Wednesday, May 23, 2012

of dinner and unfinished things.

yesterday i found a mix cd a dear friend in memphis made for me a few years ago. it's bright pink and has no writing to identify it, and that's how i know it's the one from her. funny how a lack of something or other can be just as telling as the presence thereof. the cd was one of those for-no-good-reason happies we'd occasionally give each other. my happies usually involved some combination of sugar, flour, and butter. i am always making desserts.

yesterday i was rolling down route 98, easing below 45 mph just as i passed the cop car creeping at the crest of the hill. the speeding ticket is to police officers what advertising work is to freelance writers: it's the job you do most of the time so that some of the time you can do the fun stuff. or that's my take on it, to avert my thinking that cops are just on a power trip. years ago on an evening in morgantown, while i was walking kaiser down high street, a cop yelled at me bc kaiser got too curious around his car. i sighed indignantly and stood there a few seconds longer just to spite him. i am often indignant.

i hadn't listened to my friend's mix cd in a long time; i assumed it had suffered the fate of most of my cds upon ending up everywhere in my car besides a safe place: scratched, ruined. what am i doing with cds anyway. ipods have been hip for the point of no longer being hip, i suppose. my phone has an ipod, but i'm not interested in spending my valuable time loading it with songs. so i rely on whichever cds are still listenable, their numbers dwindling with the passing of time. i carelessly let my music fall away from me, almost as if i dare it to do so. and then i long for the songs that are gone. maybe i do it bc i know i can find them elsewhere if i really want. yesterday was a music windfall, though. i came across that bright pink cd and decided to give it another try. as luck or fate would have it, it actually worked. i am always giving things another try.

toward the end of route 98 — or the beginning, depending on which side of town you live — the instrumental opening to bobby bare jr's "flat chested girl from maynardville" came on. it's slow and makes you wanna sway and sing lalala along with it. and i always thought it was a harmonica there at the beginning, but after looking at the video on youtube it's an instrument i've never seen — a mini keyboard-looking thing with a tube that goes in your mouth. whatever you call that. anyhow, the song seems to be about a mental-case girl who gets high and hates the way she looks and thinks no one likes her. i love to sing along, although i can't sing very well, nor can i relate to crazy girl at all. i haven't gotten high for eons and never liked it much the few times i did; pregnancy body-weirdness aside, i've liked the way i look for at least the past decade; and i generally think i'm likable. there's another bobby bare jr song, about a different girl, and i can relate to her. it's called "painting her fingernails." i've listened to it 33 times give or take, but every time he sings "she could fix a cheese sandwich but someone might ask her to dinner" i feel like he knows something about me.

going to dinner is to me what going to the toy store is to a kid; it's my fun. some people think going to dinner alone is weird or sad; not me. i've been doing it for years. one of my first dinners alone was in pensacola, florida. summer of '94. i spent a few weeks there with a friend. we planned to spend the whole summer but i got sick and went home early. we drove down there, so i had to take a plane back. i have a picture of myself standing in the airport, my head tilted to the right and a smile underscoring my spotless complexion. i'm not sure how i straightened my hair in that humidity, but it was straight as the stripes on the shirt i was wearing, which showed a peek of my flattest-flat belly, although you can't see that in the picture. i bought that shirt on a shopping spree with my high-school graduation money. 

in recent years, going out to eat with others has become the staple of my social life. however, it isn't easy to come by. i am often wait-listed. because, as a single person, you are no one's priority. except your parents, that is, and only if you're lucky to have good parents, at that. so i'm always waiting for someone to be done with whoever else — boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife — before they can commit to being my dinner companion. it makes sense, of course, yet is no less frustrating...just as i typed that, i realize it applies not only to the wait-list thing but also to being single. i am always finding hidden meaning in things.

today's rain clouds took their bulk elsewhere, sometime between a text message and an un-ripe apricot. neither will be finished.

the end.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

big as the sky.

On an October afternoon in 1999, I visited a shabby back yard in the North View neighborhood of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Not 20 minutes later, I left with who would become my great love for over a decade: my Kaiser. I was 23 and had returned to college after five years of bouncing around Clarksburg and Myrtle Beach and Miami Beach. I lived alone in the brick apartments on Valley View Road in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I went to college. The building had a rectangular cutout in the center, where stairs started at the ground level and went up to the fourth floor. Kaiser was scared of those stairs, so I would carry him up and down to our place on the second floor until he was brave enough to do it by himself. I forget how long that took. In that apartment, Kaisie met his first great friend, Michael, the singer-songwriter who was the first boyfriend I'd had since high school. They were great friends for years, even after Michael and I broke up. He even volunteered to watch Kaisie while I went to New York City with my friend Carrie. I bet they listened to Sam Cooke and shared scones from the bakery where Michael worked while I was gone.

We moved all over Morgantown, my Kaisie and I. From Valley View Road we went to the triplex on Quay St., where we lived next to Will, a pot-smoking, alcoholic college guy with lingering dark circles and a pleasant Rottweiler named Eisha, and above a nameless (and I always thought homeless) rotund old man who dressed his teeny dogs in sweaters and begged for money on High Street with his equally rotund girlfriend, whose hair looked like a maniacal steel wool pad. My place was two story, with a big attic that had all the makings of my bedroom, but Kaisie and I slept on the futon in the living room instead. Sometimes Michael slept over. I have the sweetest picture of he and Kaisie snuggling, fast asleep on that futon. On a fall evening in 2000, a bat visited Kaisie and me. I was sure my burly, part-pit bull would take care of business, but instead he nearly bowled me over trying to beat me down the stairs and out the door. Not long after that, I discovered one million roaches in the kitchen and some type of creature living in our walls. We moved out abruptly. The landlord, who had a French-sounding name and a West Virginia-sounding accent, didn’t sympathize with my critter-and-bug story and kept my deposit.

The basement apartment on Willowdale Road was very well kept, owned by a realtor named Fran. On the day I went to sign the lease, at the office on Beechhurst Avenue, dad came up and Kaisie rode with us. As soon as I opened the car door, Kaisie ran like hell. I can still see dad, also running like hell, trying to catch that big brown blur racing alongside the busy traffic. He never came when called, my Kaisie.

A few months into living on Willowdale, in 2001, Kaisie's best pal Phaedra came into our lives. My boss at the coffee shop found her running loose and figured I couldn’t resist. She was right. We quickly became a family of three: the angsty college girl, the neurotic brown part-pit bull, and the spastic black-and-white baby pit bull. The first night Phaedra was with us, Kaisie got loose. I searched for him until two a.m. and cried myself to sleep without him. The next morning, he was lying at the front door with a look that said, "Hey mom, where's breakfast?"

I can't remember if it was before or after Phaedra, but at my Willowdale place a car got hit by Kaisie. He ran right into the side of it as it descended the hill in front of our house. For a few seconds I was terrified. Kaisie flipped over, and got up barking. And that was that. He never had a run-in with a car again.

At Willowdale, Kaisie met his first girl-friend, Erin. If I had a sister, Erin would be it. We haven't seen each other in years, but we go through everything together, from afar. How she loved Kaisie; she'd pinch his saggy lips and kiss his big, blocky head, and scrunch up her face and tell him, "Aunt Erin loves you, Kaisie." All these years we've been apart, at the end of every phone call she says, "Tell Kaisie his Aunt Erin loves him." It was on Willowdale that Kaisie met his next great friend, Nate, the tattoo artist/painter/cook who became my love, on and off for nearly a decade. I can still hear the funny voice Nate would use when he talked to Kaisie and picture how his full lips would sort of raise up and press hard against his teeth when he was especially animated about talking to him. Nate was often with us at my next place, a triplex on Brockway Avenue. A dump, according to dad when he came up to inspect. Brimming with character, according to me. The winter of 2002 was especially harsh, as was the love between Nate and me. Rough as the pads on Kaisie's paws. Nate’s love for Kaisie was always perfect, though. I have a picture of them in my bedroom on Brockway: Nate ready to leave for work at the Blue Moose, where we both worked, dressed in a tan down vest and scarf, a sweet smile on his face, and an arm full of that sweet brown dog. Nate moved to Portland that summer, and Kaisie, Phaedra, and I, packing my crisp college degree, moved in with my parents until we could make my way to Portland, too; we never did.

Four years later, I made my way to Memphis. That's where Kaisie met his next girl-friend. Ellen. Within two weeks of knowing me, Ellen was at my tiny guesthouse on Nelson Avenue, on my futon with all 67 pounds of my brown boy in her lap. I have a picture of them just like that, with her kissing his head. She would squeal his name when she walked in and would spend much of her visit rousing him to the point of incessant barking. He had a great time with Ellen, his giant, yellowed canines always punctuating his smile. She once grabbed him around his belly, heaved him upward, and held him sitting upright in her lap — she's the only person who ever managed that. I have a picture of it, too. It was Christmas, 2007.

It hasn't been an entire day since Kaiser has been gone. Cancer, the vet said. So much of it crowding his lungs that his heart wasn't visible on the x-ray. Lung cancer? I don’t smoke. Who cares about that stupid x-ray anyway. Nothing, not even cancer, could hide my Kaiser's heart. He had such soul and such a personality. It would take pages upon pages to tell the stories of Kaiser. Two of my favorite things about him were also the most maddening: When he didn't want to go somewhere I wanted him to go, he'd lie down on his side and go limp, and I'd have to beg and plead and yank on his collar to get him up again; and when he wanted on the bed at night, he'd sit at the edge, whining that pathetic half-hearted whine of his, and I'd invite him up, but he wouldn't jump up until I positioned myself on the bed to suit him, and if I moved too much after he jumped up, he'd jump back down and the whole thing would start again.

As all endings, this one had a beginning: Last week, he started coughing. Within a few days, he stopped barreling into the house like he did every evening with Joker, my newest, foster-became-forever pit bull, as if to say, "Please, young'n, I can keep up with you." Kaiser had been a spry fella all his days, even after he was neutered and people said he'd slow down. He had a big bark and used it often; I hadn't heard it much in the past week. I knew something was wrong.

After the vet left the room, I hugged my Kaiser and stroked his snout. I took him outside and let him walk around in the grass that was so bright it looked cartoonish. I hugged him some more. Took a few pictures of us with my phone. Then we went back inside, into a tiny room with a dog bed, a chair, a sink, a bottle of hand soap, and a box of tissues. I petted his chunky head and slipped his soft ears through my fingers. And when the vet came back, I kissed his snout and my lips continued to brush against it while I told him, "Mommy loves you, Kaisie."

Dad buried my Kaisie yesterday evening, on the hill below the back yard. Mom and I told him to wait until the next day so he could ask someone to help. He said no, he wasn't going to leave Kaisie that way. So he dug and sweated and dug some more. Mom went to the truck bed and patted the black bag that held my best friend in the world. I didn’t touch that awful bag. We had already said goodbye. Instead, I stood watching dad, rocking back and forth with my fat baby snuggled against me in his carrier. My son met Kaiser only once — the afternoon I brought him upstairs from the basement to go to the vet. My pumpkin looked up at my baby boy, with those soul-filled hazel eyes. "You see the baby, Kaisie?" He looked at me like he understood. My two great loves, they would've been the best of friends. What a year it has been.

I used to tell Kaisie, "I love you big as the sky." Last night, the sky opened up and shed hard, trembling tears on my Kaisie's grave.

I will miss you so, so very much, my pumpkin. My great big brown love.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

buckets of rain, buckets of honey.

today. i woke up tired, and it was raining. neither is uncommon. it's a saturday, which is not exceptional. the days tend to run together for me here in clarksburg. except for sundays, bc mom usually cooks a big meal after church and invites my 70-something uncle, who tells stories of his days as a hell-raiser. i especially like the recent one, where he told some unfortunate fella, "man, lemme tell ya somethin' — i'd like to set you on fire just to see how far you can go on a gallon 'o gas." his stories are often quotable. he calls my boy "snuffy smith," bc in these parts if you're not italian you're a snuffy. my boy is somewhat italian, bc i am, but he doesn't look it. not yet, at least. sundays never feel too empty or too full. the other six days, well, like i said, nothing much to differentiate them. it could be tuesday every day for all i know. it's been that way since the novelty of being home wore off, not long past my arrival on that mid-july evening last year, maybe in early september, i'd guess. i didn't have time to consider how living here again would feel bc i left memphis like leaves do trees in the fall: abruptly. during these nine or so months back at home, people have often said "make the best of it," and i've often told people that i'm "making the best of it." some days, i'd like to take the phrase "make the best of it" and shoot it full of holes. but instead, i keep on being me, a mismatched mashup of eeyoor and winnie the pooh.

this morning, as every morning, i collected my achy legs, threw them over the side of the bed, and filled my arms full of my ever-smiling fat baby, who makes me smile through sleepless eyes and drenched days. i peeked into dad's office so he could whistle at him, the way he does every morning. it's the same whistle i heard every morning as a child, when dad would wake me for school. he'd have on dress pants, a short-sleeved button-down shirt, and one of the many ties that hung on the inside of the hall closet door, and before i rolled out of my white-metal-framed daybed, he'd be on his way to teach english and world history to uninterested high school kids in taylor, one county to the right of harrison. those kids were more interested in writing love notes that dad would confiscate and then laugh as he read them to himself. or maybe i made that last part up. 

shortly after dad's whistle on this rainy saturday, mom appeared beside the changing table to sprinkle my fat baby's face with kisses and tell him he's a good boy even though he keeps mommy awake at night. then she told me that my other fat boy, kaiser, wouldn't get up this morning when dad went to the basement to let him out. he's my first baby boy, mine for nearly 13 years now. he hasn't felt well for a few days. and there's nothing i can do to help him. i've failed him, my sweet, unfailing companion. this move, it has been hard on him. there is more grey than brown on his snout and, for the first time in nearly 13 years, less energy in his lopsided gait. fatty tumors stick out, displacing patches of shallow fur on his belly. the vet said they're benign, but i hate them just the same; they are a sign of his waning years. 

my kaiser was already looking, waiting for me, as i descended the basement stairs. he got up when i called him. i knew he would. we walked together, slower than usual, to the door. after he peed, he lumbered back inside to his pile of blankets, and i sat next to him on the cement floor and rubbed his favorite spot, right in the front of his chest, next to one of the bigger tumors, and i whispered next to his silky ear, "hi, my pumpkin. you're the best boy in the world." 

the sun is starting to push its way out from behind the clouds. it's 3:38 and there's time for a better day. says winnie the pooh.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

for a change.

yesterday i came across a favorite singer/songwriter while flipping through youtube (of course you can't "flip" through youtube, but i like that word better than "browse"): justin townes earle, the spindly, high-water-pants-wearing son of another great songwriter, steve earle. it's possible i like the younger earle's songs better; however, i'm less a fan of his nerd-cum-hipster appearance, which seems too-carefully cultivated in contrast to his father's accidental cowboy-rambler look. i don't like men who carefully cultivate things...if i were writing on paper right now, i'd draw a line with an arrow to the previous sentence and write in the margin: there are exceptions to this, including men who cultivate a love for cooking me meals or bringing me surprises or picking me up (in their arms, not their car) or telling me the truth (i have (had, that is) a habit of stumbling upon those who were terribly allergic to truth-telling, it seems, and worse, the season for that allergy lasted all year long)

at the beginning of one youtube video — not sure which, other than it was from his album midnight at the movies bc i like that one a lot — earle, while mid-story about a girl he once loved, grinned and turned slightly away from the microphone, saying "i'm forgetting myself here"— and in that very instant, the slighter of two earles, in a slight way, reminded me of a man i used to know, bc he would say something just like "i'm forgetting myself here." he was also slight and wrote songs. he wrote me a song once; read it to me over the phone, actually. which did not make me swoon. when i tell my mom things like that — that while a man was reciting a love song, i was on the other end of the phone making a face like someone was reading me the phone book — she says things like "honey, i just don't know what in the world is wrong with you." she thinks i'm unromantic. i don't consider myself unromantic...but then, i'm not entirely sure what romance is. anyhow, love-song singer-guy and i went out for about a month. i'd known him for a year or two, from hanging out around town. nice guy; highly intelligent; witty. all qualities that sound good on paper. hmm. what is paper but mutilated trees. 

so. love-song guy insinuated himself into my life like freckles do my nose under the sun: one day something is there that wasn't there the day before. right from the start, he was exuberantly attentive. texting all day long, just to check in. i'm not a checking in kinda girl. when there's a guy around, i do like to know he's around, but, you know, after one hundred check ins, i start wishing i could reach through the phone and bend his texting thumb backwards until he cries. he did all sorts of thoughtful things...brought me ice cream and cookies (not as in showed up to my house with them, as in showed up to my house without them, then left to retrieve them upon my casually mentioning i wanted ice cream and cookies), drove extra-carefully when i was in the car, always told me the small things about me that he liked. a week or so into our fling, he texted me "i don't miss you one bit," naturally meaning the opposite. i had to put my foot down: look, love-song guy, i like you, but i'm not ready to say that kinda stuff. he took it well. so on we went. a few days later, upon realizing he'd rearranged his friday-night plans to better coincide with mine, i'd had enough. it went something like, "HEY.  why did you do that? you don't have to be everywhere i am." and his reply: "damn, woman. i'm just trying to be nice to you." oh. whoops. so on we went. i liked him. in the way you like someone likable. not in the way you like someone you can't wait to kiss again. and againagainagain. i was tormented by wanting to want him. i would call my mom and try to make sense of it, and she would say, "honey, you can't make yourself love someone." guy was nice; highly intelligent; witty. so on we went. until i ended it, then fretted over ending it. it was a strange month. 

if i were writing on paper, i'd draw an arrow and a stick-figure me, running back to the paragraph where i first mentioned love-song guy. and i'd write in the margin: looking back, it's nice to know what it's like to be someone's darling, even when the feeling isn't mutual. 

men and me. the games i played with myself were damaging to me; the games men played with me were damaging to me. double trouble. nowadays — while men are still fun to watch, in the way they walk and talk and smile and dress — they're more like background noise. nowadays, the only man i'm weak for weighs 16 pounds and still has no idea he's got me wrapped, no matter what, forever. and that's nice, for a change.