Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thankfully, the past is a stationary thing; its legs shrivel up on December 31. Pick it up and shake it if you want, everything is frozen in place.

Hopefully the new year will be warm and lit with a timid approaching light, like sunrise poking its fingers through a gap in the curtains.

A new year waits as 2010 picks up her keys to lock the door. I will stand there at closing time as her light fades -- a shadow like a stain reaching to cover the days.

Snow stuck to the long fur on Lily's paws today. When the clumps were too wide and she limped, we went back home.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Days, like strands of forgotten party beads, sit in a row gathering dust … I scrawled this remark in shrinking letters wedged onto a scrap of paper one night, thinking about another year slipping by, sewing the seams shut as it passed back into blackness.

Staring at the sky hours before dawn this week, I watched Orion drift sideways, shoulders slanted as he floated above trees and rooftops like a black, empty balloon. A day later Orion watched from beyond the earth as clouds wrung out more than a foot of snow in less than 24 hours. Yesterday Jerry and I crouched with shovels, digging chunks out of the drifts. With numb feet and sweating hands, we worked.

This is like shoveling out from under the damn Ice Age, I told him.

F&%k this, he said. I want a plow …

With a book, wine, and warm flannel, I sat down to read: chasing a wounded and dying plot through the lusty chapters of a romance book is one good reason to toss the pages, fluttering like birds, across the room. Lily lifted her head, then trotted over to sniff.

A new year is coming, and thanks to friends and my family, I have a growing stack of books that won't leave my hands so hastily.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A thick snow Sunday has smoothed a rugged winter landscape.

Arriving home amid steep drifts covering space cleared by plows and piling the accumulation high, I ram the Bronco through a berm and bump into the yard. My steps like stitches disappear in the wind as I stomp up a buried walk. Opening the front door, I let the dogs out to romp around before closing the door on winter again. A frigid landscape rests beneath a foot of snow.

Up to my knees in the stuff this morning, I trudged along with the dogs. Tossing a stick for Lily, I watch its tumbling arc scrape against pure azure overhead.

Later, a girl on a sled was in focus as I crouched to take her photo. With a wide angle lens against my face, only the sound of plastic sliding along packed snow warned me that she was too close. Jumping just as she crashed into my feet, I went face down in the snow.

A new year waits for me to fill it. I want more for myself -- just a little, day-to-day sense of satisfaction that what I do is worth doing. I know what I mean in a fuzzy way that has no detail yet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Staring at a picture of my grandmother sitting in her purple crushed fleece outfit below a birthday balloon, I guess that she is 90 or 91 years old.

Was this photo -- shot in my mother's dining room -- taken on her birthday? Looking closely I notice guests in long sleeves, a newborn's head, and my father in his Giants Jersey.

Must be mom's late November birthday. My grandmother and I shared a summer celebration. The clues: football season is warmest in the fall and runs through to the Superbowl in February. The newborn must be my brother's daughter Jillian, just a few months old and a fall arrival like rusty hues to the landscape, cooler days, and a tendency to stock the cupboards with the haste of time running out.

She is smiling, her party plate is full, and the moment is frozen just that way -- Sheldon passing behind her, crossing the hall toward the kitchen counter, my father reaching to place something on his dish, Judy with a plate in one hand, fingers of the other filled with food, and a cheek bursting with her last bite. In the corner is the crown of baby's head, dark hair swirled around the top. Grandma looks at me and I take the picture. The photo is printed from film. I can see her gold hoop earrings and necklace.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa spends a lot of time in a box. With glass ornaments wrapped in last year's newspapers cushioning his hefty ceramic ass, he waits.

We roused him in September and yanked his nest of wire lighting, tinsel, painted snowmen, and half-burnt candles from the closet, then took a heavy carpenter's claw to the woodwork and drywall. Santa's hiding place was exposed to daylight when Jerry ripped and tore away our roof and tossed it in the backyard.

Opposite Santa in that closet was my flimsy treasure. Finally succumbing to changes this year was a balsa wood dollhouse that my father had glued together and stained a light brown one Christmas Eve as I slept -- still firmly aware that my eyes had better be screwed shut until Santa snuck in like a sliver and inflated with gifts and toys and jolly old abundance there in the living room, just like a movie.

On Christmas day I remember the dollhouse's fresh wood scent and series of rooms, loving it, and loving the fantasies that twirled from my mind like fluttering ribbons. The house moved when the family moved from one town to another. It had its place in the loft bedroom at my parents' house until I moved it again. Down a ladder I went with my left hand gripping a cumbersome living room, and a cluttered kitchen in my right. I had a whole world swirling around that dollhouse. As my fantasies and I grew up, I began to decorate that house with photographs of boyfriends, jewelry that arrived wrapped in crinkly, pink cellophane, or with ceramic vases or mugs I had thrown on the wheel in ceramics class.

The dollhouse: It came with me to my apartment, and moved a last time to our little house in the woods in Newtown. After Jerry's daughter traded her playtime in front of its open rooms for magazines, the telephone, and the Internet, the dollhouse was pushed inside a closet.

Are we going to throw that out, Jerry asked occasionally?

My father made it for me, I would answer.

We had the conversation a few times.

Sadly, when the roof came off and we stood in the open with broken walls and splintered wood all around us, I faced the dollhouse.

What are we going to do with this, Jerry asked?

For a week or two it slid from one corner to another as Jerry worked at demolishing, then rebuilding an upstairs room.

After an hour or two of cleaning one weekend, Jerry asked, can we throw it out now?

With lots of resolve and eyes squinting against sunlight, I heaved the poor thing toward the ground where it crashed apart, but I saved some furniture.

Thank you Dad, for my dollhouse and everything else.

This year my parents and Jerry helped me rescue a dog, and for that I will have a merry Christmas.

Last year we could not know for certain that Lily would be here this year, full of warm breath, life, and an eagerness to rush into her day, find a ball or a stick, and lock her jaws on it. On December 26 of last year she arrived. Just five days away.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The road to success is paved with perseverance, thick-headed effort, and lengths of gut ripped loose when I missed a turn or two.

I am holding the past year in my hand, rolling it around on my palm and wondering if this heap needs to sail from the car window, or find a place on a shelf for reference.

Taking out a knife I slice the year apart and pull slivers and chunks of meaning from the filler stuff -- days where my mind sort of rests while my body carries on The Routine. Lily is in there, among the muddy, cold days of last December as the dogs growled deep warning sounds at one another.

The knife's blade cuts out the arguments and stress, days spent nodding off while an office whipped around me, productive, and slices from the mess the perfect shape and size of a friend or two that would have willingly grabbed for my hand had I only looked up. But, when I am determined to walk into walls, grumble, and kick the junk in my path, I will.

In the forest behind our house this weekend: Is this your path, Jerry asks?

We are shimmying through trees and shadows along a path of flattened leaves.

Yes! I answer.

In truth, I consider this beaten ground as Lily's path. Across stones and abrupt changes in the slope I would run with her every morning to keep her nimble, winded, and happily at rest once we were home. Bitch! My eyes would water with the cold, and hard winter ground often twisted and yanked at my scrambling feet.

Placing her head low over the ball she dropped, Lily's breath burst in tufts of steam from her snout. Sunlight ran its yellow fingers through her fur's bristled tips and she loomed -- a young dog that would have died here in the woods, roaming and without help.

Leaving Jerry behind with Ozzie, Bandit, and Hershey, I chase Lily up to the old foundation where I again creep up the rise, wondering who once stood above, looking down. She wanders through the stacked, fitted stones and I cross a moss covered ledge to glance deep into the forest. A rusty color tints the fallen leaves and tree trunks as the sun shifts. We head back and Lily dashed toward Hershey's barking.

As for the rest of the year sliced up in my palm like an apple, I see the bar. Running through the woods I toss out words of thanks for the extra money and the fun that have helped me and helped a friend.

I see lots of struggle elsewhere. Happiness is being an elusive little shit, but I'll find him. I got through the year, and have emerged at the end, as always, a different person than when I started. Am I better or worse? I think I am just different. Maybe soon I'll really poke through the parings and look closely for meaning, mistakes, and lessons that I have hopefully learned.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Twas the week before Christmas and all I could do

was wonder if all of my mail orders went through.

Wrapped tight in a warehouse or stuck on a shelf

Were gifts I was giving in spite of myself…

Come on Santa, load your truck and get me my stuff!

As a child I imagined elves with fast, nimble fingers and hot breath colored by magic and cinnamon as they concocted bows for wrapped gifts. But did they really make all the toys? How does an elf with all the simple spells in his tool belt manage the finely painted face on a doll? How does a hammer craft a stuffed animal. Things were too much for my little head to grasp, yet not enough to convince me without a question.

I guess that's when Santa began to fade. Although replaced by profound mystery, a feeling that I loved and held like an egg shell, I was listening more closely, watching carefully, and wondering how. How did he know what to bring? How did he know where to go? How did he get in the house? How did he carry so much stuff?

Impossible is not a real word until suspicions weigh down that bubble. Then we have the most annoying, Oh, I Get It years.

But once again, I don't get it. Every year we assume Santa's role and try to make too much, carry too much, do too much, and right about now some fundamental screw falls out. Did I need that thingy? Is it essential?

This year is for my friends. It's for the men and women who grieve as a husband, sister, daughter, son, father, or brother die. This year is for friends struggling, coming up empty, but loving their children and looking ahead with a brief hope that replaces momentarily the looming dread.

Screw you misery. Santa and I have better things to think about.

It's a perfect 12 am. Halfway from noon and back, I leave one day for the next. Be hopeful, little elves.

Santa, give me the magic and patience and persistence to teach Lily to come when I call. I really need that invisible tether to her when a deer pops up from the brush, dragging her zinging body through the woods like an unravelling thread.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Popping into my head like a stray ball was a seventh grade memory. Sharp as a blade was Ms Wiener, four feet, ten inches tall, and always ranting.

What the hell kind of lousy song is that, she asked one day.

To repeat the poor Bangles, she said, another manic Monday … that's my fun day, my I don't hafta run day….

There I was humming along when she took the simple-minded lyrics, threw them under her boots and stomped a few times. When the song was full of holes she dropped into her teacher's seat, swiveled to face us, then asked, OK, who is going to cut my hair?

No kidding, one of the girls got up and did it…

A recent back-and-forth about the dogs:

A friend asked me, how goes it?

Who the hell knows. Holiday shopping and they're canceling orders because the mailing address is different than billing, Shitheads!

Well… that's a bunch of shit indeed...straighten them out! (Joking) I didn't think you knew my address.

Ha! Well, be expecting my dogs...I have had it for the year...

Uh oh… bring them to mom's house.

Four dogs in a car is like sitting in a blender, thanks.

Four dogs…I'd imagine they are BIG dogs too...Great Danes? Rotties? I know they're not poodles!

Lab, husky, shepherd...pug. That last one sorta lands with a thud.

I can't see you with a pug for some reason... (I am really fond of him, by the way).

OK, holidays shopping aside, I really do need a break in many ways. The sky dropped some of its first chilly flakes, temperatures went from 40 degrees to less than twenty between 6 pm and 10 pm.

A day's worth of rain shorted the engine out. Lots of noise and no spark. The truck started the next day -- thank you Jerry -- so I turned it around on the slope, opened the passenger door, and a wave of water fell out. By morning the driver's door had frozen shut. I was able to hop in the passenger's side and as I drove away I thought, let me try opening the door from the inside!

Great! It opened! But would not click shut.

I drove to work with the wind sucking at the door and yanking it from my hands, but held the lever tight tight tight until I began to worry the damn thing would pop off in my fingers.

At work I say, Scott! Gotta bungee cord?

Would you believe his answer? Sure, behind the driver's seat. I have a whole bag…

So I drove home with a bungee holding the door shut. I stretched it from the door handle to a notch somewhere behind me.

I called Jerry: It's not going to slip out of the coil and whack me in the head, is it?

Oh my God! Is there anything else you could worry about, he asked?a

Let me think…

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where are my friends?

Snow, like dust, like ash, falls before Christmas in a blanket covering hardened ground that sleeps through winter.

A lot of death this year. I see friends reclined with heads against satiny interiors. The lids have closed and cemetery soil locks them in as the season freezes. Death has bundled them in its secret and I wonder what remains.

Unbound by time or breath or solidity are my friends. I imagine they still think and see. They add their little spark of energy to the air and life around us, quiet in the cold as snow settles.

Lily has her own alphabet of sounds, but does nothing more tonight than sigh or yawn here at my feet.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A soggy, 40 pound burlap wrapped root ball with a Spruce on top is now wedged beside the fireplace. With a lot of Come Ons! and Get Down Heres we managed to get a few ornaments into Erica's hands and stick them on the tree.

From me to Jerry annually: not so many lights!

Every strand of light we have lands on the tree, creating a universe of Christmases in our living room. A string of gaudy Santa heads grin like fools from prickly limbs alongside stockings and high-heeled legs -- replicas of the Oh My God That's Ugly decorative lamp featured in a movie. Well, there is Santa staring at a fishnet for a few weeks again this year.

I had snuck that leggy strand into the bedroom and draped the leg lights across our dresser. But by the time I returned Christmas boxes to the basement and wound my way back up the stairs, Jerry was near the tree and hiding something behind his back. I saw a miniature plastic leg and black stiletto poking out...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Just sitting here chasing words across the Internet like damn dust that won't settle.

I watch Fiona Apple toss a nod to John Lennon as she sings Across The Universe …Jai guru de va om.

A strange video. She sits in a corner as men ransack the candy shop. Glass canisters of jelly beans burst like shotgun scatter, spraying the floor with wild cherry and grape. She stands. Couches fly and baseball bats smash a path through the displays. Nothing's gonna change her world. Nothing's gonna change her world…Jai guru de va om.

Tonight, I worry worry worry worry.

Under tree limbs and across uneven ground we climb to the old stacked stone foundation. Dogs skitter across moss covered ledge. I look at the old wooden beams nearly sunken back into the soil and I wonder who slept in the heavy rusted bed frame now mingled and mostly hidden in low growing blueberry shrubs. Who was here? No notes on the wall. No messages scratched on the furniture. No way to ask the trees who passed this way.

Who inhabited this hard to reach, but perfectly placed cottage? For those of you walking through the woods long after any well traveled trails have ended, imagine topping a slope to find the footprint of a home in your path.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Socks? Screw socks. For reasons beyond physics and nature, two go into the machine, and one comes out.

Some columnist somewhere -- Hints From Whoever -- had a nice, tidy remedy. She said, just put a safety pin in the pair and they are together start to finish.

Not so, Miss Whoever. My fingers are not pincushions, and I will not threaten them so. Keep your Happy Helpful Hints up your ass where they belong, thank you.

Sorry to rant, but it's time. Enough of the damn clothes already. Enough waddling through the house with dirty gobs of pants and shirts and everything else squeezed in a bear hug as I teeter down spiral stairs. Was that eight steps, or nine. Who just jumped out of my arms? A sock? My crappy stretched out bra? The sweatshirt filled with holes?

Early December and a friend taunts: Kendra, wanna buy a bar with me!

YES! YES! I answer.

To be surrounded by a haze of motorcycle exhaust and raw floorboards soaked in Jack Daniels is a paradise to me. I'll barter six packs for laundry.

Yesterday. The day is over and has slipped down the drain and out of sight, but my mood, like a stain, lingers.

To Lily: 180 blog posts since last December 26 have carried us across impossible ground. To live with you, your problems, the stress, the expense, and the anxiety is to also live without regret. You would have died.

My head is in that place where the dreams are dark, the sleep insufficient, and the relief is far, far from reach. I am at the bottom of a hole, staring up at a pinprick of light, like a star that comes and goes as I blink.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We arrived at the vet's like a tornado. Dogs blowing down the door and scrambling and yelping. Hershey has two stitches in her head where Lily's teeth snagged her as they scrambled in the lobby.

Leashes, nervousness, and dogs in tight spaces are a bad combination.

We weighed the dogs. Except for Lily, who is a perfect 80 pounds, everyone else is fat. Just so damn fat.

At home again and standing with the fridge door ajar where he is a silhouette rummaging for a snack, Jerry tips the Cool Whip nozzle into his mouth. I listen to the hiss as synthetic whipped cream curls on his tongue. Propping the can back on the shelf, he looks down at Ozzy.

What's wrong with his eye? It's puffy, Jerry said.

Less than five minutes later we were in the truck and on our way to the emergency veterinary clinic to find out why poor Ozzy's cheeks and eyes had swelled. He was inflated, puffy red. In my mind his throat would soon swell shut. I was silent with the pug on my lap, his face turned to catch the cold night air. Jerry drove fast.

At the counter I picked him up to peek at the reception girls. Oh! Oh look at his little face!

The nurse came up to me and asked, who do we have here?

It's Mr Puffy Face, I said.

Not nice, said one of the girls.

Plunking him on the floor and handing the nurse his leash, she said, come on little guy. Can you see me?

His eyes were huge and itchy.

Back home after a shot to soothe Ozzy's allergic reaction, my mood finally crashed and I turned into The Beast That Melts Down And Throws Things. Tonight, not even splintering porcelain calmed me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lily just ate a stick of butter. Again.

How do you do it?

I don't know, but it's not like that, Jerry told me.

Well, how?

You have to push them, I don't know, he said.

Tell me what you do.

I don't know!

Just tell me!

Push them back and just open the door, but get Ozzy first, he said.

As I tried to let Ozzy out while keeping Hershey, Lily, and Bandit inside, I wound up with Lily's head poking between my knees from behind as I sandwiched her in place. Bandit stood to my right, and Hershey hopped around behind me where I snagged a handful of fur or was able to pinch an ear between my fingertips. That will hold her!

OK, I said.

I cracked the door open and hoped Ozzy would slip out, but lurched off balance as Lily pushed ahead. Tipping to the right I could have hit Bandit in the back palm first to break my fall, but I opted to crash onto my side instead.

You know what they say … it's not the fall, but the sudden stop at the end …

Bandit still stood indoors. Jerry: shut the door! Shut it!

Holy shut. Shut, shut shut, already. Damn dogs.

All four of them will go to the vet's next week for what I imagine will be the most expensive check-up on record.

At this time last year I was about a month away from adopting Lily.

To my friend Erin: we never know what the year will bring. We start off with daunting things -- too much, not enough, too far, too short -- but we finish the year no matter what, as if our feet were on a conveyor belt pulling us toward December. You said that I landed in your life like a butterfly. Yours is a mind that thinks of fluttering, cellophane wings wringing blue and red stains from sunlight like colored glass. Your hands drag a plain, stiff brush through ordinary pigment to make soft petals and glistening stems. Your girls are beautiful. These things are yours. Every single day. no matter what.