Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scattered. Much of my life is made up of stuff I would never put on a list of things to do to buy to ask Santa to bring me.

Like when I finally lose my temper with the dogs. I am not angry with them, but I wake with these lingering frustrations like trying to walk uphill in hot sand. Again I stand there poorly equipped with a spoon for a paddle and barefoot under the sun.

I know my temper is bad when Hershey trips me and I am so upset with her that I am in tears. If fury doesn't spill where it should it just waits. It waited for me to hand out dog treats today and stupidly I left one dangling and delicious looking in front of Lily who has learned to take it from my fingers. Usually I am looking. Today, nope. I guess I momentarily left the planet and there was my body unattended, treats in hand, and surrounded by drooling dogs.

She got my fingers. I zipped back from Nowhereville where my mind had been adrift on empty thoughts, focused on Lily and screamed at her.

There is no more terrible feeling than to watch my uncomprehending dog cringe and hang her head when I did something different, stupid and wrong. Not her.

Jogging today I wondered about towels that Ed had received during a surprise party. They were black with orange and white stitching. A Harley logo sat centered in the fabric and I wonder where his towels went. My friend Jim told me that Ed had lingered horribly. Why didn't I go to see him?

Jerry watches TV and the broadcast is a countdown of courtroom outbursts. People spit on one another riot throw slaps that swipe very business-like lipstick across an angry face someone throws a chair a punch a shoe another punch they throw their own bodies across tables trying to tackle to grab scratch rip and injure.

How does it happen?

Everyone has a breaking point, Jerry answers.

I wonder if they feel sanity slipping as the point approaches when rage blots out everything else. Is it like the tide coming in or a rip in the heavens as all the water in the world pelts down? Crappy people. Even ornery dogs know when to leave one another alone. People just close in and taunt and corner one another. They do harm. On purpose. Because people are shitheads.

I sit with Lily at my feet and remember Jerry saying hours earlier: she needs a bath. Give her a bath!

Now I can smell her, too, but it's not icky to me. It's Lily.

Some days I am trapped in my head. I have had with me at times proper pills to remove the gauze and clear the webs so I can walk without crashing into the dusty old crap jammed in my memory -- still hot to the touch. They have been sitting here in the same place for years. I look down and see that the carpet is worn through and the path evident. How many times does my mind drag me back here to when I told mom I hated her to when I dropped a toad in a hole too deep for it to jump out and tried desperately to dig it back up. A garden shovel is useless in a little girl's hands. I see myself steeling a fake flexible ring from a department store counter.

I told on my brother once. I just told mom that he did something and there he was, a little boy playing in the yard happily and oblivious that his mother was angry and stepping across the yard to get him. I watched over her shoulder as she yelled at him and made him sit in the scary corner under the phone near the basement stairs.

Mommy, I didn't, he sobbed. Finally as I watched I did not feel the fun of misbehaving. I felt terrible for my brother. What if mom suddenly yanked me away from a decent day and punished me?

I think everyday when I wake up my uneasy mind stretches a few times, then leaps back in from the sleepy corner where I had tossed it with yesterday's clothes, taking over my day like a punishment. Ha ha ha, all day long, and back we go to tread the same worn carpets through the maze of lousy memories I can't seem to pack up and cart away.

I could really set up a nice blaze and clean this junk out. But, then what?

For now I take Lily down the road and back and point my energy in a positive direction. Just a bad day today. Try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On the motorcycle my thoughts come in shapes that don't fit together. I see Lily in the woods as dark as the pooled shadows hiding from sunlight. Her ears form two points that give her away.

I remember my puppy dream of warm, slick life pressed between my hands, the newborn bodies struggling for air.

Work drifts through as more of a mood. I glimpse the quiet desk where I duck away from noise and conversation and a stitch of calm threads itself.

A stranger opening my front door and staring at the snorting huffing sounds of dogs crowding behind the basement door. Their claws and feet shuffling and scraping; tails thumping against wooden stairs and dingy sheetrock.

What would the dogs do if they slipped through the door in their order -- Ozzie Hershey Lily Bandit -- and the stranger looked wrong smelled wrong and behaved wrong? They would first shuffle around to be first in line for attention, and from there the rivalry and growling would start.

Tonight Jerry said, we can't ask someone to go babysit.


He said, we can't leave them alone for over a day and just ask someone to feed them.


What would we do, I wondered.

Lily is spoiled and runs when I run. The hiking team dashes around in the forest once or twice a day. Good.

From the motorcycle I watch the silhouetted tree tops race across the stars. The moon skips like a stone from one clear pocket of sky to the next.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Today I sought little retreats, looking for pockets of space where bursts of sound grew blunt from whipping around corners to reach me.

The weeks of humidity finally released their sweaty grip and fell wilted to the ground like wet clay, letting go of our soggy hides. I stepped outside with Lily and she was ready to lope down the road without heat swaying heavily on her back.

We returned for the rest of my hiking group: HersheyBanditOzzie. Go find Lily!

In the woods stepping across worn soil and crushed leaves I see our path. I pick out stones reaching up from the ground and land on them seconds before momentum carries me to the next rocky spot in sight.

The dogs are good and stay close, often turning back and looking at me. Running, I snag spider webs branches leaves a bug buzzing against my cheek eyelid ear. I keep moving and hit the hill. Ozzie will often find a gentler slope to the top, but I scramble each time. If I can reach the outcropping of mossy stone in time I'll watch Bandit slide like a tan shadow through a forest tinted with browned leaves and exposed earth. He is heading for the same tiny plateau of low growing wild blueberries that grab like baby's finger at my hiking boots and laces -- nothing demanding, just curious.

In a dream I see puppies born, slick and free -- waiting to suck in air. Fingers pluck at strands of mucus. I look for the little thing's nose. I hear it puff and inhale. It is black and white with a blue umbilical cord that appears as an electrical wire. Reaching to cut it I hear, don't!

It was only a dream and I don't know how the puppies are or who yelled, don't.

I never know if dreams are befores or afters. Is a thing on our mind so much that we dream out the anxiety before something happens, or is it lingering feelings for things unresolved and hanging in pictures above our heads. Are dreams the smoke in our clothes after the campfire has faded, or the last turn that remains to our destination? Anyone who says dreams do not mean anything does not give his mind enough credit, or does not pay attention to the neglected thing in his head screaming while the television casts watery metallic light into an unblinking stare.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bar wisdom grows bold after midnight.

He said, everybody cheats. Everybody.

Why would he think that? Ordinary thoughts during a sober moment are nothing more alluring than scrap paper. To a man with whiskey lipstick or rouged by bourbon, such thoughts begin to sparkle. A simple scrap of folded paper carrying a forgotten shopping list shimmers with secrets…

Back to the cheater. I see he really likes himself, and he wants me to like him too. A wily smile pulls his lips and he rolls up a sleeve. Look at these tattoos, he said. They've been in magazines! See my nose? It's been broken a dozen times. I played hockey. I played professional hockey.

Ah, I say.

Come here, feel my nose!

Seriously? I ask him.

Yes. Come here. Come sit by me.

I am working!

With a damp rag and spray bottle, I swipe along the bar erasing sticky rings left by emptied shot glasses or from vodka and tonic sloshing over the rim. Crunching underfoot are peanut shells shells shells broken cigarettes bottle caps receipts, and whatever else falls from pockets as the clientele collectively leans back to relax at the bar and forget about grocery shopping car repairs household chores, and push from mind the 9 - 5 workload. Booze soothed is the notion to just let it all fall to the cold slate floor. I sweep it all away after closing time. All gone.

At home I tell Lily the funny silly things.

She is wrapped up in a little doggy bundle under the computer desk with her nose under her tail. Lily, they're funny.

Cheater was throwing it all at me, Lily.

Look at my hands, he said. They're big hands, they work hard.

Standing quietly with the rag and bottle gripped in front of me, I keep quiet.


I look.

Seeing my silver jewelry, he reaches for the rings and bracelets. With my silver knots and delicate twists between his fingers, he remembers himself again.

I have jewelry, too. I really look good in it. All dressed up. He is holding my hands and wrists pretending to look at the jewelry. Maybe he thinks I am a sucker for this and I'll crawl into his lap.

If I were Lily, I would crawl into his lap.

Why do you think everybody cheats, I ask.

Don't they?


C'mon, your guy is in Maine, he said.

I choose silence. I decide he is sobering up some. We'll leave soon.

If Lily were here, I would ask her to translate the tones of voice and body language. I know her answer. He is saying, come home with me, come home with me!

Nope, and I did not bother to waste an answer on drunken and self-impressed ears.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Life is lived one breath at a time and second by second. We open our eyes; we close them.

Life is warmth sound touch…

In the woods the dogs pant. Lily sits down and draws her ears back into tall points. Her tongue rolls out like soft bubblegum melting. Ozzie grows fatter with every breath, and Hershey guards her tennis ball, growling and running and coming to me where I sit beside Lily on a rock. Bandit is just a hint of movement through the trees, or even less than movement. He is the shade of tan passing across shadows or interrupting the dark tree trunks.

His clown’s grin appears with wide black lips stretched along white teeth with a flopping pink tongue.

Back home and on the cool tiles, they pant.

I dig holes in the yard and stuff them with manure and peat moss while thunder rumbles like a massive engine descending, as wide as the town. Shadows come and I see the storm cut through: dark clouds push like lava to swallow the dainty white tufts of cumulous bursts against a cyan sky. Rain starts and I think of a car approaching with a blown radiator hissing steam, but the sound comes from millions of drops colliding with leaves. More thunder, but the rain and building wind abruptly shut down and the darkness recedes. I hear thunder far away, as if the storm sent out a tendril overhead, then changed its mind.

Mom visits and the dogs do their circling, swarming repositioning for treats, shouldering for the best spot as mom hands out biscuits. Hershey Bitchy Face keeps growling.

Oh! Mom says.

That’s OK, they’re just telling each other they’re annoyed. It means, get away from me, this is my treat my house my person mine mine mine.

I rip out old, leggy, invasive plants, clear the bed and dig in new hydrangeas, a cone flower cluster, and add Joe pye weed for the butterflies.

Tomorrow I will see my friend and do my best to console the inconsolable. With my arms I’ll try to wrap him away momentarily from misery. Life is warmth and touch…

Everyone else will hug him, kiss him, and he will be shuffled along maybe not remembering each of us, the time, the day, if he had breakfast, and wondering how anything really matters.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I see the illuminated white steeple stabbing the night, lifting darkness on its point like a canopy. Yanking my gaze away from the window I glance a last time at the meeting house's spire drenched in spotlights.

Back to work.

I thought about bringing Lily with me to the office where I sit after 9 pm in darkness except for the little lamp over the computer keys. It's peaceful.

Lily stayed home and I think about where she would have chosen to curl up and snort out choppy breaths as she slept.

Visiting a friend the other day, he said, I saw Charlie, he works at ??? now and he said he gave you a dog.


I just don't think he had known what to do for her, I told my friend. Lily was not in good shape when I went to pick her up.

Getting home and carrying a bag of dog treats up to the house, I stop to look at the night. Eyes running up a tree trunk to the branches obscuring clouds, I search for a clear patch of sky salted with stars. Clouds smudge out constellations in place forever, conjuring thoughts of hunters or bears or animals creeping across the night, tracing the same tracks without diminishing.

Rather than make sense of the stars, I wonder about the upturned faces of strangers years and years before, seeking to understand the sky's meaning. From within themselves come superstitions religions beliefs worries spells and omens, creating warriors eternally pinning up the night and made of nothing more than starlight and darkness.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Home alone for a week I tromp past corners softened with tufts of dog hair. Lily's black and tan strands mix with the other dogs' chocolate and creamy clumps hiding under chairs and squeezed into crevices.

As if a breeze erased patterns in fine sand left by the usual morning sounds: kitchen faucet filing a coffee pot the shower a bedroom closet light switch and fumbling through heavy heeled work boots, I heard nothing this morning. The household's regular rhythms are gone. Blank and waiting are new habits and morning routines I'll etch for myself while Jerry and Erica are in Maine.

I can't remember what it's like to live alone. With company all the time my nerves just leave the field and sit injured on the sidelines. With the busy activity of other people's lives all jostling for space and time and attention in less than 700 square feet I lose touch with my own thoughts. Right then, my nerves jump in and protest.

Morning: I sit up in bed, kick my feet around until they connect with sandals I dropped there last night, tug the blankets into place and reach for the bedroom's glass doorknob. I know the brassy click I'll hear as its pieces turn in my grasp. I know the sticky sound of one piece of swollen and varnished wood letting go of another as I yank open the door.

Everything is as smooth as an ironed linen table cloth. The whole day has no pattern until I set foot into the living room, each step stitching my own tattoo that the dogs will eventually recognize.

Today, however, they follow me through the house wondering what to expect. No TV. Fewer lights. No talking. No phones. I straighten up the living room and clean up the coffee table. With the clutter gone I pick up the last pen and lay it perfectly parallel alongside a writing pad. At the same time I feel little things inside my head finding a symmetry.

In the woods today the leaves soil stones sticks shadows slopes tree trunks and limbs both thick and thin grew suddenly vivid and swelled with an aroma freed by rain and shocked loose by thunder. Soil sweetened warm air and moisture as the forest simmered, its living scent quickly beaded on my skin.

Three panting dogs and I ran through it like laughter.

Tonight the evening added darkness to the sky just a grain at a time; daylight lingered like thinning smoke.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How is it that we may wish to change, yet set the alarm for the same time each day reach for the same door handle stand in the same line and order the same coffee and say the same things to the same people like hello good morning how are you and think of them in the same way each day -- she should fix her teeth I wonder what she really thinks of me where does he get his shoes why doesn't he smile more I really don't like her.

Really, I don't. She was bitchy one day and I guess the nice things I had been telling myself about her to cover for that bitchy personality just didn't have the grit to hold on any longer. There were a few gaps in my reality like cigarette burns in upholstery. That's where my little misguided good intentions had caught fire on the spot.

Lily and I need some sleep.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Slick oily and tilted, the floor in my dream was spread out like a slanted ocean. Its surface ran away from my eyes until the darkness blended with emptiness above me. I was not warm or cold or screaming or wet. I was sliding.

A hole in the distance sat in my path. Scrambling and panicking and scrambling I glided along on fingers and knees and elbows that will never stop me.

That's my dream. Another dream is lit well enough for me to see the attic floor, also tilted, and aiming me toward a railing. I slide. I am a child. A little girl. I will slip between the rails and drop down steep stair that I climbed a minute ago.

I remember a denim outfit I wore when I was a kid. Dark blue with a farmer's bib front and ruffled suspenders. That is what I wore one Sunday morning as I fed ducks and despite Dad's warning I fell in.

I am petting Lily and my mind slipped out one of the cracks like smoke and drifted. The thoughts felt well-worn but forgotten. My mind is a closet filled with old shoes -- some are side by side and ready to wear while others are upside down or mismatched. I don't know who, other than neglect, has been in here creating disarray. Something that lives in the back of my mind rummages through here infrequently to relocate a favorite leather shoe that I wore to a first day of school, stuffing it beneath black leather sandals that I wore once and hated.

Closets. People hide precious things in closets as if its the unofficial trove of memories and secrets and things that might be dangerous or damning in the wrong hands. Hiding in closets everywhere are guns and birthday candles photo albums shoes that fit along with pants that fit, while deep in the back are the bad clothes that we keep in case we're fat skinny lazy or strange again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What happens to your life if you suddenly and without planning rip away your attention like a dirty bandage? Sucked away are the nourishing bits of affection and an average day's gentle words. Hopeful ears and dewy cheeks are waiting.

Months have passed while all my focus has landed splat on Lily.

Today words hide like prey from my frustration. It's hunting for something to chew apart like a chainsaw.

Outside as I push a mower between spurts of green, I see purple pink yellow white cream blue blooms spicing the air.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

10:30 pm.

Hey, I was doing pretty good today, right? I look at Jerry and wait. Yeah, he said.

The good had lasted until his mom asked about our vacation.

Well, what are you going to do with all the dogs, she had asked.

Rather than admit I was staying home for vacation I ran off the porch this afternoon and went for the car. Feeling badly about that, I went back to explain. I am not going camping for a ton of reasons including the expense of finding a kennel for four.

Later at home I say, Jerry, I think I am in that mood where I just can't handle being around anyone.

Something happens to upset the calm and I flip.

He answers, Tomorrow you are going to a bar full of people, what do you mean?

I tell him it's the emotional weights dragging at my moods. Strangers or acquaintances are easy, I say. And the bar? That's like walking into a closet full of clothes. No relationships or direct connections there.

Interesting, he said.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Excerpts from an e-mail I sent to answer a friend's questions: I love being a bartender. I would own every bar in sight if I could. I mean, I really love it.

I have become something of a dog freak.

We got a chocolate lab and I felt bad leaving her alone. We went and adopted Bandit so they were companions. I later adopted a friend's pug. I now have a snorting little eight-year-old beast running around and occasionally peeing somewhere in secret, but he is funny.

Actually, he often runs far across a field behind my house, sniffs, does a couple circles, and leaves something there for the future archaeologists to sift through.

I adopted Lily after she ran up to me on the street one day. She darted out of the woods and jumped on me and then rolled on her back so I could pet her. It was all at once like she was desperate for something. She was covered in ticks the size of jelly beans. She was half the weight she should have been -- all ribs.

He wrote that his ex had threatened to put his dog to sleep. Oh, the places I would like to jab that needle…

I wrote: She threatened to put him to sleep? Holy crap. That's awful. Keep the dog. Dogs are better than people.

My friend apologized for things that only he imagined were offenses. No way. He was always a good guy and I never saw anything wrong, so I wrote back: Stop being sorry! That's my syndrome and I have it locked. If you go around apologizing all the time you're gonna have to pay me. Thanks!

Oh yeah, I live in Newtown near the Stevenson Dam, which is actually Monroe/Oxford. So I guess I live in Newroeford. A tattoo place opened up within walking distance. Hmmmm.

There! I have friends. I do not call my friends or gab away or make lunch dates or visit them at house parties meet for coffee send cards or anything at all, but if I liked you once and nothing happened to change that, then nothing has changed. You were my friend, which means you are my friend.

Do I need friends? No. Do I need to talk to and lean on and seek advice from my friends? Yes. Can I put this scenario on the tracks and get it moving? Nope. Stubborn? Like cement. Stupid? Cement. Any chance I'll change my mind?

I may need friends, but not for chatting and gabbing.

To me words are much more persistent. They are part of every memory. Where was I? Who was with me? What did we do? What did we say?

Words are as much a part of the scene as the people gathered at the table for Christmas when I popped up from behind my grandmother's recliner -- my bangs clenched in my fist after I cut them free with her sewing scissors. I thought no one would notice. I was much too young to realize the significance, color, and deeper meaning my family's words would give this memory. Now, I see faces, the doorway and step up from the living room to the dining room table. I wish I knew what they said.

Now, I pay attention to little conversations like they are instructions -- to remember to value to understand to convey to keep. Sometimes I don't quite hear or understand something Jerry says. I ask him what he just said and he will say, hey, could you hold the steering wheel? I am going to jump out now.

I guess he has spent too many years sitting next to Miss WhatDidYaSay?

He stood ankle-deep in the lake water at Eichler's Cove last night, the third or fourth day of insane heat. Jerry watched as I my head poked through the water's surface and I swished my arms to stay afloat. I watched as the water rippled and my thoughts skipped over the crests.

Laughing at myself, I asked Jerry, do you think I had, like, a nervous breakdown? Peeking around the doorway, I saw him pull the neck of his shirt over his head and sit on the couch hiding.

Jerry! Really!

Kendra, I think you've had … 30 since I met you, he said.

How many?

Well, I had to pick a number, he said.


I think of Ed again. How many times had I gone to the VA with him? Why didn't I make just one more trip?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This afternoon the dogs stayed home away from the heat and I ran alone. One hundred degrees today.

When I peeked in the window I saw HersheyBanditOzzyLily draped around the basement like melted heaps of fur.

They heard me at the fence and at once the four bodies rushed toward the doggy door. There was some arguing about who would go first and I saw Ozzy's glassy little eyes disappear from among the taller dogs' legs as he retreated before they trampled him. He is a practical little guy who will wait his turn.

I think of Ed all day. Between sentences as I write a story I see him at a swap meet in Keane New Hampshire. I see him removing a cover from his motorcycle to poke a screw driver inside I hear him say nice things mean things funny things. I see him as he pulls out scissors and asks that I cut his hair make his coffee find his shoes.

Ed liked vans and I remember the day we went to pick up his Econoline from the seller in Watertown. I watched him pull on layers of clothes before work in the cold, snowy winter. He loved the blue recliner in my Shelton apartment and pitched it sideways near a window where he could see the TV.

Joni Mitchell sang from the player in my kitchen with its high ceilings and pink painted trim. He told me, I like your music. But later he would spew insults and call people peace creeps.

Late one afternoon he fell off a ladder.

Don't hurt me, I am just an old man, he whined, pretending to be helpless when he came home with a leg brace.

He raved about this beautiful long dress jacket he wanted to wear one New Year's Eve. I peered around the front door expecting to see something spectacular. God, that coat was awful. It was not alone. It's like he had a color blind sense of fashion. He had grey cowboy boots that hurt his feet before he got out the door and black slacks with wide, white stitching.

I remember a meteor shower that forecasters said would shred the darkness with trails of pink and white after 5 am. I got up with him and we walked to an open field downtown, turned our runny freezing noses toward the sky, and waited. I don't remember if I ever saw a shooting star with Ed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ed, you're my 102nd post ...

The world has one more spirit in it. Ed Welch is gone. Goodbye Ed.

Lily sits at my feet and I watch her paws twitch and I remember him. His face and hair and funny lisp and stories about Kansas and motorcycles and bikers in bars sloshing beer and Jack Daniels into fists with grime under the nails. Tattoos. His stories from Vietnam rush back.

I hear him. At least once a week I hear him say something and from my memory comes his voice while I drive or work or take notes or get ready for a photo. I hear him.

I remember things he said. Odd that I remember how we stood in my old apartment one Saturday morning in Shelton and he fidgeted.

What happened? I had asked him where he was or what was wrong. I had not seen him in a few days.

You gotta understand, he said, it's the PTSD.

He didn't really do well with the world around him. He was critical and scathing. He grumbled and criticized and would berate those closest to him, and he would do it with volume. He pushed, shoved, drank and yelled, but years later he also apologized. He suffered his own losses and frustrations and some of us stood by him because we knew he hurt, and we loved him.

He took care of people, even if he complained out loud and often. He would be at his aunt's house at 4:30 every day despite weather fatigue or work. She needed him.

I remember he told me about post traumatic stress. I wondered, does that make you weird? Does it make you unable to call me on the phone? Does it make you and me a bad idea? But I wasn't going to walk away just because I couldn't find him for a few days.

He was also funny and endearing, and at times insightful. He had been most places before I was born, including Vietnam.

He laughed a lot, so I figured he knew how to suffer too.

War robbed many things from him, and replaced them with anger. But he loved his niece and everyone knew it. He was good to her. Now the earth has him back and I didn't even know until too late.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ninety degrees by 10 am. Stepping outside is like walking through a curtain of gooey caramel. Moving around through the heat and sticky like a candied apple, I jog with Lily.

Today is independence day and I am still scrambling to discover that sense of personal freedom.