Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To my friend in Pennsylvania with her life of trinkets, Christmas trees, holiday cookies, and yearly habits disrupted before they could grow into tradition: I wish I could move the world for you.

What an ugly culture where life without a bank account is no life at all.

That is American, however, and the land of opportunity's sparkle fades with empty pockets. Picking carefully through the grit sewn into the lines of a worried face we'll see our neighbors, mothers, husbands and wives, or friends who owe money to neighbors, mothers, husbands, wives, or even friends, and without it everything changes.

My friend must walk away from her home and memories and sense of safety, to one day find those things somewhere else. I have left, been kicked out of, or lost and found many places to live, but have never struggled to wrap the walls around three young girls and keep them pinned there -- a familiar surrounding, like a familiar face.

I see her rolling out cookie dough, washing her girls' faces, setting the table, and looking out the window as her husband comes home. She is also waiting for a notice in the mail to break this spell of comfort.

I wish I was with her to deal with life's everyday disappointments.

Like Lily, I wish that perseverance would just swallow bad luck, as it should.

Make different plans my friend, and look forward to them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

11:55 on a Monday night and I think again of Lily...

Through bare tree limbs jutting upward I can see Lake Zoar. Far away and across dips and hills is water throwing sunlight skyward.

My own path through fallen leaves. My own repeated footfalls zig-zagging around stones. My own daydreams.

Rather than crushed leaves and hints of stone I look not at the ground but inward for just a little while. My mind is cluttered with crumpled up ideas clogging doorways and blocking windows. My daydreams are having trouble pushing through. They are laughing children, barefoot and stumbling across spring grass, refusing to answer me. Yet.

I have not seen those kids up close in awhile. Where the hell are they?

Lily had me far into the woods on Sunday, where I lost sight of her bright orange vest streaking. Up a hillside, past a deerstand fortified with fresh lumber since the summer, across a stone-filled stream, and leveling off where I find what I had thought was a vernal pool, but the water has lasted far past spring.

It's a year-round splotch of moisture deep enough to outrank the puddles, but not ready to measure up as a pond. Trees sink their roots near its edges and fallen limbs and dead wood criss cross its surface.

Bandit and Hershey splash and I eventually wind my way homeward where I ask Jerry: has Lily come back?


I go back out with Hershey and we roam. I follow my path again, knowing that at any second I'll see the points of her ears peek over the rise, and like spilling water Lily will follow.

Tonight as we celebrated my mother's birthday, I gave her an angel figurine holding a puppy. It's like my mom, who spent the past year caring for Lily when I was too worried to leave a sick dog alone.

December 26 will be one year with my German Shepherd. To tell this tale in Lily time makes the year a stretching, elastic thing that whips out in long strands or shrinks back to cheat days of their hours as Lily was sick, then better.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Almost Thanksgiving and we wait for a feast…

I know bombs are going off between North and South Korea and a tenuous barrier between war and no war is thinning, but I still have an oven, family, friends, and wine to put to good use this week.

While the Vatican worries about the morality behind a condom and the state of our souls if we pull out, I prefer to dwell on Merlot, side dishes, meat thermometers, and whether or not I like the Cabernet

If Hershey does not stop growling at Lily I will shove the baster up her ass. Thank you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My friend does not belong in caskets.

Thirty nine and gone after hitting his head.

On this late autumn night below a full moon draped in clouds Jerry took me on his motorcycle to see my friend Jerry P. Pictures of him smiling are haunting. I did not see him smile much in the last months. A few times a week he would reach for the bar's front door and I would try to have his Jack Daniel's poured and on a napkin before it swung shut behind him. While reaching for his drink, a hand would stop him. Fingers gripping his jacket, someone or other would say, Hey, Jerry, how are you…Someone always moved to greet him.

He needed a hospital, they tell me. He needed help.

I can ponder forever the things that should have happened. We all look backwards past our own long shadows late in the day and relive our lives better in retrospect, but death takes that chance and smashes it. Death holds open the satin lined casket and fluffs the pillow for us.

A rosary wrapped around knitted fingers where his hands sat clasped and cold. A suit. The license plate from his motorcycle. Stillness as we all stared in.

Until I saw a prone body in a box surrounded by gaudy bouquets and people crying, his death had just been a story I had heard. Somehow, once I saw this for myself, I finally believed that there was no mistake. Never before had I seen a friend of nearly 20 years knocked flat by death.

Too many times I have said that death is always a surprise, especially where no illness paved the path. Jerry P. was cut off mid-step, mid-sentence.

At the wake, standing there with my stupid fingers poking at my chin I looked at photos propped up for guests to see.

Lots of anger, and lots of confusion over this one. Too much time passed between his fall, and his death. What happened Jerry?

Have you pulled the strands of each little tie tethering you to us and drifted off? Your memories, knowledge, and last moments will remain yours alone.

Stories always follow death -- the last things to admit you're gone. We'll tell stories and remember and say goodbye.

At home I squeeze Lily's face in my palms. She had a couple of feet inside death's mouth, but we reached in there and yanked her out.

This death is neither something that happened for a reason, nor the Lord working in mysterious ways. We are stupid things that do not want our feelings hurt, so we make stuff up, and hurt anyway. Goodbye Jerry P.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sipping a bitter whiskey for the first time, I lifted a tumbler of Jack Daniel's and said goodbye to my friend Jerry P.

It's what he always drank, so it's what we drank. Just a few of us passed that glass. Quiet. Hands reaching.

I am angry at the blackness I see when I look for his words. My mind is tumbling along, staring at the pictures instead.

I remember ...

On the day I fell in the forest and my ankle swelled, I later sat in Jerry's passenger seat with my leg propped up between us. We went to a friend's. A bunch of guys living together will inevitably make beer can art. Buds were stacked everywhere and I sat on a couch.

Years later I visited his apartment. Fresh, new, and small. He was studying music at a state university and I was a moron trying to open a beer. The tab flew off and seconds later I heard a ting. The aluminum piece had glanced off his beautiful, shining guitar propped on a corner stand.

He came to visit me at a cottage I shared with college friends in Long Island and slept on a spare mattress that we tossed between furniture in my bedroom.

He drove to Long Island again later that year to haul home a stupid old Dodge pick-up that I loved. Damn thing wasn't worth a second look, but I liked driving it. And for God's sake, why did I have to nod off and miss the turn for the Port Jefferson ferry? He was exhausted, and trying to drive me home. I think I slept on his bedroom floor at his mother's house once we got back.

Who loves you? he had asked over the phone, when he offered to come get the truck with his flatbed. Uncomfortable being backed into that corner with his questions, I asked instead, you'll really come?

His sister's wedding. At the last minute Jerry asked me to go with him. We dressed up and drank wildly. We were in the line of guests dancing through the room, winding between tables. We were later passed out as his mother drove us home.

My first tattoo. Jerry packed up his handgun and we drove to a guy he knew in Waterbury. He was with me when the ink soaked in.

High school and college ended. Life picked up and I saw him only sometimes.

Standing at the bar with a drink while my mother kicked and turned with the country music DJ, Jerry came in and surprised me. Sambuca! He had a few shots and a beer. Soon he was asking me to take a ride on the Harley. OK with me!

You sure that's a good idea, asked the bartender. Neither then nor now am I sure of anything. So what?

Jerry. What happened? I want to reach back to last week and undo events to save you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

For a big brown friend with ears rippling in the passenger seat, and a bark that struck like a hammer. For Deeke who looked good in his Halloween capes and hats, and could tell time by his stomach.

Once again, death is a surprise. Goodbye Deeke.

He left behind his sounds. Heavy feet and unclipped claws rasping along dry tiles. Deep barking. Clanking tags slapping as he flopped on his side to watch hundreds of footsteps tromp by every hour as we walked around him and worked around him. We stepped over him. We crouched down to scratch his head. We glanced down and said, hey Deeke, good boy!

He was an old guy, and we knew it. Then he was sick.

A couple weeks ago Deeke nosed up to my desk, looked at me with the please-throw-a-stick-for-me expression, and peed on the floor. I wish he had just written me a note or something, Kendra, I need to go out!

Last week he walked up to me again and dropped his head in my lap. In the middle of a conversation with the first selectman about vacant town property, I patted his head and he wagged and wagged.

Do dogs know when it's their time to go? I think they linger for us. They wait with the patience of a soul unblemished with guilt or regret, and watch us quietly until we can't handle their wasting and illness anymore.

Dogs can learn and adjust. They can express themselves and make noise or rip our furniture or stray clothes to shreds. And they can wait.

Animals must have an essence untethered by minds like ours -- stupid tweezers trying to grasp death. Their warmth and breath fade and mingle with the air. Alongside drifting woodsmoke or purling streams they blend, soak in, and change. Deeke is there. We are here. He will wait.

I remember...

As a kid rushing down sagging porch steps I would glimpse our dog as I raced for the bus. Gypsy would be curled up in the sun.

Screw school. I was seven years old and I wanted to stretch out beside my dog and sleep.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


It's a magic drumming against windows and rooftops, a noise constant and soothing that tells us to get inside beneath a blanket, curled up and warm.

Lily slips outside to find a tennis ball and returns with her fur pasted against her, drenched. Tail wagging and water spraying, she is happy.

I listen to the low hum of a million drops crashing and wonder where the water came from. Was it a pond or stream that let go as the sun coaxed steam into the sky, balling it up into a doughy cloud? Did wind drag it away? Did it hover as night sent us to bed and morning woke us, staring up at a falling sky.

I like the rain. I like my funny reflection everywhere I look. Suddenly a slick parking lot throws my face back at me from a mirror where once there was sand. Magic.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Standing on the brakes was hopeless. The truck slowed like fading wind, like trickling water, like an ice cream melting, but wasn't going to stop. I jammed on that spongy pedal under my feet and just bounced around. I strained and heaved and kept sliding foot by foot. Rolling by were front yards, mailboxes, stone walls. Out my window passed ponds and street signs and trees stained with autumn. I was going to hit.

I woke from that dream really concerned. Whenever the anxiety is making rude coughing noises in the corner of my mind, waiting for me to turn and say, oh, I didn't see you there, the Oh Shit dreams start.

I have never arrived at school without pants, but I have often in dreams realized hours too late that I forgot to go to work. The feeling is wedged in my memory -- a nail in the tree that I grew around and swallowed.

My mind mocks me all the time. It says, ha ha, here is a memory we know you'll hate: There I am again standing in front of my fourth grade class as all those rotten kids stare back. Miss Jacobs sits in the background with neon blue eyeshadow and a red pen. I confess. I forgot it. I forgot my book report.

I stare at the pukey green tiles until I hear her voice: Kendra, for you to forget your homework is prehistoric. The last time it happened was a really long time ago…

I doubt either of us remembered a single account of Oh God, No Homework, but that day is still with me. I have grown into someone who hates to be late, unprepared, or without at least three extra sets of everything, but sadly I am always late, without a pen that works, and running around with a near-empty gas tank. But, my brakes work.

Dogs don't suffer this crap. They can either eat it, or not, chew on it, or not, or sleep. Is there really anything else to worry about? Lily spent a few minutes jumping on me after Bandit and Hershey finally got annoyed with her. She leaves Ozzy alone except to sniff, so I was her next choice. Thanks girly.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Happy Birthday Marine Corps"

Jerry is making funny noises on the couch.

I yell, cut it out!

Hey, he said, I learned that in the Marines. It's motivational grunting.

He sounds out a few more.

My poor Marine is having terrible dental problems.

He said, I can hit myself twice in the thumb with a hammer, but needles make me want to cry.

We have some things to resolve before our minds are back at ease.

Now for something funny, without context, and just hanging out there...

While grabbing a coffee I overhear a couple of 20-ish guys snickering.

One: Ya know, the things you say to your friends about girls matter…

Two: Yeah

Then something about a girlfriend…

One: she is working out of her ex boyfriend’s house. How is she doing that?

One again: I heard she blew him in the bathroom. Who cares, I love her!

Two: she wouldn’t do that…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

While reading a cruddy vampire romance filled with blood and verbal bilge that stuck to my fingers, I realized that if someone could write, market, sell, and fill their pockets on this stuff, I ought to also seize this cash cow and ship my mind off to the mental void of formula writing. I could make up sexy names like Thor Of The Wrongfully Ostracized and Camilla The Unblemished Rose and have them bite one another for a few hundred pages.

They will fall inseparably in love by page 127 despite his dark underworld of vampiric curses and aversion to light, and her desire for true love and relentless devotion, which means sunny picnics by the sea with little babies stuffed into bonnets, and candy. Lots of candy.

They’ll kiss once in the early pages and she’ll regret it, and he will burn through chapters chasing his manly manhood like a divining rod until he crashes into Camilla again. How could she resist? How will their lives ever work? What will her family say? Oh, screw it, he is just so hot!

We’ll need a tad more plot just for those readers maintaining some scholarly self-image they construct carefully in their minds with a glance in the mirror. They catch themselves flipping through some unabridged dictionary looking up Thor's origins. They are feigning research and it looks great. Great. Soon the scandalous flop's readers will ascribe to themselves a deep intellectual bent. From these fictional characters comes inspiration and a well of insight and fortitude. This Thor and Camilla are huge. They represent all that is wrong and all that is right in the world. They loom in their actions. They are god-like mentors and show us a path to happiness. They are fantasy. They are beautiful. Readers love them.

I have to get this down on paper and off to a publisher. I am also beginning to love Thor. Camilla’s hair is wrong and often gets caught in her flimsy bodice, but Thor is learning to French braid and by the end of the book he is her lover, protector, provider, friend, and hairdresser.

Explaining this yack to Lily is useless, but she encouraged me. I laughed at the crap going on in this bite me romance and she looked up at me, so I told her…

Monday, November 8, 2010

Words I found amazing today came from Dr William Petit regarding the death penalty delivered to one of two home intruders who murdered his wife and daughters:

This is a verdict for justice.

God will be the final arbiter.

Punishment from the Lord is greater than [the convicted] will face from mankind.

Tortured and killed in her own bedroom surrounded by stuffed animals.

Can't make it better, but can keep going.

Hole with jagged edges.

Vengeance belongs to the Lord, this is justice.

Fore more than 18 minutes he spoke to a media crowd, its cameras clicking, flashes throwing light, and voices trampled by the wind.

Today, running across a leaf-covered ground with its pockets of slush just cold enough in the shadows to survive sunrise, I left behind me the season's first string of footprints.

As I scrambled through a forest forever shifting, Dr Petit said goodbye for the millionth time to a family ripped from him.

Neither bitter nor intentionally angry and unkind, his words lacked forgiveness; they were a beautiful field of fresh snow unmarred by sympathy.

Lord or no Lord, and God or no God, Mr Petit suggested that his family's killers would face something uglier and more frightening than simple, fleeting, painless death.

Some people shouldn't make it past their second breath, but how would we ever know?

Winter is in the forecast and Monday's early darkness and frigid gray start tainted everyone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Little shivers prick my skin as darkness grows on stretching shadows.

Rushing home from work to wrap the dogs in their funny bright vests and getting out to run is now a time game. Soon my headlights will lead me and I will no longer glance at the sky to see how far the light sinks. Shadows drip like wax across lawns and fences, parking lots and curbs. They are longer everyday.

Warmth is disappearing. Rain will freeze and fill with snow angels.

Animals have a quicker sense of mild weather's passing. For several weeks I have caught two birds in cupped hands as they flapped against windows, then dropped like exhausted little tufts onto the tile floor. Once their tiny bird's feet -- brittle and thin -- gripped my knuckle, they meant to cling there. Mice. They tend to scurry out and freeze half way across the basement floor. One mouse and I played tag as I urged him toward the door and he would first run away, then come toward me.

Soon I expect to see a gnome waddle in as warm-blooded woodland creatures confiscate his hiding place for their own. Gnarled, dirty, and old, he will ask, why must I be this way?

Who will guard his treasures? Who will cast his spells? Who will walk the Earth with him, a small, plodding, and determined soul that often forgets his purpose?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tensions yanking at our faces finally eased Tuesday as the sharp scent of magic markers caught us. Indelible red and black numbers went up beside candidates' names and minutes later the celebrations or concessions began.

Beginning Wednesday morning towns will wipe away the national and local campaigning's bloody mess and rehang the everyday curtains to accompany normalcy.

I considered the importance of our state representatives, treasurers, senators, or governors as I lined up the stars stretching across Orion's belt beneath his broad and uneven shoulders. Sitting sideways in the sky, he will remain as he has always remained, lifting his sword over descending winter.

Lily greets me when I arrive home from work at 11:40 Tuesday night. She and Hershey, Ozzy, and Bandit made quick orange streaks in the forest, trying out the speed of their new vests like a children with new sneakers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Politics is disparaging and ugly, at least on my kitchen counter. In the mail: The Democrats' wasteful spending is threatening our children's future. I see Monopoly pieces tossing out pastel colored funny money. The house is covered with the jabs.

According to mailers piling high: one candidate has extreme views about women, another wants to deny health insurance coverage for mammograms, one candidate had previously run a noisy and demeaning business, and does not seem ready to take on the issues of war, economy, public welfare…

Glossy, colorful Advertising That Does Not Fit In My Mailbox And Is Ruined By The Folding And Cramming touts teams that can do better, new leadership. The mailers demand that we vote to stop the Democrats, Republican...

Inside slick flyers are campaign promises. In bold letters are vows and assurances.

Despite huge money spent on campaigns, I will actually review what I know about the people on my ballot before making a decision.

I do appreciate the huge effort to sway me, but a recent employee poll asked if political advertising made a lot, some, a little, or no difference in my vote.

The ads make no difference to me. I do not cheer for either the Republicans or Democrats. I root for no particular party.

How do I vote? I pay a little attention.

What are the chances? Sometimes a rogue politician sweeps the public and makes intense splashes in realms where decisions live or die by a majority vote. More often, a good politician is a person plodding uphill and burdened with devotion to constituents. This person thinks more than he speaks, so that his words fall with precision and meaning. There is no flare. Nothing shiny to lure votes. This is the person that earns my vote.

Lily and I were both amazed to overhear one young lady say, I will exercise my right not to vote!

I suspect that anyone who arrives unprepared for the test would rather pass than sit down with a sharpened pencil.

Affluent pockets of America are some of the few places on earth where indifference is a luxury. Really. Some people wrap themselves in it like mink.

She said, I don't like politics, I don't follow it.

Does it hurt her head?

Striving to be unimpressive and a perpetual bench warmer is also an American luxury known in few other places.

Everything that is connected to a public institution, state or federal law, local regulation, or even our driver's license expiration date is maneuvered by elected bodies. Like them and their game or not, politicians are the people who have access to the places where change occurs.

Your vote counts. Your lack of a vote also counts.

I'll vote tomorrow, then I'll stop for a coffee. Maybe someone in office will change local hunting laws to keep Lily safer. I searched the house for bells tonight, wondering if I need to make noise in the woods during hunting season. I will order bright orange stuff to strap to the dogs for our romps through the wilderness where hunters could easily shoot as we crunch leaves on the approach.

I found only small, decorative bells, but they tinkle just fine. Tomorrow Hershey and Lily will wear costume pet antlers into the woods. I'll follow, laughing, remembering the day we failed to get the dogs to pose as Santa's reindeer.