for me to hold them up.

“Thank you for trying. I’m sorry to have inconvenienced you all. Everyone’s been very kind.” A couple of deep breaths. Now that nothing more could be done, the tension drained out of me and I leaned against the counter.

“What do I do now?” I asked.

“We have another flight leaving for Kansas City at 2:30pm. Would you like a seat on that flight?” she asked.

“Is there one available? Holy Smokes, what’s that going to cost me?”

The agent smiled conspiratorially and said, “Yes, there is a seat. And you were so close, it doesn’t have to cost you a thing. If I just push the right buttons,” she punched the keyboard with a flourish, “it’s all under control.”

“Gosh, thank you. That’s so kind,” I stammered. “Wow. How nice.”

As the agent continued the process of getting me on the next plane to KC, I stepped away from the counter to call my folks. The airport was so far from their home in eastern Jackson County that they typically left for the airport just about the same time I got airborne. I’d have to hurry to catch them. I pulled out my AT&T calling card and grabbed a seat at a pay phone. By the time I got through punching all the required numbers and the phone started ringing, I was almost sure I’d missed them.

In this, at least, luck was on my side. After six or eight rings, my dad answered.

“Hey, Dad. I’m so glad I caught you.”

“ ...all... right? We the come at the...airport,” he said. It took a while for him to get through those two simple sentences, punctuated as they were, by the gasping breaths that accompanied any exertion on his part. Dad had had parts of both lungs removed decades earlier. Those surgeries in combination with his addiction to cigarettes and exposure to coal dust and chemicals had left him with serious respiratory problems.

“I’m fine. Just stupid this morning. I missed the plane.”

“Oh, honey. We were so looking forward to seeing you,” Dad said. Disappointment dripped from his voice.

“You will, Dad. You will,” I assured him. “I’ve got a seat on the next plane. I’ll in Kansas City by 3:40 or 4:00 this afternoon.”

“You’re sure...everything’s...okay?”


Satisfied that all was well, Dad said good-bye and went to fetch Mom from the car. They’d have a quiet day and be at the airport when I got there.

Returning to the counter, I found the smiling agent putting the finishing touches on my new tickets.

“Catch em, did you?” she asked.

“Yes, thanks. I got lucky.”

As I said the word lucky, it dawned on me that I had, indeed, gotten lucky in many ways that morning. There was the obvious way, with Spencer. Then there was the kind gate agent who had called me a cart, sparing me a heart attack mid-concourse. The lovely young woman handing me my ticket had taken pity on me and found a way around charging me for the flight change. I reached my folks, so no one was waiting on me or worried about me.

All in all, things simply weren’t that bad. I could buy a book and a bottle of water, and spend a little quiet time, even if it was in the middle of a crowded airport.

5 hours all to myself. 5 whole hours with no one yelling or demanding attention or pushing my buttons. Not bad. Not bad at all.