Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Will her words really bind them? The justice of the peace talks, turning pages with coral colored nails. Will vows wrap around their hearts and keep them together? Jerry's sister married Joe this weekend as I watched from behind my camera.

A single white rose in Joe's lapel splashed like a star against his dark suit. Colleen's gauzy white embroidery shimmered in a veil behind a cluster of deep purple and hot pink flowers. In every photo she is smiling except for the one conspiratorial talk I catch. She and Joe lean together, their voices too low to hear. I rely on the image alone and decide they were telling secrets. Married less than an hour and they are already sharing things meant for no one else. They have begun weaving an exclusive place in the world that only their words and gestured can enter.

March 29. Orion is losing his height in the sky and slipping away as spring comes. Scorpio is behind him. Orion flees as the myth unfurls. A scorpion battled and killed him. The gods tossed the memories into the sky.

J. gave me a clear, pale stone with many angles and crags. It's a special stone, he said. I have kept it, but it was asking for you, he told me. Someone special gave it to me to keep, but you should take it now. Keep it, and when you are ready, pass it to someone else who needs it or deserves it.

So I have the stone and each time my fingers bump against it in its tiny, quiet hiding place, I remember J. as he leaned toward me with his hands gently wrapped around something. He was still and his face relaxed. I have something for you, he had said. I understand his expression now. It was relief and sadness.

Into my hands he placed the stone he must have used to soak up his emotion for someone in his past. Someone I won't ever know. Somehow ascribed to the pale stone is strength that grows from the weight of an ordinary thing to something growing heavier with secrets, longing, emotion, and a final confession. Inflated with so much the stone was too heavy, then unbearable, like a soul. Treasure it, love it, believe in it, and give it away.

Orion was too boastful and other gods turned to stare. Goddess Artemis and mother Leto heard his secret: he would banish all wild animals from earth. Wrung from the gossamer stuff of heavens and myth, they would send a Scorpion to defeat him. The Scorpion either killed him, or he escaped, and the god Zeus either raised the deadly creature to a place in the night sky, or saw that Orion had started to swim away. He should not escape. Calling for Artemis, Zeus pointed across the water to a speck on the horizon. She was terrific with an arrow. Zeus asked, can you hit that?

Later retrieving her kill she found Orion with her arrow in his head. Her gifts became too heavy to carry. Her heart was a stone. Orion was a better shot, but given the chance, he would say that the better aim was always hers.

She begged for Zeus to restore Orion, but love was not enough. She had to give Orion away. By herself she threw him against the stars to hold his place all winter long.

If Lily is not an obedient girl by the time my buddleia blooms, please send in the scorpions.

All the myth makes me think of tattoos -- astronomy and the zodiac spilling in a milky way across my skin.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Let's pause here to talk about mullets, sweet mullets.

According to Wikipedia, The mullet is a hairstyle that is short at the front and sides, and long in the back. Often ridiculed as a lowbrow and unappealing hairstyle, the mullet began to appear in popular media in the 1960s and 1970s but did not become generally well-known until the early 1980s. It continued to be popular until the mid-1990s.

As many have laughed long and loud as a mullet sets foot in a room, the mullet is business up front and party in the back. The mullet was never popular, but always funny.

Now, what ass would really don a mullet? The haircut jumps out of crowds and renders the whole scene silly. Nothing can possibly be serious with a mullet around. As in, cancel this funeral, the mullet just tripped near the guest book, or, everybody go home, the wedding is over due to a mullet in row three.

Mullet. Where the hell did you come from?

Let's take a look at some of recent history's mullet heads (by the way, I am distracting myself with mullets so I do not think about how willful and difficult the dogs are with their training).

Scrolling back a few decades we find Tom Jones, David Bowie, David Cassidy from the Partridge Family (look it up), Paul McCartney, Michael Bolton, and Phil Collins.

History apparently wasn't happy with the plain old mullet and soon began to puff it up. In the 1980s we had permed mullets, and mullets that looked like they fluffed in the dryer. Duran Duran heads had mullets. Billy Ray Cyrus had a mullet. Someone must have coughed and suddenly other countries came down with the mullet. Eh hem.

OK. Enough. Additional reading shows me that the mullet is associated with social movements, rebellious factions of people who want to be different, sports player, social status, blue collar workers, hockey fans, and fans of country music. The mullet appears worldwide at various points in history and in many countries. People with mullets are often smiling. What the hell?

Every now and then I need to rant at something, and mullets just had it coming.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Did I ever mention why I wanted to drive a pick-up truck?

When I coasted to a stop at the top of a ramp in my 80-something Tercel and it stalled and never restarted, I sang a favorite song to myself …I think I'll pack it in and buy a pick-up…(thank you Mr Young).

I was in Long Island wearing really saggy sweats. They sort of swayed and hung in tired waves as I walked around the car.

I was 18 or 19 and a teenager in America, where personal independence feels like a steering wheel and life zips by at 60 miles per hour through the wiper's smudged path in the windshield. I was going for it. I had gas and a radio. I just had not considered bad luck.

For a long time the specter of bad luck did not occur to me. My life was still a wish list to Santa and I was a believer. That rotten Tercel had a hole in the gas tank and the gauge didn't work. i would put in $5 at a time and in grease pencil I recorded my mileage on the rearview mirror. I would come up short sometimes so I kept a few gallons of emergency gas in a red jug in the back. Or, I would overpour and watch gas splash across the station. I am sure I could be arrested and killed for any of these stupidities now.

But I was excited by life. I daydreamed. I sang along. Now, I am a sour, morose jerk and I don't even have a radio. Anywhere.

Today the dogs and I got out twice to lope through blowing leaves that caught Lily's eye. She ran in circles and tonight as she tucks her nose under her tail to sleep, we wait for snow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Santa has had his back turned to me for months. We were renovating, and I had to heave him, his torn cardboard box, and a bunch of fake snow and evergreens from the closet where they once hid for 11 months of the year. They saw daylight in December. Sometimes they would stay out long enough to see New Year's, but that prompted panic in all of us.

He sits with his red shoulders hunched and his ruddy face and knit cap angled away. Mold or dirt or something gross from the basement is discoloring the powder-white tufted hem of his coat. Little kids would not like this filthy, sullen Santa at all. They would not think of gum drops. They would think he is an asshole. I thought he was an asshole a few times, until I realized he lived in imaginations, stories, and dreams. As I got older I understood that I had to blame myself if I did not get what I wanted.

I remember Jerry's daughter as a little girl with a magic marker and a shiny catalogue. As she circled everything she saw I told Jerry, this is no good. No good.

She was young enough to forget the hundreds of things she had surrounded with black indelible rings. Christmas morning was always terrific. A year or so later she was more specific. The lists started. In perfect penmanship and with many erasures and underlines, we received for mailing a letter to Santa. If she only knew he would end up a dejected and soiled thing perched on a box as water flooded through the basement.

Jerry and I were having a normal day until we unfolded Erica's list. Long. Very long.

Again, I told Jerry, not good.

He said, Erica, that's too much for Santa. He has all your friends and all the kids in your school and all the other kids everywhere to worry about. Pick just a few very important things that you really want.

We soon read through the abbreviated list. Jerry even said, Uh Oh.

I tried to explain: Erica, you still have 20 things here. Santa can't know what is most important to you, and he probably can't give you all of these things. What if he picks a few things, but they are not really what you want? I think she understood this. I think she started to believe that Santa was a sham and an asshole for it. In other words, she was growing up and would soon see through the fairytale gauze of childhood. The other side of growing up has been good for her. Replacing Santa is her father, and he is wonderful and better than Santa anyway. Some of us, like me, step through that thin mist as childhood clears and The Rest Of Our Lives begins, and struggle. I have not made it safely through my teens yet, and I am 38.

Today I am going to pretend that rotten fat Santa is not sitting with me here in the basement, smirking. I saw a high school friend's father today who said, I was at Dan's house over the weekend and we looked at his yearbook. I saw you! You look the same!

Hiding my face at first, I peeked out and said, that's good, right? Then I drove back to work in tears, remembering the many things that I thought were possible when I was 17. Santa is such an asshole.


For fun, I asked Google, who will I marry?

Then I took a quiz that asked me to agree or disagree with prompts including: showers are for stupid people, you used to or still do throw rocks at animals, your love life is sad, you love the smell of wood, most of your friends are hobos…

My answer? You'll live in a tree house with your husband (or wife) in the jungle. Your kids will be like Tarzan. That's about it, I guess.

Lily thinks that Google is useless. While I took the quiz she had jumped in my lap, licked my neck, whined, and tried to stop me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The moon spills milky light across ugly ground. Stretched shadows will shrink as dawn comes with promises.

The fullest moon since 1993 wanders across the night. Winter will end as the moon sinks, and down here on the ground I wait for spring.

I can't wait to open my hands and drag them across daffodils.

I am going to go read about murderers arrested, sentenced, locked up, then found fascinating by the media. My heart is set on finishing that gentle, pastel flavored Cabernet I opened this week, and turning pages. Sordid stories and a dose of wine might quiet the screaming in my head that is ranting about spring.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Following his funeral mass, images of Ed's life flashed on the wall, tossed there by a projector as his friends killed a half keg and went searching the VFW hall's downstairs bar for bottled beer.

Jerry asked M. how Ed's accident happened. M. told him that Ed was working on a job site in a part of the house away from everyone else. They went around back and he was on the ground. His ladder was still up. Ed fell, suffered serious head injuries, and lapsed into a coma after the December accident. By the first hours of March, he was gone.

Watching his pictures on the wall , I asked S., how old was he?

Forty four, she said.

Did he ever wake up?

Shaking her head and blinking eyes full of mascara, she said, I don't think he did.

Turning to watch Ed's girlfriend across the room, S. asked, did they ever get married? I saw a wedding photo, she said.

They were not married, as far as I know, I said. We watched the pictures change on the wall. We saw some twice, and one with our friend Fonzie three times, but the wedding shot never reappeared.

We get home and I pull ticks from the dogs and find Lily's honey eyes and Bandit's determination to sit on my feet comforting. I hear Ozzy snoring and know he has parked his tan body against Hershey, who blends with the shadows.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You could write songs, J. tells me.

I don't think I could. Shaking the margarita, I'll soon add fresh lime and orange juice, invert the lime rind into a boat and float some Grand Marnier.

Kendra, you really could, he said.

J. is insisting now and I have to add a dash of nuance: I can write stuff, sure. I can swap words around so they're slightly more interesting than the first time they played through my head, but writing songs must be something different and closer to poetry.

I tell J. that not all writers are gonna be good at all writing. Some people hear the notes, but I just see images and do my best to describe and understand. I think song writing is something else, I said. I see a creative guitar finger dipping into the fluid imagination and coming up with pretty words, slick, shining, and memorable.

Done with the drink, I stab a straw in it, and say, suck that my friend. I hand the pale green frothy drink to T.

So tonight while I catch the soft, cottony smell of laundry soap as I snap a towel from the basket, a phrase jumps out about Japan. The country is a pit of death where stiff cold limbs snag at desperate survivors.

I look up song writing on the Internet and find a recipe for generating everything from titles to lyrics to choruses to the very last verse. We'll see. Maybe I'll concoct something about Lily's creamy, smoke-tipped fur, amber eyes, and illness. Nothing's perfect.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Images of a "new" Japan: a victim's wrinkled hand gripping at nothing after death erased huge chunks of a country. With fingers bent and the skin loose, the person's hand is covered in mud, just a few clicks away from the image of a cow's body with sun catching its eyes. Raging water finally nestled the dead animal down and receded, leaving it as part of the horror.

She is the delicate hue of a pastel sunrise, and the surge of death and water that tore away at Japan. Mother Nature turns her indifferent face down each night as the day goes dark and we sleep.

I felt heartless today while making tea at the General Store and wishing there were more cream, while all over Japan people pushed through wreckage seeking signs of their dead.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A friend is in my head with a made-up voice that scratches against my ear. I hear Charles Bukowski as I read his poems. He wrote: as the poems go into the thousands you realize that you've created very little.

Sand across glass, grinding, his voice is inside.

Again I remember speaking on the phone and laughing when someone asked how I get all the words people say. How do I write it so fast? And articles … isn't writing difficult? I say, mostly, it's a lot of erasing. The lines, dashes, and whorls of letters and smudged ink that remain mean enough to type out and print, I suppose. It's an article. Its ink dries and fades in the sun and the meaning is gone for the reader before the last word.

A coworker was trying to compile a brief summary of our staff at the newspaper. Didn't I help with the video and website content? J. asked. Yup. Ok, he said, what else?

Honestly, I just shoot stuff and repeat stuff, I told him. With a camera and a pen and no narrator's voice or poetic meaning to my arrival or my photos and story, I just look at the words again, wondering how I might make them a little better.

Better to me means less explanation. Draw me a picture of meaning sliced and rare, please.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Walking through water with my cold feet cringing, sloshing sounds reach ahead and behind. People's possessions rest in crooked, uncomfortable places either a few feet or miles from where they sat before water lifted them, carried them, then dumped them elsewhere.

Living in a lake town is beautiful, serene, soothing in the summer, but dangerous when it rains on frozen ground.

Teaspoons at a time and pooling on the floor, water still trickles in through the basement stone. As rain still fell and filled the world's dips and crags with water's perfect smoothness Sunday, I listened to the trickling, dripping trip it made through my house's invisible cracks.

Mother Nature doesn't mind her outbursts. The trouble is us little people with our staffs jammed in the mud yelling at the night sky and insisting on impossible, fleeting things. Dogs know better. Like the red-tailed hawk dragging its shadow across reemerging stones and trampled leaves today, the dogs meet complications and circle until prospects are better. Maybe the hurdles diminish with distance, and they play forgetfully in the breeze.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I must have missed that nice ascent into adulthood. I don't think I arrived with all the right lessons and I am sure that somewhere in my past is the girl who could have been me, yanking hysterically at her shoelace sucked into the bottom of an escalator.

I didn't see the sign that said, lessons on growing up and coping, this door.

I watch Hershey circling to find her ball on snowy ground with deceiving ruts in the snow that seize bright orange or blue toys and hide them in greedy fingers. She lopes around, nose to the ground, making a wide arc, back and forth and back and forth in shrinking swings like she's drawing a bull's eye. Diminishing the edges of her search at every pass, she eventually is left with just a little patch of ground to sniff. Just her and her ball. No one taught her to do this. I do not think she knows what to do, but she is able to move through her day successfully because she has matured. I missed. I never sat in on lessons to cope. If something bothers me, I will begin worrying about it at least a month ahead of time. Jerry is going on vacation in July (I am not going. Again, can't cope) and I have already stoked the seething, angry stress inside.

Feeling as though I had swallowed sour milk Saturday, my stomach cramped, but not before a little headache knocked on my temples demanding aspirin. Minutes later I realize that the white little devil of a pill is upsetting my stomach. Later, when nothing soothes the frothing cramps inside, I catch a chill. Then I am hot. Hours later I finally feel better. For the last week my stomach has been sour. Saturday night as I trudged through a stubborn bar crowd I felt the knots winding together in my guts and tightening.

Looking out the window Sunday night at dusk I saw rain braiding together small puddles in the parking lot. Soon the water and wind swallowed riverbanks and low surfaces as cars veered sideways in a hydroplane. Just a day earlier the 50-degree warmth melted most of what was left of snow that sealed the earth beneath winter since December. Twisted and unnatural shapes emerged that would form branches and limbs once the frozen ground plucked its bony cold fingers from the tips of trees.

But cold came again to seal up any softness that could soak in the rain.

Water wandered through backyards and entered basements and cars. It closed roads and carried chunks of blacktop away. Living in a river town became a trap as I drove home Sunday at nearly 2 AM. Dark black surfaces stretched ahead and rain blurred my view. Thank God J. drove behind me. The force of striking deep water ripped the steering wheel from my fingers and yanked the Bronco out of my control. Where was the guard rail, and how had I been so stupid?

I was stalled in the middle of a main street. Hopping out and walking back to J. I said, I'll let it sit for a minute, then try to start it again.

A few minutes later the engine caught and I went home. I stalled once, but I made it, with reassuring headlights following in case I needed a ride. Thank you.

Now, If I could just puke up some of the stress, I would be fine.

Working briefly with Lily and Hershey and their training commands, I realized I was too bent to handle it. Every little thing made me scream.

Jerry goes to bed and I had hoped he would just say goodnight. Just say something soothing and normal and affectionate. I wander to the door and ask, aren't you going to say goodnight?

Well, I was, he said. With an edge he tells me, goodnight, and the door closes before I can go in.

Opening the door and unzipping that last piece of normal I was wearing, I break into little mindless pieces of stress and I have a meltdown. Jerry tells me that tonight was one of his hardest with me. My mood is impossible and I just can't manage the stress.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The shitty smell of 79-cent cologne clings to my pocket. In a sad stupid and failed attempt to convince Lily to stay put while I work with Hershey, I placed mouthwash into a small squirt bottle, giving her a spritz when she disobeyed. The problem was how I got there.

I tried to buy a small spray bottle and the best I could find was a barf green Masculine Scent in the discount bin in the men's section at the pharmacy.

I thought that I could just dump it out and trade the perfumed stuff for mouth wash. Nope.

Nothing could suck the smell out of the plastic.

You gotta throw it out, Jerry told me. Seconds later it hit the trash. Unfortunately, awful smells die hard. The weird scent lingers in everything it touched, including my flannel shirt pocket.

It's a sticky stink like powder, flowers, melting sugar, and sleaze.

Today the snow's tightly knitted grasp eased across the frozen ground. Stones, leaves, and patches of soil poked through. Stray dog toys and hard rubber balls that we lost in the woods this winter stuck out like neon buttons on the mud.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rummaging through my imagination like I can't find the lip gloss, I search for a memory. Between my fingers stuck deep inside a dark place I feel pockets of warmth, sharp hooks, stains, blunt and shapeless things, specks of ice, but nothing that I want.

I am looking for myself. I was little and our dog Gypsy stood taller than me. I wrapped my arms around her neck and smiled. We were in the back yard. We were not allowed in front where the traffic could leap off the street and kill us. My hair was bouncy after the curlers came out. Straight, flat bangs like a pasty sheet stuck to my forehead. A little girl in her bathrobe with her dog and fake curls. Except, like other little girls that can wash off the eyeshadow and comb out their hair, I really wished I was someone else, or at least not me.

Pulling up my socks one day and tying my bright yellow Keds, I saw my knobby knees. I saw my stupid bangs and grabbed my lunch as I ran outside. I was late for the bus. There were a bunch of other kids standing around in clothes I envied. If I had nicer clothes, I would feel better. If I had long, heavy curls like my neighbor, I would be happy. If I could just stay home and sleep in the sun with the dog, I would be so happy.

Running through the woods with Lily and Hershey I stagger along uneven paths through the snow that has in some places softened, and in other places remained firm where my repeated footsteps have packed it down.

I am a big girl now and the fury tingles in my fingers and shoots a hot spark of anxiety across my chest. I want to break things, just for relief.

I remember sitting in the cafeteria as a kid. Big trouble. We were not allowed to talk, even with our eyes, the teacher warned. The lunch ladies with pointed boobs and big bellies waddled around the room on stick legs. Their shirts were stained and they held plastic knives to help us cut our warmed up patties and burger buns that landed on our trays as we went through a fluorescent line and ladies with plastic bubble hair and sanitary gloves dished up food. We were not allowed to talk with our eyes or handle plastic knives.

A few years later lunch lady So N So had won the lottery, according to rumor. I remember thinking that it must be reassuring to have lots of money. Cash. I could stop dragging myself from bed to get to school where I wished everyone would stop looking at me, stop trying to talk to me, and just leave me alone.

Walking into work this week someone asked, how are the dogs? I just wanted to hide and close a door where I would no longer hear women in the next room complaining: there is dried mustard on the counter in the kitchen. Can you believe that? And there are paper towels right there…

A few days later the pasty white Formica was perfectly clean. Above it was a note. See the nice clean counters! Let's try to keep them this way. No mustard!

Well, something like that.

It's the cabinet graffiti that pops up every time someone is distracted enough from their life to rant about mustard. Jesus. Shut up. And please, do not talk to me.

I really think that I have once again become cranky enough that if people are decent, I believe it's a mask. Thank God for Lily.

My friend Ed H. died this morning, around the time I woke up with a head full of pressure and mucus. He does not know he has died. He fell in December and the injuries and coma finally took him away.