Decisions in the Shower: A Short Story

 

The hot water splatters on my scalp.  It hurts, but feels familiar.  I stand in the shower stall.  Tears burn my sick eyes.  I married him.

     When I was pregnant, I’d wake at 6:00 am, shower, and eat. I’d start the car in the driveway, then waddle back to pack my lunch.  I’d tiptoe across the floor and try not to wake him.

     Water isn’t hot enough.  All he has to do is call the plumber for a new hot water tank.

     I cried when we moved from Kentucky, for our life felt good.  I was sick when we abandoned Delaware, for it felt wrong.  I had handed him the job on a Wednesday evening, freshly printed and stapled together from the website.      “It’s practically Canada.  Looks cold.” I recycled the pages without any more discussion.  On Saturday he had fished out the papers, and placed them on the kitchen table where I was eating.  “You should apply.”

     In Delaware he said one kid was a lot.  In North Dakota, far from all support and family and friends, he said we ought to make another.

     I sat up in bed and took a deep breath through the extra 45 pounds. “My mother used to wake up every morning and get my Dad to work.”

     “Oh, yeah?” he said.

     “She’d make his breakfast and pack his lunch.  Every work day.”

     “Yeah, but you see how that turned out,” he snickered about their divorce. He covered himself up to his neck with the comforter and closed his eyes to return to sleep.

     I turn the shower to warmer again.  I love our kids.  They were all I wanted to do with my time. He took that from me. And at the same time was terribly mediocre at the job, adding salt to the wound. It was almost nine by the time they were in bed. The lack of schedule enforcement was wreaking havoc on my sleep and my sanity. I was nervous as he returned from putting them to bed.

     “So,” I had smiled. “I’m excited!  Penn State offered me a job,” I blurted.  He kept his gaze on the TV, and his elbow on the armrest.  He didn’t move or speak. I felt nauseous.

     Damn. Out of hot water.

     I jerk the knob clockwise.

     I have no way but the right way.  

     I wrap my towel around my head.  

     Failure is not an option.

     I slide my arms into my robe. I lean into the mirror, dry skin peeling off my nose.  Thirty-five and still blemished.  I put my glasses on, and turn sideways to view my profile.

     I cannot take that job with the tuition benefit, nor sell this house and end our debt.  No. He will stay home and I’ll continue the job 25 miles away from my kids.  I’ll lower expectations – then be happy.  

     I look at myself one last time as my image fogs over and I am barely discernible. I pivot away from myself and walk to the bathroom door. I place my hand on the metal door knob and turn.

 

Bubble Head

Clean, Clear, Smelling Rosy
All things filtered through the Soap
effervescing at the membranes of ears, mouth, eyes, and nose.
Scrub away scrub away
the Dirty Words, the Serious Words, the Decisions.
Scabs and Scars forgotten, covered in Extracts and Oils
Of the most faraway jungle flowers.
Cleansed over.
All that enters washed in a thin, silky film.
Tastes bubbly
Sounds bubby
Smells bubby
Looks bubbly.

 

 

If I could, I would join Rustin and MLK Jr.

To learn more, and for a fantastic film on Rustin, see PBS’s Brother Outsider documentary. It is inspiring and humbling. http://video.pbs.org/video/2365405292/

The Professor

If you could be a part of any conversation, what would it be? For me it would have been the meeting that transpired when Bayard Rustin first came to the home of MLK Jr. At the time, King had yet to adopt nonviolence; in truth, it was Rustin who forced King and the movement to adopt a pacifist position. It was Rustin who traveled to India and studied the ways of Gandhi. That night when Rustin visited King’s home, which was then guarded by armed men, Rustin was turned away. Coretta Scott King asked Rustin into the home. King and Rustin stayed up well into the night smoking cigarettes and having drinks, while Rustin converted King. It was Rustin who organized King’s protest speech in DC, though he removed himself from the movement out of fear that he would hurt the movement due to being gay. Textbooks have not been…

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Pepsi and Peanuts

I showed my son the snack of Pepsi and peanuts on Friday. My great grandfather used to eat it, and my dad did, too. My son and I were watching my daughter at softball practice and I decided I needed one. It was just before Father’s Day, and being so far from him, Dad had been on my mind.

“So you drink some of the spicy drink – you know, the soda. The pop.” Oy – this was going to be harder than I thought. Pumpkin, my son, is only 4, and he doesn’t like pop (thank goodness) because of the carbonation, and my husband calls it soda, but my dialect is pop, so I’m pretty sure he was confused before I even opened the 20 oz bottle.

I took a swig. Then I opened an individual sleeve of honey roasted peanuts on the corner, just to make a small opening. “Then, you wrap your hand around the top and make a funnel, and slowly pour in some peanuts. See how it fizzes?”

aaahhhh, he smiles.

I hadn’t had one of those in years. I seriously couldn’t remember when, but it was sweet and working class and I felt real for a moment, again, watching my girl practice hitting ball, and watching my son run with the other kids. I felt like young me, for a moment, too. Not fretting over boring work, or whether or not the house was cleaned; not afraid of the sunshine or the soda or how much fat was in a peanut. And the taste – so familiar. Instantly I was on the creek bank with dad, watching our fishing lines. Here’s to you, Dad – Happy Father’s Day!

Dad in a Coma: A Memoir

WalkingatTower
photo credit jason revis

In 2007, Dad suffered a heart attack. His girlfriend Marie resuscitated him.  He lay in a darkened ICU room, in a coma. My siblings and I met Marie at Rapid City Regional Hospital. We took turns crying, reasoning, and laughing. We talked with doctors about brain damage.  I drank mocha lattes. My sister wrote notes. People talked Jesus to us. Marie never slept for eight days.  I thought of sawdust.  I wanted something that smelled like Dad instead of the alcoholic hospital.

Dad, a carpenter, carried lumber particulates on his tobacco stained hands and long gray hair.  When I was nine, he would watch The McNeil-Lehrer Report, after he fiddled with foil-tipped TV antennae.  He would lean forward with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped. I would cuddle up and fall asleep, soothed with the smell of sawdust and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Peppermint Soap.

When the song “Sugar Magnolia” didn’t rouse him from the coma, I suggested the soap.  I figured the peppermint-tingly feeling might aggravate him in a good way. I looked at my nieces’ pictures on the wall.

My brother Taylor paced, my sister Beth fidgeted with her black hoodie strings, and Marie wept, motionless.  Red-faced Danny, Dad’s friend, stared at the strong man turned bed-bound. The grandkids’ pictures enlarged and tacked opposite his bed, the peppermint soap, the hippie music, all failed to wake him.  I stared at the white sheets.

Intelligent, assertive, athletic, educated, kind, and self-sufficient, Dad was the only Renaissance man I’ve ever known. I thought he’d awake by the strength of his body and mind. My chest and my belly did flips of dread.  It was time for me to go home. Everyone gave me the room.

I held Dad’s hand.  It was puffy but warm. Mine shivered, trying to ignore the panic. His 52-year-old hands scratched mine, the tips hardened and cracked, stained with black lines. Motor oil from tinkering on clunker cars, the only moisturizer he’d allow.

His brows were furrowed, even in his state of uncontrol.  I wasn’t scared of the tubes in his nose, nor the breathing machine as it clicked and his chest and arms moved while his head turned, making him look like a life-size puppet. The shaved upper lip, though, freaked me out. He looked different missing a moustache with that beard.

“Dad, wake up or I will sing, and that’s going to embarrass us both.”  The heart monitor beeped its steady tune. I drew a hospital-tasting breath. I sang a lullaby, losing melody between gasps and tears.

Brush yer teeth. I’ll get a book. I know you’re tired. I see that look. *

Perfect song for a great dad. He’d fix scrapes, fix cars, go fishing, and build a house. His best role was as a father.  The tears tickled my nostrils.

“You can go, Dad, but if you want to stick around, that would be fantastic.  We are all grown up, now, and we will be alright,” I smiled. I kissed him. “I love ya, Pops.”  I put his hand back on the hospital bed, and turned to leave the room.  Taylor walked into the room at the same time, and rushed to the bedside as Dad groaned and fussed.  I turned for a moment and saw Taylor pick up his hand and clasp reassuringly with both of his.

I fell into Beth’s arms in the waiting room and hugged her tiny hundred pound body.  Then Marie.  Then Danny.  It was time for me to catch my flight back to New York to be with my own child.  I would hear from my brother later that evening as I changed planes in Minneapolis. Dad had woken from his coma when I left the hospital.

*song lyric by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion “Brush Yer Teeth Blues”

A $100 Slice of Pie

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Snohomish is where I am spending my final afternoon for my week in Washington. All week I’ve found quick lunches and have been able to explore a bit with new friends and coworkers in my class and in my agency. Tonight I was on my own and took the cab ride 10 miles for $24 to seek the Snohomish Pie Company. For all of us suburban and rural cimageitizens that haven’t had cabs as a regular part of life, it is always a shocker to watch the meter. This is only my second experience opting for cab.

Snohomish Pie Company is quaint and clean, and consists of a small baking area and counter and about a dozen tables scatered inside and on the patio.  It emits the sense of small, and lightness, which gives me permission to indulge. Well played, SPC.

I requested a cup of chicken gumbo, a small size to fill my belly with nutritious ingredients but leaving space for the pie! Upon recommendation, I was served up an apple-marion berry ala mode. It was gorgeous. A crumb topping, deep burgundy color filling, and just enough ice cream to round it out.

The texture was smooth, not choppy, and hints of mild apple and marion berry danced with the vanilla cream.The crumb topping was a little heavy on the sweet side, I reckon to assist the filling. However, a bit overkill due to its inability to readily mix with the entire bite. I’d never had the fabled marion berries (turns out it’s basically a blackberry), but thought that would be the best local choice, and I am glad I chose it. My father and grandfather always said the local food was one of the best parts of experiencing travel and I agree!

The atmosphere was fantastic. Soft music, pine table sets, and a very youthful and innocent pair of bakery servers happily working at cleaning windows and wiping down tables. They also seemed a bit concerned as I snapped photos and attempted to draft a few notes.

Don’t worryimage, kids, I’m no one but a regular customer, here to say your shop is lovely. My meal was a mere $15, and I headed out to the street to enjoy the visitor-geared shops and atmosphere.

After walking into two antique stores, an organic fiber clothing store, and a candle and gift store, I was already spent on my budget. I acquired a kid guitar, a bootleg vinyl LP, and a magazine from 1995 which was, interestingly enough, the last time I visited Seattle in a chain of events that is a bold marker on my life timeline. That’s for another story of grilled cheese sandwiches, burning busses, and the start of adventure. This one’s about pie. I sank $50 here, but my family will be excited and surprised at their gifts.

Off to the town visitor center, which, in my business, means information and exits on the subject and area at hand. For Snohomish it meant rows of rack cards and two elderly folks that seemed surprised anyone had stepped in to rest, check things out, and read rack cards. After they asked me about a dozen questions, I decided I’d wait outside for a cab. The weather in Washington was just awesome. Light layers, mostly sunny, 60-70 degrees the entire week. Sitting on the bench, waiting for my cab, watching cars go by was soothing. If you’ve never people watched or counted cars, I recommend it. It’s most definitely entertaining. It is a completely present moment activity in this world of phone staring, deadlines, and progress.

We had to take an alternate route back the 10 miles to Everett, a car wreck, stopped traffic on the interstate, and so forth. And although it sounded fraudulent, I could see it on my map app. Besides, the river road literally follows along the Snohomish River, which was also a nice retreat from the very densely populated area. Well, for me it seemed like an awful lot of cars and people and not a lot of space between residential areas. I handed the cabbie $50 (yes, an extra $20 pickup fee somehow) and made my way to my room to pack and unwind. I guess it was more like a $139 slice of pie. Totally worth it.

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Corner of first and avenue d, Snohomish, WA

Clarity Edged into My Mind Today

Spring brings a lot of chance to experience renewal, birth, bloom,imagefreshness, the promise of survival being slightly less intense as cold weather moves to the storage level of Mother Earth’s house. And like other major season changes, I reflect on the moment and the past, maybe where I’m headed. I’ve been thinking about my niece graduating from high school and where I was when I graduated. I am mulling over everything from choices I made given the situations I was placed in versus the plans I had made years prior. And I am honestly grateful my path was different than what I had planned.

Today I’m headed to the park with my two perfect kids. Sure, I’m sleep deprived and winging this parenting some days, but I mostly cannot believe how lucky I am to have these healthy and happy little bugs. I hope they learn gratitude and inner peace easier than I have, but also hope they enjoy the feeling of craftsmanship and accomplishment, and resist being idle. But today, I’m listening to them laugh heartily at the park and that’s truly wonderful.

I am also thinking of how great it is that I have been able to have such wonderful births with them. And mostly that my husband was there with me, and at home with us, and actually really glad he didn’t punch a clock. I have my moments of bitterness because I didn’t get time at home with the kids, but really, I was lucky to have someone willing to stand next to me with no other family present, and make our way this far. We have grown into a life that is ever evolving and ever changing and it is really quite beautiful (even the ugly parts).

And when I get pulled into a downward spiral of chatter, scarcity, and high demands, I can let go because it is not up to me how this life will go. I cannot plan it, I cannot change it, I cannot control it, and that gives me a sense of peace with God and thus love with everything.