Category: Memories

Away II

This was the second assignment I submitted:

…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away

Carly Simon’s voice continued as my clear soprano cracked and descended to a whisper. The dark barrier stretched within. My Friend’s arms held me in radiant warmth.

“She’s off key.”

I raised my head, peered through blurred eyes, wiped tears on my blue, shirt sleeve.

Verna stood with her back to the window. We did not respond. Her voice grew shrill, “She is.”

Sprawled across my bed, Kelli highlighted another sentence in her book, then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.” Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.

Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”

“Huh?” Diana, plopped down in the middle of the floor, pulled herself to her knees. “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”

We chuckled. I turned my eyes to the psychology text in my lap.

Verna opened the window and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”

Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.” Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang.

“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her smile gaped, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and I got the beating. “It’s your fazher!”

I took the receiver. “Hello?”

“Who was that?” The man’s voice was audible throughout the room.

“My roommate.”

“Get a new one.”

“What’s up?”

Good, the censor commended. Keep it casual, relaxed.

“You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.

“I’m studying for a final,” my voice ascended on the final syllable.

Calm, the censor warned.

“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow.”

“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”

“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt.

“I have finals every day.” My breath stopped. My heart began to pound. “The ticket is round-trip?!”

Don’t screech, the censor chided.

“Didn’t I say it would be?” I breathed. He continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”

“Why?” Pounding again.

“To keep them safe.” He used his this-world-is-a-sorry-place tone.

“My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”

“Bring everything anyway.” It was his prophecy-from-on-high voice. I had learned to ignore it when I was twelve.

“I have a final in the morning.”

“That scholarship doesn’t mean you know everything.”

“I have insurance.” The words were out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”

I gently replaced the receiver so he wouldn’t ring back to rebuke me for slamming it down. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The barrier overshadowed me.

At the stereo, Nancy played an album that her elder sister had owned before she was killed by a drunk driver.

“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a raucous, old, French peasant?”

I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.

“He raised you,” in an innocent tone.

I shook my head.

Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and told me, “Verna said he adopted you.”

“No.” Only Kelli, though she was not reading, kept her eyes on her book. I breathed out a defeated sigh.

Careful, the censor warned.

“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing.” The warmth of my Friend’s arms held the pieces of me together.

“Did you ask?” Diana’s voice held genuine interest but the weight grew heavier. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.

“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.

“You’re a foundling,” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”

“They didn’t!” Angry heat suffused my body. I glared at her, “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the darkness bore down, “happened to them…” My eyes pleaded for answers I knew they did not have.

“What about you?” Nancy’s voice held unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”

“My parents divorced,” Verna said with pride.

“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her.

Verna swung her head from side to side, found no one to support her cause. I lowered my eyes to my book as Janis Ian explained:

…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you

The barrier loomed within. I blinked away tears. My Friend pulled me closer.

(1) Stephen Sondheim, “Not A Day Goes By
(2) Janis Ian, “Jesse


The assignment this week asked us to use an excerpt from a previous scene and “write a new and rich description of the world that surrounds this text.” I took an excerpt from “Good Times,” my assignment from last week.

persian carpetMmmph. Mmmph. Mmmph. I drag heavy feet across the reds, golds, and blues of the Persian carpet. My head is down but my eyes don’t see the multi-sided, geometric patterns that so neatly fit thick-soled Mary Jane and then the other. I stop when I reach Papa and place one of my small, tan hands on each of his knees. His breath smells of warm, spicy tobacco. Peppermint too. His trousers exude the fragrance of tweed that has only recently dried.

I try to grasp one of the pale, beige cilia in the fabric under my fingers. Head down, intent on the elusive fiber I ask his knee, “Why did my Grandpère die?”

Papa places one strong index finger under my chin and raises my face until his icy blue eyes meet my dark brown ones. He flinches at my pouting, quivering mouth.

The rustle of silk fills my ears as Marmar flies from the grey wing chair leaving her embroidery on the table under the floor lamp. She sits next to Papa, reaches over his arm and places her hands on my shoulders turning me until our eyes, identical in their darkness, meet.

“He died because it was time for him to go home and be with God.” She places equal stress on each word. She uses the voice that says, ‘I want you to understand.’

My mind sees a soldier in a stiff cap, another in an olive green cap with a bill, a gun. My nose smell hot, metallic sulfur; my ears hear explosions that deluge Grandpère’s white study and fling him against the dark, polished, wood chair rail.

“No,” I shake my head. The words spill out, “God didn’t take my Grandpère. Soldiers shot him.”

Marmar pulls me against the soft hazy blues of her dress; I breathe in the comfort of her musky perfume.

“Yes. They did,” she tells me, her voice soft, singing, as if she must speak this awful mystery in the cadence of her native Portuguese. “But when he fell, God was right there to catch him.”

My lip quivers. Tears puddle in the corners of my eyes, spill down my face. Papa pulls me onto his lap. My lips, pressed tightly together, struggle to dam the words.

Words burst out, “I don’t like God.”

Papa pulls me close against the softness of his yellow, ribbed vest. I bury my tears in the strength of his chest; he holds my shaking body and murmurs softness into my heart. Marmar’s gentle hand strokes sleep into my short curls.

Good Times

Though I planned to post my work from last week, writing the same scene from two different perspectives, I want to give it another pass. In the meantime, this week’s assignment asked me to write of characters who remember the same experience(s) differently. Your comments are desired:

picnic in Bristol“We had good times when Mummy was alive,” Claire mused as she lay out two rows of honey wheat bread. She took ham, sliced cheddar, mayonnaise, and mustard from the refrigerator.

“Yes,” Eve responded dreamily one elbow leaning on her mother’s old Formica kitchen table. “But then she got sick… and died.”

“Mel,” Claire turned from a kitchen drawer holding the small spatula. A wide smile lit her face. “Do you remember the swings? I used to push you and you’d call out ‘Higher! Push me higher!'”

“I remember,” I told them. “There were picnics with olive loaf sandwiches and potato chips.”

“Weren’t those good times? Remember the zoo in Bristol? And the grape vines and olive trees in Gard?” Claire sighed, “We had the best picnics there. That was the best summer.”

“We should’ve stayed in Bristol,” Eve said. “We could’ve lived in Bristol with Mummy’s cousin. We’d have been happy but…” Eve’s voiced trailed off.

“But she wouldn’t leave. And even when she did, she didn’t take us.” Unshed tears highlighted Claire’s hazel eyes. She scooped out a shiny blob of cream colored mayonnaise with her spatula and spread it on the bread.

Eve stood, retrieved a six-box, shrink wrapped package of raisins from the cupboard and placed them in the basket. “Mel, when were you happy?” she asked.

“Me?” It was a squeak. “Never.”

“But there were good times,” Claire insisted her voice raising almost an octave.

I shook my head, “No. Not one day, not one moment when I was happy.”

“But you were happy when I pushed you on the swings,” Claire insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “Sometimes I escaped for…” My forehead rumpled. “A few seconds? Maybe a few minutes? But it was always there.” Tears threatened to leak out; I blinked them away. I hid my face, looking down at the scrubbed, yellow table top, where we had all learned to peel potatoes, helped to make biscuits, picnic sandwiches, and birthday cakes.

“What?” Claire asked.

“The hurt. I always hurt,” I said softly.

“Don’t you remember anything good?” Eve pleaded softly.

“Swimming, dancing, horseback riding, books — those help. But, no.” I shook my head,

“Nothing?” Claire asked.

I did not answer. The small kitchen grew silent except for the soft sounds of Claire arranging meat, cheese, and pickles.

I looked up at Eve, ​”I remember when he beat you. Your blood was all over your blue uniform blouse. Blood everywhere. So much blood…” I closed my eyes against the red tide.

“Why did Grandpère die?” my fingers picked at the roughness of Papa’s brown, herringbone tweed clad knee.

Marmar leaned over and placed her hands on my shoulders turning me to face her. Her dark brown eyes gazed intently into mine, “He died because it was time for him to go home and be with God.”

“No,” I shook my head. “God didn’t take my Grandpère. Soldiers shot him.”

He flung his hand out towards me, towards Marmar. Marmar’s hand gripped my shoulder. I was all eyes, absorbing a world that had changed with a thunderous Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop in the hallway; Marmar’s grasping fingers had prevented me running to see. Soldiers lumbered through the dark, wooden door of Grandpère’s study. The first wore a stiff cap, the second an olive green cap with a bill. Grandpère spared a rapid glance at Marmar and me standing on the raised area in front of the built-in bookshelves.

The first soldier spoke. Grandpère spoke. My forehead wrinkled at the rushing sound; their lips moved but I could not hear their words. The first soldier spoke again. The rushing sound still filled my ears. Voices had been sucked out of the room. The soldier in the olive green cap took a dark grey gun from the holster on his belt. He pointed it at Grandpère. His finger pressed a lever. Two immense explosion filled the room with the smell of rotten eggs. Grandpère’s back slammed against the white, plaster wall. He slid onto the floor. Blood gushed from his chest. His pale blue cotton shirt grew red with the hot, thick…

“Yes, they did,” Marmar’s replied in her soft, singing tones. “But when he fell, God was right there to catch him.”

My lip quivered. Papa pulled me onto his lap. I buried my tears in the softness of his grey wool sweater. My shoulders trembled as Marmar’s fingers stroked my curls.

“Mel!” Claire demanded.

But how could there be so much blood? It’s supposed to be inside.

I shook my head, “Huh?”

“Where were you?” Her tone was accusatory as if she’d caught me doing something shameful.

My forehead creased, my eyes narrowed. The image of blood across pale blue cotton, the scent of damp wool, slender fingers caressing my hair receded behind the dark, rubbery barrier. I shook my head again.

I blinked in the sunlight streaming through the sheer curtains. “The sun’s out,” I told them. “We can go for our picnic.” I stood and began placing wrapped sandwiches in the basket.

“The sun’s been out for five minutes,” Eve told me.

“Oh,” I shrugged.

Eve and Claire shared a glance.

“You know,” Eve told me, “It wasn’t that much blood.”

I blinked at her, my forehead crumpling again, “There was blue cotton soaked with blood, so much blood.”

Eve’s face was puzzled. Claire looked as if she longed to tap the side of her head and tell me, ‘You’re crazy.’ As I packed, silence again descended on the room.

“That’s why you don’t remember any good times?” Claire blurted out when I had finished with the basket.

“No!” my voice was an angry squeak. “I don’t know. I hurt. I always hurt.”

Tears welled up and threatened to spill. I sniffed and ran to the bathroom, fumbled with the handle, and made it inside before the tears broke free. I rinsed my eyes and face with warm water, then cleaned the tear stains from my glasses. Before replacing them, I looked at my swollen red face in the white-rimmed mirror.

There was blood, I told my Friend.

Image source:

Family – Five Minute Friday (a day late)

Another rewrite:

guardedNancy heaved her bulging bag onto her narrow bed and began pulling out stacks of neatly folded garments that smelled of biting sweet detergent. “How was Thanksgiving?” she asked.

“Okay,” my said in soft, small tones. My forehead wrinkled, my voice grew stronger “The houses are so close together. I thought that was only in Manhattan.”

Nancy laughed, “That’s the way it is in New York. Everywhere except the suburbs.”

“Oh,” I sat up straight on the hard, wood chair, held my legs out, and pointed and flexed my feet.

“It must be hard for you to be so far from home,” Nancy continued.

I pulled in a deep, cautious breath, “I guess.”

“What was your home like?”

“More land, bigger gardens. There’s a barn and playhouse… and a kitchen garden” I replied. “The vegetables here are like plastic,” my voice rose, cutting the quiet of the room, resounding off the hard surfaces of the floor and the iron beds. “I miss tomatoes that taste like sunshine.” The words tumbled past the censor that had stood stiffly at her post since the day I woke with my mouth pressed against the rusty, dusty screen door.

“Do you miss the family you lived with?” Nancy, her folded laundry now stored in the solid utilitarian bureau or stacked in her closet, sat on the edge of her bed, her chin resting in one cupped hand.

Images of the world which the man inhabited rose in my heart. I pushed most of them away before speaking, “I miss Matthieu.” I paused to review my feelings. “He’s the youngest.” I added. Internally, I scanned the remaining images. “I miss the mountains and Lake Mirren. And swimming everyday and my sewing machine.”

As I spoke, mountains, large green lake, my body slicing through chlorine water, the whir of my sewing machine presented themselves. The censor nodded. Each might be allowed public viewing.

Nancy sat gazing at me. Her patient, gentle attention hurt but there were no more images fit to be shared.

“What do you miss?” I asked trying to redirect her to herself.

“I miss my horse,”she told me.

“You have a horse?” I asked, my eyes wide, my heart rejoicing that she owned one of those magnificent beasts.

“Yes,” Nancy’s face held a small, wistful smile.

Then silence hung in the room. Something more seem expected of me. My voice faltered as the sentence left my lips, “I – I guess I’m looking forward to Christmas.”

She nodded her head. “I miss my family too.”

Nancy sighed, stood up, took her shower basket and one of her still fresh from being laundered towels and left the room.


On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Same – Five Minute Friday

This week, I spent 5 minutes rewriting a passage from my book. The rewrite is moving along:

nyc from the air“Had I not bought the boys clothes for school,” I softly told my Friend. “I’d have enough.” I sighed and plucked out a blade of grass. “But he would have tried to take my money away. I just wanted him to leave me alone.” I sighed again. “Now I can’t afford both a plane ticket and to make it through the year.” My forehead was tight. “I’ll need his help,” I told my Friend looking out over Lake Mirren. “But he won’t help me. He’ll never let me go. Never.” I shook my head. “There’s no escape. It will always be the same.”

Tears welled up. With an angry sniff, I blinked them away. A brilliant flash of demanding possibility raced through my mind. “I can’t!” I told my Friend. “I just can’t!” The bright sunny day suddenly felt foggy, dim. I packed my things and walked to the bus stop.

Tap! Tap! Tap! I lowered my Bible, “Who is it?”

“It is I,” Ella announced. “Could you open the door?” I unlatched the hook and cracked the door. “I have a headache,” Ella was even paler than usual. “Would you make dinner?”

“Sure,” it was a pained sigh. I marked my place in Genesis and made my way to the kitchen. With the big chef’s knife Ella and the man had received as a wedding gift, I chopped carrots as if they were wood. “Why isn’t she making dinner?” I demanded of my Friend between chops. “That’s why he married her. I’ve been doing her job all summer.”

You could be in New York soon.

“What?!” The almost sound hung in the air. I felt my bum. The words were like a large boot kicking me gently but firmly in the seat of my pants.

You could be in New York soon.

My backside felt the gentle but firm kick again. “Really?!” My voice was shrill terror. I walked over to the calendar that hung next to the phone and counted days with the knife’s tip. “Three weeks. In three weeks I could leave.” My eyes widened. A warm tingle suffused my body.

A few minutes latter, Gerard came through the laundry room. “Dad sent me to get…” he began.

I interrupted, “In three weeks, I am going to New York.”

“No you’re not,” his voice dripped with superior knowledge.

“Yes I am,” my head nodded as I spoke. He shook his head and disappeared down the cellar steps.

When he returned, words tumbled from my mouth, “Will you buy me a trunk for my going away present?”

Gerard pursed his lips, “He won’t let you go.”

“Yes, he will,” I told him.

Gerard shook his head, “If he let’s you go, I’ll buy the trunk.”

“In three weeks, I’m going to New York,” I told the man that evening. “Will you pay my plane fare so I can use the money I’ve saved for my expenses?”

The words had tumbled out. I didn’t even rehearse, I mutely told my Friend as I waited for an answer.

At my words, the man’s face had become angry and indignant. Ella, who lay beside him, pulled herself up and spoke first, “That’s the least we can do considering how hard you’ve worked.”

The floor was suddenly wobbly, my head woozy and light. Something was changing. Something was not the same. My mouth formed itself into a small smile,  “Thank you.”


On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source:

Happy Again – Five Photos, Five Stories – 5

feast 2“Three pirouettes!” I cried out. “Three pirouettes! For the first time, God!” I took a series of quick steps and executed a grande jeté. My hand reached for the barre. A huge smile lit my face; my eyes sparkled. I took a deep breath, “That’s what it needed, three pirouettes!”

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?”

Time stopped. A rich, white noise masked the strong, driving beat of 38 Special’s “If I’d Been The One.” The question hung in the air. I blinked away the tears that suddenly pricked my eyes.

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?” The Voice spoke again.

“Y-yes,” I found myself responding. Tears surged past my attempts to blink them away. The mirrors reflected my crinkled forehead, of eyes sparkling with tears. I did not ask, Why are You asking me? What does it mean?

For much of my life, I have kept in check a very young part of myself who longs to squat keening in the marketplace, “Look at what they did to me! Look! Look!” as I toss dirt and ashes on my head. Her deepest desire is that my losses, my wounds, my pain be acknowledged. Beyond that, she doesn’t know what she wants. Some losses are so great, it’s impossible to imagine any recovery.

So when my dearest Friend asked if I could be happy without knowing everything, I could say, ‘Yes.’ Hadn’t I just turned three pirouettes when I’d never imagined myself turning more than two? Didn’t that make me happy? Didn’t singing, swimming make me happy? Hadn’t designing a pencil skirt that fit a narrow waist and wider hips made me happy? I didn’t know that I didn’t know what happiness was. I was willing to go along for the adventure.

But the keening child in me knows happiness. She remembers everything. She holds within her the absolutely delicious experience of belonging to specific people, of being loved by specific people, of being at home with them because they are hers and she is theirs. And through the adventure, she has often noted that this is all very nice but…

It’s grand that these people are accepting my invitation to dinner but they’re not my family. What a lovely time I had with my girlfriends but I don’t really belong to them. How grand that they threw me a surprise birthday party but they don’t really know me and so can’t really love about me. Then I unexpectedly found myself waiting five months for my insurance company to begin paying on my disability claim, wasn’t allowed access to my profit sharing account, and had already spent all my savings on being ill. Friends (and even strangers) swooped in and provided the funds I needed to pay my bills. At the same time, they continued to be my friends. The young, keening child in me was flabbergasted and dazzled. But she insisted there was at least one person my friends could never replace. She knows the place in my heart I never go, the place to which I never invite anyone.

I have no auditory memory of Marmar’s voice, no auditory memory of Portuguese. I do recall the sound of German, French, Italian, Spanish, and several other languages. Though I read Portuguese quite well, each time I hear it as it’s the first time. Each time I want to wail. Perhaps it is mercy that hinders my memory. Her loss is beyond telling, a pain I will carry to the grave. Perhaps my Friend has granted me the grace to forget because memory would bring more pain than joy.

“‘Helen was happy here,’ said Phronsie decidedly. ‘And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.’

“Polly drew a long breath, and shut her lips. ‘But, Phronsie, don’t you see,’ she cried presently, ‘it may be that Mrs. Fargo wouldn’t ever want to go to Heaven unless Helen was there to meet her? It may be, Phronsie; and that would be very dreadful, you know. And God loved Mrs. Fargo so that he took Helen, and he is going to keep her happy every single minute while she is waiting and getting ready for her mother.’”*

Fallen Sparrow learned to drive recently and set off on an adventurous motoring trip from Maryland to his home state of Minnesota. Some planned meet ups didn’t work out. I was concerned that he might be disappointed. When I gingerly inquired, he told me he wanted to let one of those he missed know, “I will always fail you and disappoint you, but Jesus never does.”* We cannot escape entropy. Life fails and disappoints but Jesus never does. Christ holds us together, holds all that we are. And just as He held my innocence until I could receive it again, He holds Marmar. And perhaps I long for heaven more than I would have had I never lost her. Though her voice remains just beyond my memory, the sight of her fills my heart. I see us in heaven some day. We will dance before God, her extremely long, dark hair flowing freely and my (not quite so) long, dark hair bouncing in the breeze.

In the meantime, I am happy again. The young child within me longs to keen on occasion but I know, friends love me; I belong to people who belong to me. There are feasts on earth even though there is also famine. While earth was never meant to be heaven neither is it hell. I can be happy and long at the same time. We’re not an either/or people; life is not a zero sum game. Christians are both/and people. Even as we wait, we know we are “heirs in hope of eternal life.” And “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

*Margaret Sydney, Five Little Peppers Grown Up:

Image: An earthly feast – Grilled chicken breasts with a balsamic and garlic glaze; Baconated kumatoes with fresh basil, garlic, and spicy pepper oregano; Old Bay Shrimp (with butter for dipping).

X is for X Chromosome

Chromosome_with_Labels_(for_wikispace)The minister I lived with after my parents died believed there was boys’ work and girls’ work. He loved to make and repair things with his own hands and expected his sons and the other boys who lived with him to take an interest. After all, they each had an X chromosome. Unfortunately for him, they had no interest, no desire, probably no aptitude for the work he loved. They loved cartoons, bikes, comic books, ball games, and food.

On Saturdays when he pottered in his workshop in the cellar, his voice could often be heard shouting for one of the boys. Unless he called for a particular boy by name, there was no answer even if one of them was in the kitchen near the cellar door. When he shouted a boy’s name, eventually, that child would appear at the top of the stairs.

Eyes shining, the minister would speak as if offering a great treat, “Do you want to come with me to look for parts?”

“I haven’t finished my chores.” Each gave the stock reply in a voice like lead. They knew any other excuse meant not only being hit and forced to accompany him, but also hearing a long sermon that evening on being a dutiful child and taking an interest in their father’s work as the girls mutely giggled. (Those boys who were not actually his sons probably rejoiced in silence. They had no genetic responsibility to be interested in his work.)

On Saturdays, the cellar, which housed balls and other play gear, was a dangerous place. “Come here and hold this 2 by 4!” the minister would shout to a ball carrying boy who had completed his chores and only wanted to play. “Don’t hold it that way!” the minister would shout, rarely explaining the way he wanted it to be held. “Put your back into it! Hold it tightly!”

At dinner that night, the minister would crow and regale us with exaggerated stories of some boy’s failure to be a real boy and do a man’s work. We remained silent, only laughing at appropriate intervals.

I, being without an X chromosome, was not allowed to help. When I offered, I was sent to work on my embroidery or to engage in some other activity suitable for girls.

But I was more than interested. I was intrigued, so intrigued, I’d make my way to his workshop when he was away and invent communication devices, spy tools, and all sorts of other neat things. They didn’t really work — there was no internet to teach me the things the man wouldn’t. Since I broke a number of items, including the minister’s workshop television, it was probably for the best that I was born before the advent of the internet. Occasionally, I was allowed to ride along with him when he went to find parts. It’s one of my favourite memories of a man who left me with so few fond memories of him.

As an adult, I enjoy embroidery and all sorts of things the minister would call girls’ activities. And though I still lack an X chromosome, I also love hardware stores, tools, painting, mathematics, repairing broken things — all sorts of boys’ activities. It’s such a shame he never knew that one child living in his house would have loved to learn about his interests. It’s such a shame he denied himself so much.

V is for Vital

“This is the vital thing,” I leaned forward and stared into Alain’s eyes. “I have to go home. I need to find my family. I need help remembering. Maybe if I can remember the specifics, I’ll be able to find them.” I sat back and drew a deep breath in through my nose.

“Memory is like a complex web,” Alain spoke gently. Though his face remained impassive, I heard a ‘but’ in his voice, “There’s no guarantee you’ll ever remember the specifics.”

“But I do remember,” I insisted. “When I’m really tired, I write in German. I only studied enough German to sing arias. I was never learned to write it. And my supervisor brought a German Struwwelpeter he had as a child and not only could I read it, I remembered my Papa reading it to me. All sorts of things trigger my memory.” Wrinkles had formed in my forehead. I tilted my head to one side like a puppy and pleaded in a small, high breathiness, “What can we do to trigger more memories?”

ptsd“We don’t know what will trigger it. The book connected you to a past experience. Tastes, smells, sights, sounds, tactile experiences will trigger memory. But I can’t sit here and determine which experiences will trigger specific memories.” He sighed, “Have you heard of PTSD?”

“Y-y-y-yes,” I stuttered. “I’ve read about it.”

“Why are you afraid?” Alain asked gently.

“I hate being labeled,” my shoulders rose and tightened. “And I don’t want medication!”

“You know I’m a CSW and can’t prescribe. If I thought you needed medication, I’d send you to a psychiatrist.” Alain waited as his words sank in; my shoulders relaxed. “The trauma you’ve experienced has left you with PTSD. You’re pretty good at handling it most of the time but you can’t control it’s affect on your memory. Your memories are so intertwined with the trauma, trying to force yourself to remember, no matter how vital, just won’t work.”

Energy drained out through my hands; in the silence, my fists slowly unclasped themselves. “So I just wait?” My voice was a small, plaintive wail.

“Yes,” Alain nodded his head. “You must continue on the long, slow path. Your hazy memory protects you from remembering too much too quickly. It’s a survival mechanism.”

“But I have an almost photographic memory!” I wailed.

“That’s part of the mechanism. You’re hyper alert and hyper aware,” he insisted. “You’ve told me you always know how to find your way out of any room and if there are no exits, you’re nervous and uncomfortable. That’s another survival mechanism.”

“Why couldn’t God have set a timer so I would remember when I was 20 years old? It really is vital. If either of them is alive, they might die before I find them,” my mouth was a small pout; a tear threatened to spill out of my left eye.

“I know it’s hard but this is the way God designed you. He gave the human brain the ability to protect itself. Your brain did exactly what it’s supposed to do. When you’re ready, you’ll remember what you need.” Then Alain added, “That might take some time.”

A sighing stream of air blew out of my nose. Head bowed, shoulders hunched, I examined my limp hands as they rested against my black linen trousers. After a moment, the corners of my mouth curled into a wry smile. My shoulders relaxed, my head lifted and gently nodded.

T is for Try Weed

Try Weed“Just try it,” Bina urged. Her outstretched fingers gripped a small, smoking wad of folded white paper.

“You gotta try weed.” Emily’s head waved to and fro to a lazy beat only she heard.

“I tried it once,” I replied and held up my half-full bottle of Dos Equis. “This is enough for me.”

“You still working on your first beer?!” Emily shouted with a wild laugh. “You gotta keep up!” The unheard beat pulled her head back to the lazy wave.

“This is some dank weed!” Bina announced as she blew out a long stream of smoke. “You gotta try it!” she urged. “It’s just a joint.”

“I know what a joint is. Cade smokes them like cigarettes,” I retorted. “I’m happy with a beer.”

“You gotta party with us,” Bina insisted catching my eye with a look that clearly proclaimed, ‘If you don’t party, you’re not my friend.’ I let out a long sigh and reached for the still smoking joint. “Inhale like a cigarette, hold it in as long as you can, then exhale,” she instructed.

“I know,” I replied drily. I closed the back of my throat as I did when smoking cigarettes, pulled some of the smoke into the back of my mouth keeping my cheeks unpuffed, returned the joint to Bina and waited. Bits of smoke made their way back through my imperfect throat seal. I would not let myself cough. After a moment, I slowly blew smoke out of my mouth.

“Howes dat?!” Bina excitedly inquired.

“It’s okay,” I replied and took a sip of my beer.

“Another toke,” she extended her fingers to me again.

“Nother toke!” Emily cried out.

“Nother toke!” they sang in unison. “Nother toke!”

I faked smoking as well as I could. After my third toke, the joint was gone. The room seemed to be sliding back and forth. The smell, like concentrated essence of grits, left me queasy. I munched on butter cookies as Bina and Emily began doing lines of coke. Neither invited me to join them. Cookies and breathing were plenty. Then the cookies were gone.

“I gotta get home,” I announced to a corner of the ceiling.

“Iss early!” Bina cried out as Emily sniffed white powder off a small mirror through a thin straw.

“Long… train… ride…” I pushed out with difficulty. There was a disconnect between my brain and mouth.

Once in the warm Spring air, I walked carefully to the subway station lighting cigarette after cigarette that I forgot to smoke. An open supermarket promised more butter cookies. As I waited to pay for them panic clutched my heart, What if she realizes I’m high? I pulled on my red sunglasses, pasted a bright smile on my face, paid for the cookies, and made my way down the subway steps.

The car was empty. Still wearing sunglasses, I found a seat in the middle of it. I want to be able to see everyone, flashed through my mind. A few people entered as I seated myself.

God! I mutely cried out as the doors closed. There are only men in this car. What if they attack me? I felt a strong urge to take another look. Lifting my sunglasses, I picked out several women amid the men. A soft sigh of thanks found its way through my lips.

But God! Another mute cry. What if they get off on watching those men attack me? The soft pressure of an invisible hand atop my head eased my panic. I munched on butter cookies until reaching my stop.

As I exited the turnstile, I lit a cigarette. I had puffed my way through two of them by the time I was rounding the corner to the street that led to my house. A shadow neared. Something stopped my right hand; I held a newly lit cigarette three inches from a man’s eye.

“Excuse me, Miss, do you have the time?” the elderly Asian gentleman who owned the dry cleaners inquired.

I stared mutely at him as I swallowed my desire to shout, “How dare you come so close to me at 11:30 at night?! You fool! I almost burned you!

I took in a deep breath. “11:30,” I exhaled.

“Thank you, Miss.” He hurried off.

Once safely behind locked doors, I looked at my red-eyed face in the mirror. “I don’t like this God!” I informed Him and my reflection. “Life is hard enough!” I adamantly insisted. “I don’t need stuff that interferes with my perception.” I huffed out another breathe, “Try weed. Nope.” I shook my head, “Never again.”

P is for Primer

Eight of us sat around a low round table in the reading corner. Mrs. L gave me a thin, soft book, “Janet and Mark.” “That’s your primer,” she smiled at me. The words were fuzzy until I held the book close to my face. We each read the first two pages aloud repeating the same words over and over. “Take your primers home and practice reading the first two pages,” Mrs. L. instructed us.

At the dining room table, I read aloud softly, “Janet. Mark.” I longed to turn the page and read more but recalled Mrs. L.’s voice telling us to practice reading the first two pages. I closed the primer.

“May I read the big Bible?” I asked the woman peeled potatoes in the kitchen. She scrubbed my hands and opened the big Bible on the dining room table. “Exodus,” I read.

The next afternoon, chin resting on the heel of my hand, I repeated in an almost voiceless whisper as Ellie read “Come, Mark. Come, Mark, come.”

Janet and Mark don’t know very many words, I mutely informed the Presence.

At the minister’s house, I practiced reading the next pages of “Janet and Mark.” Then I approached the woman for help with the big Bible. “Don’t you have any homework?” she asked.

“I’m finished,” I told her.

“You’re in the most advanced reading group,” she insisted. “Are you sure you’re done?” I showed her my primer. “Oh well, they must know what they’re doing,” she sighed as she placed the big Bible on the table.

The next day we read two more pages aloud.

May I just peek? I mutely asked the Presence as each child repeated the same words. From behind my primer, I glanced at the other children. They peered intently at their primers. Mrs. L. focused on the child who was reading aloud. Quietly, I turned the page and continued reading. When I reached page eleven, I stopped wide-eyed and open-mouthed, “There’s a picture instead of the word bike!” my voice was a soft whisper. I peered out quickly. No one had noticed. I continued reading. There it is again! I voicelessly but indignantly told the Presence. Pictures but not the word ‘bird’! I mutely told the Presence, Nothing happens. A whole book and nothing happens.

That afternoon, I did not practice reading the primer. Instead, I read Exodus.

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