Tuesday, April 26, 2011

this way and that.

home. i haven't been there since the xmas before last. in the first few years i lived in memphis, i would go home to west virginia a few times a year. i didn't plan ahead, really. i'd decide maybe a few days in advance. sometimes i wouldn't tell my parents. i liked to surprise them. that giddy feeling would always hit me right when i saw the kovach memorials sign across from bassel street. kaiser and phaedra knew, too. they'd stick their heads out the window and start sniffing and bouncing all over the back seat. when i reached the gravel road at the bottom of my parents' hill, i'd try to drive slowly so the sound of the rocks spitting out from my tires wouldn't give me away. these trips were usually in the spring or summer. the front door would be open. and mom would come running from the kitchen, squealing, "there's my baby girl!" and dad would say "oh my gosh" and i knew i had made his day even though his voice didn't rise at all. his pitch only changes when he's laughing at himself for getting under mom's skin or when he's singing a silly made-up song. mom would squeeze me really hard and peck my face all over with kisses, and dad would make his way to the basement to make a place for the dogs to stay. it would happen that way every time.

when i got back to memphis, i would meet up with my good friend the next day. that was our routine, every time, in those first few years. we'd have dinner, usually at the deli or pizza cafe, or maybe she'd come over to my tiny guest house and we'd sit at my vintage kitchen table, smoking cigarettes and looking at her facebook, bc i didn't have one back then. before she got there i'd always tell the dogs she was coming. i thought it was cute how they'd learned to recognize her name. it would be early evening when she'd come down my sidewalk, which was lined with monkey grass all hacked up from the time i took the weedeater to it, and she'd be in old navy jeans and flip flops, with one shoulder weighed down by one of her giant purses...i always made fun of them, and she would in turn make fun of something about me...maybe the way i fuss over my hair or use safety pins to hold my clothes together...and my life at times, it seems. some friends have this way of looking at each other in caricature, seeing the parts of each other that stand out the most. that's how it was with she and i. still is, although i rarely see her anymore. she fell in love, in almost a literal sense. like she wasn't watching and fell right into a puddle of it. and i love the way she's still giddy about it, even after a year. she has since stopped smoking, but back in the days when she'd come over, i always liked to watch her cigarette hang from her lip while she used one hand to open the door and put the other against the frame to steady herself as she climbed over the baby gate. i had to put it in front of the door bc the dogs could've easily pushed through the screen. it was one of those flimsy wooden-frame screen doors that cost twenty bucks at home depot. it didn't come with the house but my landlords put it up just for me. best landlords ever. two guys, in their early forties. both pilots, a little on the preppy side, though not pejoratively so. they owned the house in front and rented it to pilots as a crashpad. i usually talked to the short one whose face was drawn in sharp angles, especially his chin. he was a smart ass who drank imported beer and had a mouth full of vulgarities...not around me, not but little bits of it here and there. and i like that in a person, so he was okay by me. i wouldn't call us friends, but if i'd see him on the front porch when i was pulling into the driveway, i might lean against the metal rail and shoot the shit for a minute. politics usually came up. he was very conservative, and although i'm not entirely un-conservative i'd still counter every point he made...at the behest of whatever quality i possess that causes me to do that sort of thing. give me a point to argue, and i will map out every possible route to every possible outcome. and he would argue right back, which was fine for fun. though it always got me thinking how i couldn't date a guy like that. or rather, why it has never worked out when i have. i like a challenge; i do not like to be challenged. the difference is subtle but significant. and then i'd think about how life was with him and his wife. i'd wonder if she humors him, the way my dad does my mom when she's going on about whatever's gotten her worked up, which is always something. i love that about my mom. pure passion, from the inside all the way out to that smoky auburn hair and those blue-hot eyes.

personalities are puzzle pieces—all shaped differently. sometimes you can shove the wrong ones together, although eventually all the other pieces displaced by that mismatching will pile up. but when the right people are in the right place, their idiosyncrasies—the things that stand out and stick out—are the very things that make them fit.

and just now, it came to mind that i've never put a puzzle together. but i know a thing or two about them. just from paying attention, i guess.

Monday, April 18, 2011


some mornings, too many, i look in the bathroom mirror as i rub the soap into a lather on my face and i wonder...who is she? who is this woman whose greatest joys are experienced mostly in her imagination. she is not me. no way. i have seen me, in photographs—smiling, laughing, making silly faces, in different cities, with friends old and new, running like a child chasing the kite tail of my dreams. where did that girl go? she has been hiding for nearly five years now, leaving me with this other woman.

this woman, she is so tangled in what could be that she loses count of the hours of the day and forgets to do all the things she should have done. this woman, she paints possibilities in her mind—in oils, so they'll never quite dry. she has never seen her garden... but knows it is small, humble, neatly arranged, overflowing with creeping tomato vines, spicy peppers, 2 or maybe 3 kinds of lettuce,and more basil and cilantro than she'll ever be able to use herself. she has never learned to can green tomatoes with the old calabrian recipe that calls for a huge crockery pot to sit full of garlic, spices, olive oil, and tomatoes sliced paper thin for two weeks before it's time to fill and seal the old mason jars...but she has already picked out the fabric for the squares she'll put on the lids so she can give them away as gifts like her father does. she has never entertained friends in the home she has created all on her own, the one with a swing on the front porch that is lush with flowering plants, rooms warmed by picture frames of loved ones placed on vintage end tables found at estate sales, paintings and sculptures made by her friends, candles clustered in the space where a fireplace once burned real logs...but she sees the dining room table filled with friends and ceramic serving dishes and she hears the chatter, which becomes more off-color as the wine bottles empty. she hasn't seen the ocean for 10 years or a lake for 3...but she pictures herself sitting on the sand or grass or on a dock, watching and listening as the waves say shhh as they lap against the shore. she hasn't had love in 9 years and only barely tasted it then... but she fancies a notion of love again, one that fits who she is and not who she should be, a love that is colored outside the lines the world has drawn. she has never traveled to new orleans, but she can feel the moss through her toes as she sits with her knees against her chest, under the canopy of a live oak; she can taste the sweet crust of a beignet around 10 in the morning before the drive back to memphis on a sweltering july sunday.


Monday, April 11, 2011

brevity, and a kiss.

it was a week or so ago when butterflies became an affirmation.

it must have been a wednesday or a thursday...they are my softest days, when my mind is free from the baited expectations of friday or saturday, the uncertainty of sunday, wariness of monday, bleariness of tuesday. i had been thinking about the way hope and despair come and go. here, then gone. the way butterflies do. the thought came to land on my shoulder that day, and before i could write about it, it had already fluttered away. the thought of a butterfly is a butterfly itself.

every april, i am bitten by the sun on its first blazing afternoon. this time it was a sunday. and today, tuesday, i feel the heat on my chest and look down to see it glaring right back at me, scorched and stinging. it's an angry color. but i know that in a few days it will give way to tan. in summer i am the color of cardboard—an unsavory description, i know. but i like it. and i think i need that initial burn, as if to say, remember, the burn of emotion is both momentous and momentary.

have you ever seen a butterfly land on the ground? i have never. they perch on narrow leaves or flimsy branches that hang from the furthest tips of trees or on the bare arms of someone—a girl, never a boy—sitting very still, maybe in a park on a blanket under the sun. they flit their wings in slow motion a time or two, briefly, and suddenly they gain momentum and are off again. they seem directionless, uncertain, sensitive. me too, sometimes.

it was thursday, a few weeks ago. one of those nights when a beer or two are enough to slow my swirling thoughts, enough so sleep comes easily. the tv was still on and the time said 3:36 when i awoke to my dogs barking, as they sometimes do in the middle of the night. and joker, who almost never barks at all, was barking the loudest. the three of them ran back and forth from my bed to my office, then back to the window beside my bed, sniffing at the windowsill so loudly and persistently that i remember thinking it was odd. when their paws and snouts eventually pushed aside the mini blind, the nothing that is usually out there was replaced by a man. standing there, looking in at me. and all the things i should have done in that moment, i didn't do. and the way my dogs have always made me feel safe disappeared in an instant.

he stood for forever. or minutes. sometimes the two are one in the same. i waited in the doorway, watching his shadow against the blinds, moving to the left, then disappearing. the police came and went, unconcerned. a man at a window is nothing new. and i keep telling myself that maybe i should think of it that way...except to do so would be to tame my thoughts, which i have always allowed to run free. it's better that way.

you are strong. you've done so many things, all by yourself. don't let this break you. that's what mom said the first night i spent alone after it happened, when i woke up in a panic at 3:30 am. but i'm tired of being strong. i said it aloud, and she let me say it, and neither of us believed it, because it isn't true at all. except in the moment, emotion is momentous. then the moment is gone. like butterflies.

in the past few weeks i have slept well, away from worry and windows. waiting for it to feel right to be back in my own bed, alone. in the midst of all my travels to and from couches and unfamiliar beds, on one of those nights i kissed a friend. i didn't intend it. all i really wanted was sleep, though the possibility of kisses floated around all night among winks and crooked smiles and body language. just for fun, i thought. but when the night had stretched so long that my eyes were struggling to stay open, he suddenly reached over. oh. well, why not. i have known many kisses born of proximity and not passion. they are stillborn. dead before they begin. dead kisses are never to be mourned. the only ones worth mourning are the kisses you're afraid you may never have again. the kind that begin in your belly and rise up to flutter from your lips. the kind that come and go. the way butterflies do. and the only thing you know for sure is the uncertainty with which you believe that maybe, possibly, one day, one of those kisses will be like the monarch butterfly, the fourth generation of which survives longer than all the rest.

Friday, April 1, 2011

what point?

i should be making a collage right now. or painting. or molding wet clay into a curvy, bulbous vase. or playing an instrument. or love-making. instead, i am drinking the last of my coffee, which went cold 30 minutes ago. i am hugging joker, who taps me on the shoulder with his right paw at least ten times a day, begging for the affection someone else never gave him. i lavish him with attention, every day, even at the expense of my other dogs. they don't seem to mind. though when his youthful exuberance infringes on the order of things, they are quick to put him in his place. order is restored quickly in the lives of dogs.

i have two male dogs, and both of them have it in the eyes. joker's are the eyes of a little boy. kaiser's are all soul; he is 11, but he's had those eyes from the very beginning. he has had a way about him from the very beginning...slightly forlorn, sweet, gentle. he wasn't supposed to be my dog; i had picked out the black puppy that was rolling around, jumping on the other pups, doing whatever he could to get the most attention. then i noticed the brown puppy by himself, lying near the imperfect circle outside the doghouse where too much paw traffic and pee had killed the grass. mamma dog was also brown but a lighter shade that would match my morning coffee. she was a pitbull, and so was the white male dog on the other side of the yard; but as kaiser grew, his longer fur and wide ears that did not hang in that telltale pitbull way made it clear that another suitor had been sweet on morning-coffee mamma dog. he was only 5 weeks old, but they let me take him home anyway.

i was 23 when kaiser came to be mine. i lived alone in a brick apartment complex on valley view road in morgantown, behind the football stadium. my apartment was a two-bedroom, but one of the bedrooms was locked so i could get the one-bedroom rate. i picked the lock very early on, and that bedroom is where kaiser would make huge messes for me to clean when i left him alone. the boy who lived upstairs from me also had a pitbull. sometimes she'd run into my apartment when i had the door open, and she and kaiser would play like little kids who'd had too much sugar. neighbor boy was very disappointed in his dog's small size, and i often resented the way he resented her. i forget neighbor boy's name but i remember his outline; he had a big head, which was always topped with a backwards ball cap, and from there down everything about his body got progressively more narrow. like an exclamation point. except there was nothing exclamatory about him. he was okay looking, but every time he walked up, all i could see was a wall of forehead coming at me. and in all that space he had up there, not an interesting thought resided.

it was fall, 1999. one night i had gone out by myself downtown, to bent willey's, which was populated mostly by drunk, horny, khaki-n-ballcap wearing frat boys, and girls who looked like they had been spit out by a conveyor belt. bent willey's had two floors; the bottom had two rooms, one with a bar and one with a pool table. the top floor had three rooms; one with a bar and tables, one with a pool table, and one with a dj. i ran into neighbor boy in the upstairs bar, next to the pool table. i can still picture his shit-eating grin and how i knew that he was about to worsen my already unpalatable opinion of him. i think we said hello and made two seconds of small talk before he grabbed my ass. i told him if he ever touched me again i'd break his fingers. that's exactly what i said. i remember bc afterward i thought it was funny that i'd said that.

although this was 11 years ago, i know for certain i had never given neighbor boy an invitation, direct or implied, to get friendly. i guess he was emboldened both by budweiser and the presence of his fellow frat buddies. not to say i was above frat boys; in fact, at that time i had one in particular i'd fool around with whenever we ran into each other. it would usually begin at the dance club across the street from bent willey's, where the line to get in would always wrap around the corner of the building. i'd go by myself, or occasionally with a group of classmates from high school. they knew the owner, and maybe he let us skip the line a few times, i can't remember exactly, but once we got inside i'd usually wander around on my own and leave my friends to their psychotropics. frat boy and i never slept together; we just made out a lot. i wasn't really attracted to him as much as the idea of stealing his attention from the sorority girl who was also always at the club. i think she was his ex and wanted to reconcile. he never said for sure, and i didn't ask. the dirtier looks she gave me, the more it fueled my fire. burn, baby, burn. one time he took me back to his frat house; a huge brick building whose insides were as cold and empty as the drunken sex happening in any given room on any given night of the week. it was the phi psi house, i think. at the top of a very steep hill called fraternity row. when we got to his room, there was a small bed with no headboard against the left wall, rows of protein powder on a shelf by the window, and a picture of him with a little boy in a frame. he told me it was his son and asked if that bothered me. i found it odd that he'd ask if anything bothered me...being considerate isn't high priority for 21-year-old men who live in a house that reeks of alcohol, sex, and vomit. i said no, the kid didn't bother me. in fact, i found him instantly sweeter. of course i did. because men with kids or puppies are more responsible...looking. in this case not even the cute kid was enough. the guy wore chains and tight tshirts. and he danced. no way would he ever end up in my picture frame.

joker is back at my side, pawing. and i've forgotten why i started writing today anyway...something along the lines of all the things i could be doing...but i'm always doing something else instead.