January 5th Uninspired

January 5th 2007

The stupidest thing I saw today. I got a copy a list of classroom adaptations for my younger boy. It said he would be allowed to “utilize consolidated classroom techniques”. What the hell is that?

The stupidest thing I did today. I wasn’t too stupid today.
The nicest thing I saw to day.
The nicest thing I did today. Guess I wasn’t too nice, either.

Something that made me cry. Ha! I didn’t even cry once today!

Something I wanted today but couldn’t have.

Something I ate today but shouldn’t have. Why oh why? Because god is punishing me. God is big on punishment.

Or as I like to call it when it happens to my kids, “divine retribution”. Yesterday I ate the stupidest thing. It was a waste of my life, the calories and the cottage cheese of my thighs. The thing is, it all comes from greed. Greed is the bane of my existence. But I started with good intentions.

My mom used to do stocking for us kids, then the grandkids. And she did it weird, but cool and fun. We alwalys got some small junk food, which for us was the little boxes of cereal. That was ‘junk’ because it wasn’t plain Cheerios or Wheaties or Cornflakes. Pretty much that’s what we ate for breakfast. No candy-coated-sugar-bombs for us.

Remember back about 30 years? When you could cut open the little cereal box and pour the milk right into the box and eat it? It seemed like such a technological innovation to me at the time. They don’t encourage that anymore. One too many kids drove the steak knife into their thigh while cutting the box open, I guess.

Anyway, we always got little cereals, pineapple juice in little cans, a gigantic red delicious apple, a gigantic navel orange, candy canes and some silly small present. Usually something practical, but special because it was for only us. Like one year we all got shampoo. Our own shampoo. Laugh if you want, but I was enthralled. I think my brother got green apple, one of my sisters got strawberry and I got a very grown up golden bottle of Flax Enriched something.

I read the back and was awed by its promise to “heal and strengthen the hair shaft”. It had protein for strength and shine. It had jojoba oil for bounce and luster. I was going to have the most strong, lustrous, bouncy and shiny 12 year old hair in the world.

Another year we got jars of olives or packages of pepperoni. All to ourselves. Or entire packages of gum, like the 10 pack strips of Wrigleys.

Well since my mom died, I’ve tried to take on the torch of the stocking stuffing. My sisters helped me out t his year. One brought packs of gum, the other brought little Debbie’s Oatmeal Cream Pies and Marshmallow Murders. I found one of the cream pies yesterday while I was cleaning up the shrapnel of Christmas.

Before I knew what I was doing I had eaten it. What is wrong with me? It was greasy and dry. It was so sweet it hurt my teeth. I should have stopped after one bite, but I didn’t. I ate it. I think they used to be better. Or I used to be hungrier, because, yeeeuch, it was icky.

Moments of Gastronomical Excellence… Right.

Missed opportunity.
Goose bumps.

Food horrors.

Life’s Greatest Lesson

My mom always said life’s greatest lesson was one so many people didn’t get. It was this, “If you didn’t like it when you were a kid, don’t do it to your kids.” That simple. We had some back and forth about whether or not I had learned the lesson. There was no doubt that she tried to live by it.

She asked me at one point if I was remembering the lesson. My take on it was as follows, and it made her cry when I told her. You know, life can be so quietly disappointing.
I have thought about life’s greatest lesson. Im not too sure this will be a clear idea, but I’ll try. The problem with that lesson is that even if you try to learn it and work it into your life, you can only do so much. You were trying to make sure we didn’t have the nightmares you had as a child. And I think you did a damn fine job of that. But while you were fucusing on that, other troubles snuck in the back door. We can’t anticipate what is going to be horrible for our children, I think partially because it’s just so hard to be a little person.

Little people think we have it all under control. They think we know what we’re doing. They don’t know yet that we;re just bigger people guessing about bigger things. I ‘m big enough to know you did your best with your situation. You tried really hard and we still got hurt. Not only that, but your were trying to live your life.

I don’t think you were too selfish. I think you were trying to protect us with the tools you had. Just like I’m trying to do for my boys. I hope they have as many warm, happy memories of childhood as I do. And I hope they have fewer bitter and sad ones. I assume you hoped the same for us. I assume also that you suceeded. I hope I succeed with my boys.

At that rate in a few generations we’ll have perfect little childhoods. But not everybody learns the lesson, or learns it right. I t hink that adds depth to our family and our lives. Me, I could stand a little less depth. Shallow is underrated. Not everybody thinks as much as you and I. And even for all our thoughtfulness, we still hose things up.”

My mom said she couldn’t respond because she was too sad. It’s true. We work so hard. And then we die. And in between we don’t giggle nearly enough or experience the pitch-near-madness excitement we think it’s all about. What can you do?

Magic

I can’t remember the first time I knew I had magical powers. And when I tell you about how much I enjoyed my powers (only use your powers for good, Lisa), you will like me a little less, maybe. But I think you’ll get over it. You might as well know. I probably didn’t hide it that well anyway. You might have known about the powers because you had them too, or because you were enchanted by someone who did.

Now there are those of you who think you know about my magical powers, but you’re wrong. I used to be able to, and still can to a certain extent, predict what people are about to say or what they’re thinking. That wasn’t magic. It was a parlor trick. The truth is, people aren’t that tricky when it comes to conversation. They say what they’re supposed to say to keep the conversation going, or they make a joke that surprises you. Even the radio is easy– I used to predict that, too.

One of the first times I remember knowing I had magic was when I got my first pair of white Levi 501s. I remember walking to work, along Portland Avenue in my white jeans and a pink tank top. I was barefoot likely as not, carrying my shoes. I was probably 16, and I thought I was cute.

And can we digress a little here and say, that thinking you’re cute is half the battle? It isn’t the whole battle, and I know that. I know because of a number of uninvited thong sightings (whale tails, in more ways than one) I’ve had. Thongs rising out of cleavage that made me pray for deliverance and have flash-backs to Nam. But women know where their ass-crack and underwear are as a general rule. If more than an inch is showing in public, its because you think it’s cute. And that confidence, in my opinion, leaves you halfway through a battle with not much more than a carnage strewn field to show for your efforts.

So back to thinking I was cute. I knew I was cute, but I remember for the first time that guys in cars were honking or whistling at me. Guys I didn’t know. They looked over their shoulders at me. It was like magic. Like being famous. Or maybe just like being 16. But I swear to god, I could feel the blue electric charge every time it happened. Zzzing! At a stop sign, at the gas station, walking home, I had power. I felt like Samantha from Bewitched. And I loved it. I loved it. I started walking all over town, facing the traffic so I could see if guys were looking at me. A lot of them were. It was intoxicating.

I wasn’t make-your-eye-teeth-hurt, beautiful. I remember the girls who were, Tressa DeRider, Tracy Ybarra. That kind of beautiful is something I can’t really comment on much. you might ask my sister about it. People she doesn’t know buy her drinks. Once in MinneapolisWhen we were kids, an Indian guy yelled at her and told her she was a witch. I think even then, people could tell she was going to have a lot of magic.

I didn’t have much more than 16, cute and confident going for me. But it was enough. And the hard part of this story is that at some point in the last few years, at a stop light, I realized that I had become Everymom. I am becoming invisible. Shake your head at my vanity, tell me I’m shallow and wrong, but deep inside I know it’s on its way out. I’m sure it’ll be replaced by something else maybe even more meaningful and blah blah. Cut me some slack, OK?

I was a clumsy, tiny, afraid-of-the-ball kid whose mom had to browbeat the basketball coach into letting her play during games. I took piano lessons for 7 years and to this day cannot read music. No matter how hard I tried, and I did finally start to try in high school, I couldn’t be orderly or organized. I was flat chested and four-eyed.

But goddamn it. I was cute, I was even sexy, and I loved it. I enjoyed it. I didn’t take it so much for granted, as I was unable to grasp its perishability. Even when, as I was admiring how cute my round little butt looked, in my bandeau-waisted, wide-waled maroon corduroy pants, my mom said to me, “You think you’re going to always have that perky little butt, don’t you?”. I thought I was. What did she know

I wouldn’t remember it if it didn’t make some sort of impression on me. But I couldn’t understand it in the way she meant it until pretty recently, having more disappointing results with some different pants and an entirely different butt. And you know what? I love my mom, but I think it was mean of her to even try to warn me.


Garry the Pervert Part 2

I stayed long enough to not seem rude. And knowing what I know now about kids and poker faces, I’m sure I showed enough in my face to titillate him. By the time I ran home (skipping, so as not to give my self away), I was shaken. Why I felt like I needed to pretend I didn’t see anything, I don’t really understand. I think it has something to do with a sense of guilt at having seen, having been there at all.

After all, what if it was an accident? But also, playing it cool seemed like the only good option in case it wasn’t an accident. On some level I knew if it was on purpose, he was looking for a reaction; and by reacting, I would be letting him win.

I felt bad. Sick to my stomach. Hot in my face. Isn’t it strange how just seeing a part of this adult’s anatomy set off this whole adrenaline response cascade? He never, ever laid a hand on me. I don’t think I said anything to my mom or dad. I never would have told my dad. It didn’t seem like an option. That was definitely the feeling that I had done something wrong. That I had been contaminated by what I saw.

The second time it happened, he actually made an excuse to go and change (read that as remove his underwear and put on his short-shorts). I think my sister was there with me. This time when his one eyed wonder worm made an appearance, I knew it wasn’t an accident. I again played it cool, felt sick, and left the scene. This time I told my mom. I don’t remember what she said, but I’m pretty sure she told me not to hang around over there anymore. I know she told me not to go into his house under any circumstances. I never did.

He did invite me in a couple of times. The only thing I ever did was go with a group to watch the brick smashing. All of this happened over the course of years, I was probably 12 the last time I went over there. I must have been a really stupid 12 year old. I still can’t figure out how or why I ever went over there again. He did have a lonely, whiney quality about him that made it hard to say no to him. Other than that, I don’t know why I went.

But I did. And the last time he really got me good. We chatted a little bit, his mom was in the house yelling at him from time to time. He told me he needed to change his clothes and he had a problem with his screens. He talked to me through the window.

“I got these screens, see. They’re the kind that you put on so you can see out, but people can’t look in, right? But the stupid thing is, I put them on backwards, I think. So people can look right in here, and I can’t see them. Isn’t that dumb? I want to fix them today, but first I gotta get changed. So I can talk to you, but I can’t see if you look in here, understand?”

What an idiot I am. I peeked. Of course I peeked. And he wasn’t just changing. He was standing naked in front of the window talking to me. Telling me not to look “So you’re not looking in here are you? Because I couldn’t see if you were.” He was looking right at me. What a mind-fuck to do to a kid. I guess maybe I still have a little anger when I think about it.

I don’t remember if he had an erection or any details other than an impression of something wrinkly, ugly, red and wrong. And a feeling of being caught in headlights.

I think most girls have had experiences like this. I wasn’t an unusual child, I don’t think. But how would I know? Maybe I tell myself that so I don’t feel weird about it.

Can someone tell me why this is fun for these guys? And why I ever felt guilty about it? And what would be a really clever reaction, sure to deflate the flashers? I’m at a place where I think of them as common losers, not deeply evil, not even all that rare. I don’t feel permanently traumatized.

There was the old man rubbing himself at the library while he watched me do my homework. He was sitting far enough away that he could see under the desk to my crotch. It took me a while to figure out what was going on,I thought he was just nuts. But eventually I made the connection between crossing and uncrossing my legs and his urgent whispering. Yuck.

There was the guy in the hot-rod who regularly happened to be driving by when I got off the bus in high school. He had probably gone around the block 3 times before I looked in the window of his car. He had one hand on the wheel and the other wrapped around his cock, and man! Was he ever glad I finally looked over. He actually turned up a few times over the course of a couple weeks. My mom told me if I saw him again I should ignore him or point and laugh. I think I started getting rides home. But not from him.

Or Mister S. at Elliot Elementary. I never had him for a teacher, but he always told me how cute I was as I was leaving at the end of the day. “Such pretty blue eyes.” It always made me feel nervous. He started to just say, “See you tomorrow, Blue Eyes.” I blushed and looked away. Eventually a teacher pulled me aside and said, “When someone tells you that you have pretty eyes, you should say thank-you.” But I felt like he was really creepy leaning up against his classroom door, and I didn’t say thank you.

Years later, I saw on the news that he was arrested for molesting a student. I bet she had pretty eyes.

So, an informal survey. Anyone else get visually molested in their childhood or adulthood? I hope I don’t seem to be wallowing and whining about my childhood molestations. Although at the time it was really icky and terrible, I don’t feel permanently scarred by it. I’m just curious about if it’s just me. Believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time I realized, “Honey, it’s just you.”

Garry the Pervert Part 1

Garry was the neighborhood pervert. Or the most obvious neighborhood pervert. He rode around on his 10 speed bike, circling the neighborhood aimlessly. Kids liked him at first, for no other reason than that he was an adult who seemed to have nothing to do. Adults who have time and inclination to just hang around kids are hot properties as far as the kids are concerned. At first.

He had another thing going for him. He knew Karate. He didn’t just say he knew Karate. He knew it. He was a black belt. He had the white suit and the, black belt to prove it (we saw the belt,we were no dummies). On top of that, he could do stuff that looked cool. Once or twice he’d invite a group of kids to his garage to watch him break patio blocks. He did a whole stack of them, with quarters in between each one. It impressed the boys, anyway.

Other than being a grown up who could smash patio blocks and had lots of spare time on his hands, I’m not sure why the girls talked to him at all. If I think back, it was flattering to have an adult (he was my patents’ age) who wanted to talk to me, just to chat. And to a 9 year old, the fact that he was still living with his mother didn’t seem weird. I lived with mine.

So we’d tease him, calling him “Mr. French fry” and pretending to try to catch him on his bike. He always made it point to say hi to us if we were up at the park and he happened to be riding by. Lucky for us, he rode by a lot when we were out. He lived kitty corner behind us, so sometimes he’d say hi to us over the fence. He’d ask us to come and visit and have a pop and chat.

I did a couple times. I remember three times. There must have been times in between that weren’t memorable. How I had the lack of judgment to return the second time, I do not know. And the third time… What the hell? At least partly, it was about not being able to lie convincingly and say I was busy. I don’t know. I was kid. I was dumb and easily lead astray. He was a grown up. He seemed to be so interested in talking to me. He asked if I had a boyfriend, because I was so pretty. He grew up in the neighborhood, so he could tell me about my mom when she was a kid.

He sat on the lounge chair in the back yard, offered me a pop. I sat and chatted with him about god knows what. Eventually as we were chatting Gary put one leg on the ground instead of out in front of him. This allowed his genitals to hang lazily out the side of his shorts. Maybe they were special Karate shorts that gave one’s penis the opportunity to breath deeply of the fresh air. Maybe it was an accident and he didn’t know.

All I know is that the sight of a man’s penis makes me, made me feel afraid. It’s getting different, not so jarring of a fear now that I’m a married woman, but it feels primal. I remember recently reading with great relief and recognition about the typical reaction of men and women to naked people. When men see a naked woman they generally have a feeling something akin to hope or lust. When women see a naked man, she tends to have a reaction of fear, or danger.

Evolutionarily it makes a lot of sense. A naked woman is just one more field to plant your seed in if you’re a man. If you’re a woman, a naked man is possibly about to totally limit your options as far as which crop you’ll be tending for the next 9 months (or 4 years, even) . You have only so many seasons. But I digress.

What Followed Me Home Part 2

When I go through the things I didn’t like about Mary, you will see I am only good about 6 inches deep. The rest of me is shallow and mean. If you are not shallow and mean, you’ll appreciate the following as a dissertation on a how close a retarded person is to God. If you’re like me, you’ll be disgusted. Are you ready? Buckle up and don’t whine. I lived this. You’re just reading about it.

Mary wasn’t pretty. She was heavyset, immense breasts, held in check by one of those sears-catalog-wide-strapped-old-lady-seamed-cup-broad-backed atrocities of a bra. Her skin was very pale, but her hair was dark, almost black. It was hard to tell where the hairline stopped and the eyebrows began. She had facial hair, it seemed like a lot to me.

She drooled. And for me, this was a big thing. Especially when I made her laugh, she drooled. You might as well know right now, that no matter how much I love you, if you drool, I will love you a little less. It isn’t pretty. But it’s true. I have a lot of love to give, so if you have drooled in front of, or god forbid, on me, it’s possible that I’ll still love you quite a bit. But I never loved Mary.

So she drooled. And she had a lot of hair. All over. She was usually wearing shorts. Short shorts, with the contrasting piping around the trim and up the sides. Her pubic hair would peek out occasionally and flash me or my siblings. I was prepubescent and the sight of those daddylong-leggish curls filled me with a combination of fear and disgust. I will never recover from the day she sat, cross legged on my bed, pubic nest hanging out, and farted.

My brother, when reminiscing about our childhood, still covers his face and shakes his head when he remembers looking up to see why I was telling Mary to “Sit like a lady.”

If that wasn’t enough, to put me off, she also insisted on telling me way too many details about her relationship with her boyfriend. I don’t know how or why, but her boyfriend wasn’t the only guy interested in Mary. She sought my advice about whether to “do it” with her boyfriend, with a neighborhood teenager and with the resident pervert, Gary. My advice (as a 10 year old) was as follows:

With the teenager and her boyfriend, she should do it if she wanted to. The teenager wanted her to just go behind the school and do it right then and there. I can’t remember what she did. Same deal with the boyfriend. I know she and her boyfriend were eventually sexually active, whether I pushed her over the edge with my sage advice, I don’t know. But I do know that I told her not to do anything with Gary. I knew he was creepy, plus he was in his thirties. Between his age and the fact that he had already exposed himself to me multiple times, I figured he was not a good bet.

At least I was a teenager when she told me about her abortion. She had a way of saying, but not saying things. Leading people to conclude things without saying them outright. Which is a thing people do when you are not interested in what they have to tell you- and they don’t care. I didn’t care about Mary’s sex life. I didn’t want be lead down this path of clues. It went something like this:

“Well I had to go to the doctor’s office. At the clinic, you know? You know why, don’t you? My mom made me go. Because of my boyfriend? You know what happens, don’t you? If you don’t get your thing? You know what an abortion is don’t you?” Long pauses and knowing looks at the end of every question. I knew all of it. But I SO didn’t want to discuss it with her. Because the next part was the interview with me. Did I have a boyfriend? Were we doing it?

I still find myself in relationships like the one I had with Mary. No more retarded people, but people who are mental in one way or another. Where I make a move either towards someone or on their behalf and I end up tied to them in a way I never intended. Where do I go wrong? I have come to believe I won’t figure it out. Nothing goes wrong, really. It’s just that I’m not in charge, and life is ugly and messy as much as it’s beautiful and delightful. If it wasn’t, what would we write about?

I grew to dread the sound of her ten-speed ticking up the driveway. I literally ran and hid when I heard her coming, but she thought of me as one of her best friends. I hated spending time with her. I hated it. But I couldn’t avoid her all the time, and I couldn’t just tell her I didn’t like her. I felt totally stuck. In fact, I was stuck. Until I moved out of my mom’s house, she would stop by to hang out. It got less and less frequent as she got older and we both got jobs, but she kept coming by. And I kept hating it.

Even after I got pregnant, moved out and was just visiting my mom’s house she kept visiting. She must have been in her twenties, but she still came tic-tic-ticking up the driveway on her red ten-speed.

Someone mentioned to her that I was pregnant (I was rotund by this point). She came to me and said, “I don’t believe it. You’re not that kind of person.” She left not believing I was pregnant. I never got out of my chair, not wanting to cause her to have a stroke.

Is it in not being a good enough person to enjoy the cling-ons for just exactly who they are? Not being able to swallow my disgust or distaste and accept them where they are? I have friends who can and do just that. But I don’t know, I guess I’m mean inside. Because, other than the initial feeling that I’ve done the right thing by defending or being kind to them, the only joy I get from them is in reveling in how much they perturb and drain me.

I don’t know where Mary is now. I pray that she is doing well and does not find my address.

What Followed Me Home Part 1

It’s an issue. A weakness of mine. I can’t ask you to forgive me for it, because I enjoy my annoyance way too much to let it go. I can’t ask forgiveness until I’m ready to try to change. But I can confess and admit my shortcomings. And you can read about it and be amused or disappointed in me or just grateful it wasn’t you. Better yet, you can sympathize, because I can’t be the only one who gets herself in these situations.

At the end of my block when I was a kid was a school, with the accompanying baseball field, soccer field and playground. This was the era where the parking lot did double duty as the playground. With the rainbow arch and climbing bars planted right into the asphalt. That didn’t stop us from doing our cherry-drops and hoping like hell we landed on our feet.

The day I met Mary, they were doing some sort of excavation, so that there was a huge pile of dirt on the grass near the parking lot. I was near the mountain of dirt, but not actually playing in or on it. The noises I heard from the kids over there were too mean sounding for me. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but I could tell it was ugly. I was little for my age, and weird. I had no desire to hand myself over to them.

In my kid way, I started to figure out what was going on. There was one girl, heavy and sweaty, straddling her bike. She was the target. And she was crying. Not too much my business, you know? It wasn’t. But more things sorted themselves out pretty quick. Kids can be eloquent, and these were no exception, “Mentaaal Maaareey. Mentaaaal Maaareey”

I looked, and by god, she WAS mental. I guess we didn’t say mental, we said “retarded” or “mentally retarded”. So this was sort of an innovative epithet they had come up with, in a way. But my injustice meter (a consistent bane of my existence) went off. You can’t make a retarded girl cry for fun, it just isn’t right.

I got one of those righteous indignation adrenaline rushes. If you get them, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The wave carried me over to the bottom of the hill, between Mary and those nasty kids (one of whom would later give me the only real beating I ever got from a girl). I hollered up at them “You stop it! Leave her alone. Leave her ALONE” I had my tantrum voice out, and my whole body was shaking. My throat hurt for the rest of the day.

I put my hand on Mary’s bike and told her she could come with me, I’d take her home. To my home. (Big mistake, by the way. If you must be nice to people who need you, do it on neutral ground and go home alone.) The kids on the hill did what they do to losers who walk away, even the righteously indignant ones. They threw dirt and hurled insults at us.

I don’t remember what happened exactly at home, but her mom came and got her, and thanked me. Mary was grateful and asked if I’d be her friend. What can you say to a retarded girl who asks you to be her friend? Can you tell her that no, you have enough friends? Can you tell her that you’re not really decent enough to be friends with her? Can you tell her that, unfortunately for both of you, being her friend will make you the target of mean kids for years to come, and it’s best if you just act like this day didn’t happen? No you cannot. At least not in front of both of your mothers.

I guess as much as she had friends, I was one of them. But I wasn’t a good one. I didn’t like Mary. Not one bit. I just felt sorry for her and thought it was the right thing to do to help her out. It wasn’t even really about her, maybe. It was that what those kids were doing was wrong, and I wanted them to stop. I didn’t want to adopt her, I just wanted her to not be abused.

I wasn’t at all as good a person as she thought I was, or her mom thought I was. Although I could tell my parents were proud of me for sticking up for her, they knew what kind of person I really was. And that was, good hearted, but not saintly. I am not the kind of person who is drawn to the disabled because of their simple goodness, childlike personalities and closeness to God. Not at all. I know these people exist and, like vegetarians, they are morally superior to me. No question.

And if all she was was mentally retarded, developmentally delayed, slow, but otherwise clean-cut and decent? I think I would have been able to hang out with her and not felt traumatized. But maybe not. As it turns out, her intellect was not what gave me trouble.

It’s Just a House Part 3

This door right in front of you as you enter the front door, it goes upstairs. This stairway has a peculiar kind of sound to it, like no other place I’ve ever been. You can hear it when you switch the light on. This switch is louder than most of the light switches in the house, and when it echoes you’ll hear what I’m talking about. Instead of “tick” it goes “tangk”. Every sound in this hall has that rubbery, electric echo.

At the top of these stairs is my favorite place in this house, and by extension, I have a soft spot for it in any house. This is the linen closet. It’s not all that big, fits just between the two bedrooms alongside the second (half) bath. I can’t say what it was that made me decide to climb into the bottom shelf when I was a kid. I wasn’t that young, must’ve been 10 years old, maybe 11.

But climb in I did. And it was the most wonderful place I had ever been. There’s a heat duct running inside the wall, I can’t say to where, but the closet is always warm. Plus it’s a small space, so it gets heated up when a person curls up inside it. There were clean fresh sheets and pillow cases folded up above me, and usually around me. And all the sounds of the house got muffled. Usually I’d slide my finger under the door and pull it most of the way closed.

Sometimes I fell asleep. Sometimes I just snuggled and hung out there waiting for people to start looking for me. Sometimes they did. And when they started to ask, “where’s Lisa?” sometimes I answered and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I thought about answering so long that I fell asleep and people got tired of looking. I could just disappear for an afternoon, and I loved it. So if you’re ever missing a kid…

The door on the right side of the landing was always my parents’ room. Well it was my grandparents’ room for a time, I suppose. They had the long white shag carpet. It had its own rake! The walls were a shade of orange or peach and there were rust colored toile drapes. But the most important thing you need to know about this room is that the closet on the left is the one Christmas presents were always hidden in.

It didn’t take any of the magic out of Christmas for me to discover this. If anything, it made it more exciting. I could see the presents, but I couldn’t always tell who would get what. Some things came in groups of 4, so I knew we’d each be getting one. Other things, and I can’t remember what anymore, other things made for a special kind of angst known only to children who have peeked at their presents. Is that for me, or is some other rotten kid going to get it?

The other closet was my dad’s or step dad’s as the case may have been, depending on the year. Not quite as mysterious, it smelled like wing-tips. Around the corner from those two closets, is one last closet. The cedar closet. It accumulated a collection of strange things, from military funeral flags to baby books and my sister’s wedding dress.

When I was sick, I sometimes ended up sleeping in my mom’s bed, maybe with a bowl next to me just in case. Upstairs can seem really far away from the rest of the house, you’ll discover. It’s quiet and darker than the rest of the house, but in a nice way.

One of my last memories of my mom actually sleeping up here was during chemotherapy. She just couldn’t stop throwing up. She always made it to the bathroom. You can see it’s not far. But after laying in the room next door and listening to her throw up and trying to do it quietly for half the night, I went in to go try to do something.

When I walked in, she had a little lamp on. She was sitting in bed , one leg on the bed, bent, and one foot on the floor, ready to get up. The lamp was behind her, so she was almost silhouetted. She looked like a bird, or like an old man, with her bald head bent forward, her collar bone prominent. I had gone on a civil disobedience kick after the cancer doctors and nurses agreed that marijuana was frequently the best cure for Chemotherapy induced nausea. My mom’s was much worse than most, they all agreed on that. Off the record they told me it was worth the try. It might keep her out of the hospital.

So I obtained pot. Beat the bushes, and ended up finding someone who could supply us (it was not the aforementioned VanHalen). But mom was very uncomfortable with the idea. I had tried to just convince her to start smoking on the way home from the hospital and stay high for the next 5 days. I never could. I made brownies, apple crisp. I tried all sorts of tricks to get some THC into her system. I don’t know if it was the illegality of it, but she just wouldn’t do it.
That night, I pulled rank.

“Mom, you’re smoking some pot.” She didn’t have the energy or will to say no. The problem was that neither one of us knew how to roll a joint. Not even to save my mom’s life. I was clueless and clumsy, she was sick, exhausted and clueless. It was the saddest thing you ever saw, her and I sitting up in bed trying to figure out how to roll a joint. Her, deathly ill; and me irretrievably useless.

I’m not going to incriminate anyone other than myself, but we eventually got a workable joint going. She smoked a couple drags and went to sleep for a few hours.

I also remember my sister Jenny and I coming to be with my mom during Chemo once evening. She was up in bed when Jenny got here, so Jenny climbed under the covers with her. I showed up with Jamba Juices for everyone and I climbed in too. The three of us all in the bed here. We sat and giggled and worried and kept each other company while we rode out her treatment.

Across the hall is the room that is currently referred to as ‘the hole’. It’s actually a nice room, bigger than the downstairs bedrooms, with gabled ceilings and hardwood floors, now. Oh my god, the carpet was bad when I was kid. A short-loop pile that was blue and green. As long as I lived here that carpet was in various stages of unraveling. Kids notice carpeting more than other people, I guess. This one was ugly and itchy. Actually, here, there’s a square of it here in the closet.

This room got to be ‘the hole’ when my niece was here. My mom wasn’t all that great at being a gramma and a mom, which was what was needed at the time. She spoiled that child rotten but resorted to threatening solitary confinement up in ‘the hole’ if she wouldn’t behave. There were dark curtains and almost no furniture. The child eventually learned how to climb out of her crib and open the door, hence the lock on the outside of the room.

This is the room in which that baby’s mother’s eardrum burst some twenty years earlier . I remember brown fluid dripping out of her ear. She had more trouble with her ears, that child. And once, that same baby sister of mine, overdosed on her grape flavored medicine, and we had to give her syrup of ipecac. It must have seemed like a big deal at the time, it’s funny what kids remember.

When I spent the night here as an adult, I was always surprised how well I slept. It’s a good place to sleep, quiet and cool and dark.

One last thing about these stairs, they’re kind of steep, but if your kids have footie pajamas, tell them I highly recommend going down on your tummy, feet first. Remember to put pillows on the tile in the entryway at the bottom, couch cushions work, too. Enjoy.

It’s Just a House Part 2

Anyway, this is the dining room. That table and chairs has been there as long as I can remember. I don’t know how we’re getting them out of here. When I was little, I’d sneak out of my room at night. Walking creaked too many boards. So I’d crawl all the way down the hall, through the living room and into the dining room, in among the chair legs and get just the right angle. From inside that forest of chair legs, I could look into the family room and watch Hawaii 5-0 or the Rockford Files when I was supposed to be in bed.

This is the room where I sat on the table, legs hanging over the edge with my arms around my mom and my cheek on her chest. She stood with her arms around my neck and her chin on my head. I told her I wished she and my dad wouldn’t be getting divorced, that I wished they’d tell me it was just a joke, and for Christmas we’d all get back together. We both cried here in this dining room, with the kid pictures on the wall behind us.

But this dining room was also host to some of the best home cooking and festivity you can imagine, sprinkled with the kind of witty repartee that made one ex-in-law curl up in the fetal position. The potatoes and gravy, wild rice and hot rolls made their way around the table along with the crown roast of pork or the turkey or ham. My family all seemed to talk at once. It was no illusion. We were indeed, all talking at once. We could follow it, and the strong newcomers grew to appreciate it even if some never got the hang of it. It’s the perfect set-up, with the kitchen right next to the dining room, but when you cook all day, remember the thermostat is on a shared wall, backed up against the double oven in the kitchen.

The back pantry closet. It’s a great place for canned goods, although we had very few in there when I was growing up. Canned tomatoes maybe and some olives. And for a while my mom and gramma did pickles and stacked them in here. Most of the time the shelves were filled with cookbooks. Through my childhood and my mom’s life, it always had a 25lb bag of flour going, with the sifter in the bag and the bag in a bucket. That and potatoes and onions. There still might be a dusting of flour on the shelves.

This here; it’s a bread drawer. It probably won’t get the kind of use it used to get. We were so embarrassed as kids to bring our uneven slices of homemade bread for lunches. But my whole childhood, we ate homemade bread. The lunch ladies would ooh and ahh, but we were totally ungrateful. The thing is, sometimes the bread got weird. Every once in a while our leftover cereal and milk made it into a loaf of bread. Which is one thing when you had Raisin Bran and quite another when you had Froot loops.

Notice how you can see right into the family room from the kitchen, even while you’re at the stove? More than once I stirred gravy at this stove while my mom and sisters used spoons and brushes as microphones in the family room, singing along with Elvis, the Righteous Brothers, Donna Summer or the Bee Gees.

This family room, my grandpa added it to the house later, it’s not original. That’s why that baseboard heater is there. A couple of us had grid-shaped burn marks from trying to get dressed nest to that beast. Eventually it stopped working, and the forced air was added. Then we got dressed by the floor vents on either side of the room. With our blankets or flannel shirts tented up over us to catch the warm air, we fought over whose turn it was. There were four of us and only the two vents.

And fires in the Franklin Stove. You have to have fires once in a while. To come home to the smoke from the chimney, and walk in the back door to a crackly fire. It’s the homiest feeling. The times that I came home to my mom sitting in here with a fire going, her dinner on her lap and a crossword in her hand, I knew things were right with the world on those days. The rest of the house was dark, but a lamp and a fire, that’s all you need.

Back through the kitchen. It doesn’t matter anymore, that the only phone jack was in the kitchen for a long time. But we used to stretch that cord around this corner, down the hall and into the bathroom or to the basement stairs for privacy.

It’s a full bath, nothing fancy, but it served its functions. It wasn’t just a bathroom, remember, it was a phone booth, and sometimes, it was the only room with a lock. When I would cause my brother would lose his mind he sometimes chased me with a knife or a bat. If I couldn’t get him out of the house, I’d lock myself in the bathroom. A butter knife would open the door, but it was easy enough with the tile floor, to hold it shut with a bare foot.

Later, when I was a teenager, sometimes I’d be terrified to open the door after a shower. I might sit in the bathroom in a towel for a half an hour trying to convince myself there wasn’t someone out there waiting for me. And I never ever thought of my brother. Just about “the guy with the knife”. Only if the house was empty, which wasn’t all that often. And eventually, I’d brandish a hairbrush or curling iron and open the door and make the mad dash to my room. This is more than you needed to know, I guess.

The two main floor bedrooms are just 6 feet down this hall, here. It wasn’t much of a dash, really. The room on the right was my room when I was teenager. Once, I had to move in with my sister, upstairs, and my mom re-decorated my room. It was a birthday present. She had gotten the satin stuffed balloons with ribbon strings and mounted them on the wall. She decorated all the lamp and window shades with butterfly stickers and put a big cork-board on the back of the door. It was like a real teenager room, and it was awesome. Before we moved in, it had been my uncle’s bedroom I think, decorated in blue denim and red kerchief paisley.

We used to say this room was haunted. I don’t know why, except that it’s above the old well and the water meter. Sometimes something below the room causes the walls to hum for 10 minutes at a time. No real sightings or anything scary, don’t worry. The scariest thing that ever happened here was the time I walked in my sleep and woke up in that closet. Couldn’t figure out where I was and why there were walls on every side of me…

I used to sneak out that window right there at night and run around with my best friend Mary, or neck on the cement well block on the side of the house with my boyfriend. Once, after Mary and I snuck out, we came back to find the window locked. My mom was waiting inside the back door. Boy were we in trouble. I take back what I said about walking in my sleep. Finding that window closed, THAT was the scariest thing that happened here.

This was my bedroom, where I sat on my bed when I was 18 and told my mom I was pregnant, sure she’d lose her mind. She took a deep breath and said, “what do you want to do? I’ll help you.” Later in the week, I talked to my dad, in this room, on the phone we eventually had installed in here. He said the same kinds of things, and they both meant it. I stayed here until August, Zachy was born in September.

One more thing about this room. If you sit just inside the door and look out at the basement door in the hallway, you can see the form of the Virgin Mary. If the ghost starts to bother you, open the basement door so she’s looking in here, I can’t promise anything, but it should set things right.

When I was littler, the room on the left was mine. At some point my grandmother insisted on buying carpet for that room. It was bright grass-green. The walls were painted two shades of green. Lighter on top and darker on the bottom, and the trim was white. The floor length drapes had green tree silhouettes going from the floor to the tops of the windows. It was something else. I used to sit in this room and do experiments that involved melting lip gloss on top of a light bulb.

This is also the room I was in when I got my first radio. I used to fall asleep with that radio under my pillow and listen to Casey Casem’s top 40 count down. It was like falling into another world. I’d have that radio under my pillow, my light was off, but most nights the bathroom light was left on. On nights when your kids feel scared, you can leave the hall light on, but a little warning to you, the hall light is definitely bright enough to read by, into the wee hours.

Just outside this room is the laundry chute. A laundry chute that has seen more than its share of duty, both official business and some acts of malfeasance. I’m not naming names, but a few times, cats were dropped down, through this little door into the basket in the basement. Their claws sczzzzing down the sides before they plumped into the clothes pile. They make less noise in a pillow case or sleeping bag, but what fun is that?

It’s Just a House Part 1

7133 10th Avenue South

Before we finalize the sale, let me walk you through and point out some things you might not have noticed. Neither one of us wants any surprises, and this isn’t just any old house. It’s a velveteen house, a house so well loved it has become real. You’ve already noticed all the things that make this house perfect for a family. That’s why you bought it. No really cool details or secret passageways, just a solid baby-boomer house in a quiet part of town.

As you come up the front sidewalk you can’t really make it out anymore, but this is where I learned, with chalk, to spell Edelweiss. Right in front of the big elm there, you can probably just barely see the spot where Peter Morgan, my future brother-in-law, wiped out on his bike. My mom scooped him up and called his mom. That’s how our families became friends.

Be careful if you decide to till those gardens along the house. When my grandparents owned the house they used to be lined with pink quartz. Those rocks ended up all over after we moved in, but I’m sure there are still some in there. My brother and sisters and I fought over the sparkly ones and wrote on the sidewalks with them, used them as amunition in neighborhood battles and as building materials to dam up the water running down the streets after it rained. My own kids did the same thing.

The lawn isn’t much, but every year when it was time to rake, we’d take a week to do the front yard. The first couple days we’d outline the rooms in our ‘houses’with leaves. That and jumping in the crunchy piles made the job take longer than was strictly necessary. That maple was always too tall for us to climb, but it sure had lots of leaves in the fall. And in the spring we had the helicopters, which if you got them at the right time, right after they fell, you could squeeze until they squirted sweet juice into your mouth.

As long as we’re on the subject of kids and plants, tell your kids that the Johanssens’ Cotoneaster bushes along the driveway have tiny sweet flowers in the spring or early summer. If you bite them,they’re way sweeter than the maple seeds, but you have to watch for ants.

That driveway probably needs to be redone, it used to be black with only two cracks running across it. That was back in the day when my mom parked the Country Squire station wagon there. The one we called the Road Warrior as it started to fall apart. She used that car to chase down Derrick… the towheaded, cross-eyed little delinquent who mugged me on my way to Roith’s Pharmacy. She had him backed up against the retaining wall along the back of the parking lot with that car.

He stopped by once or twice while she was dying to bring flowers. Neon Orange Roses, for crying out loud. She called him VanHalen when he got older and wore that hair long like a rock and roll star.

I’m pretty sure Derrick really came to deliver a little herbal medicinal relief to my brother during my mom’s hospice days. My Brother is always more human when he’s high. I remember when he was young, he actually kicked out one of these panels, here on the front door. It’s this one, here. My mom’s husband Ramon, actually carved this new panel, here, by hand. Can’t even tell it’s new.

This little window on the front door, when my brother would flip out and get violent, I’d get him outside the back door, lock it and RUN to the front door to lock that one. Sometimes we’d get to the door about the same time. My hands were shaking, but this deadbolt, here? Slides nice, like butter. “Schlock.” He’d have his red face and crazy eyes right up to that little window, but he didn’t ever get all the way through until after he had calmed down. This is a solid door.

This front closet, the pencil sharpener was in there on the back wall, it still smells like pencil shavings in here. And there’s graffiti on the wall behind where the coats used to be. When your pencil is so new and sharp, and the wall is so clean and inviting… a coat of Killz will probably take care of it, if you care. It’s colder than the rest of the house, we never hung our coats in here, except maybe in the summer. There were dress coats and snow suits in here along with a basket for mittens and hats. All the slides and home movies were in here from the time I was kid.

Leave your shoes on if you want, this carpet has seen better days. I still think of it as new, but it’s been 15 years or more. Did you notice it has a nice south facing window, there? The sun would come in on Sunday mornings and hit the floor. I remember getting funnies out of the paper and laying on my tummy, on the floor, in that sun. And just driftting off to sleep sometimes, like a cat. My mom crocheted those curtains. They’ve been washed so many times, they’re falling apart. I’d like to take them if it’s OK. It isn’t a big deal, but you know…

My little sister took her first steps here in this room, while my brother and I were on oposite sides of the room trying to convince her to “Come here, Er-Bear! Come see ME! You love ME best!” Poor thing. She learned to walk right here.

We spent so much time here. Years, lives. It was in this room I listened to a new boyfriend honk his horn in the driveway while my mom hissed at me, “Don’t even think about going out there. He can come to the door or he can wait all night.” I guess she could have been replaying what her folks said to her in this very same room, years before. She lived here when she was kid, too.

The Christmas tree was always here in the living room. That corner there works really nice, but if you like the neighbors to see your tree, the picture window is perfect. I sat on the couch at night, when I was a kid, after everyone else was asleep. I’d blur my eyes and look at the Christmas tree lights in the corner, with the snow out that big picture window. I loved that place and that moment, so hard… Kids are funny.

Later, after we inherited the piano, the nativity scene went in that corner on top of it. We weren’t such a religious family, but hiding the baby Jesus around the house became as much a tradition as making silly or obscene phrases out of the NOEL and MERRY CHRISTMAS block letters. My sister will have that piano out of here by next week, I’m sure. All us girls had lessons and practiced right here in this room. I hated to practice. I used to sneak in and move the timer forward when my mom wasn’t paying attention. I couldn’t figure out how to read music. I still can’t.

Jenny got it, though. She’s a piano teacher now. She played this piano for my mom and everyone else while my mom was here dying. It was beautiful and generous. I think it was Beethoven, but I don’t remember. Only that it was majestic and immense and it rained down on these rooms in a way that still makes me cry when I think of it.

It’s that same corner where my mom’s hospital bed was, where she died, too young. It isn’t that far to the bathroom, right out that door, but she only made that trip once or twice after coming home from the hospital. The last time she tried, her legs just gave out under her. My aunt and uncle helped her back up, but she kept saying she wanted to go home and trying to get out of the bed. My God. If this isn’t home, what is?