This piece was modeled on the whimsical and wise regular column appearing in my favorite literary magazine, The Sun Magazine, published in Chapel Hill, NC. Sy Safransky is the editor.
A Less Profound, Rather Quotidian, but Nonetheless Heartfelt Ordinary Housewife’s Spin-off of and Inspiration from Sy Safransky’s Notebook
The winds are high today, so high that, given the wind chill, I don’t send the convalescing kids out to play. “See?” I tell my little one. “This is what it means in “Winnie the Pooh” by a “blustery day.” “But Pooh goes out on a blustery day,” says she. “I know,” I say. But Pooh isn’t really real, remember?” (I hate when I say that.) “But if he’s not real, then how can Winnie the Pooh have so many friends?” she asks. I think to myself, “that’s how.”
My husband is sick. He can’t seem to get well; the other night said he didn’t want to. Even when he’s well, there’s no work. No work for a 25-year computer veteran in 3 years. Too much competition. George Bush is waging a war on terror, in which many are dying. He doesn’t worry about the terror involved in -convincing someone to live.
My little girl wants a band-aid. I say no, it’s not bleeding. It’s a hangnail. She loves band-aids, but they’re a dime each. How many unused band-aids will pay the mortgage?
My son loves his mother. Although he is my son, I am not his “real” as he says, mother. We adopted him when he was five, after his ten foster placements, which left him with an attachment disorder. He's addicted to moving on. Within 24 hours, and going on eight years, he’s had to abandon me, at all times, in all things, in all ways, before I abandon him first. My son is a runaway trapped in a loving home with loving parents and siblings, with nowhere and absolutely anywhere to go.
I thought if I wrote my memoirs my children would read of my past, and forgive everything since the instant they first gazed at my hazy face. So far though, 50 pages into my childhood, everything is idyllic. When will I come to the part that will justify my failures, with them, with marriage, with everything? Here’s something, but it will not surface for hundreds of pages in: my mother never really loved me, did she? I was way too much like my father and I wasn’t attractive at all. That will count. If, in the process of writing, I realize I’m wrong about that, then what do I blame? The weather?
I don’t think God is really dead. High up in the mountains like this, I am, in fact, in closer proximity to him than most. In my small town, there is no roar and congestion of traffic, people, sirens, construction crews. The silence is deafening, oh how trite. So the deafening, I’ve decided, must be, can only be, God's snoring. He’s not dead, just asleep. Does God dream? If we are his dream, then how come he doesn’t wake up with a start, like I do from my nightmares?
My eldest begins college in three months. She’s going only 2 hours away. I was afraid for her to go from a tiny, safe, lazy little town to Boston, say, or New York, or Chicago, with the incredible schools she would have gotten into. I was afraid for her youth: just 17. I was afraid of her flying since 9/11. I don’t know the difference between love and fear; never really have. But my relatives on all sides do, and say I’m a fool.
A young woman in my writer’s group wrote a children’s story about animals. “It has a Christian theme,” she said, immediately putting me off. “The chipmunk and squirrel learn not to judge others very different from themselves.” A few days later she was the only one of my acquaintances to come to my music performance in a cafe, my first time out in years. When I backtracked to unload my keyboard, I saw her walking clumsily. She sat on the curb. I asked if she were ill, needed help. She had had a bladder accident, or was about to. I helped her to the restroom the man said his store didn’t have. At the cafe, she said, “I have multiple sclerosis. I think I’ve had it longer than is thought.” That night I cried. For pity’s sake, I thought. “Is my art somehow less of a crutch than her God?”
When Seabiscuit came out by the author with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, my mother asked me, on a visit from out east, what I’d accomplished during my own 17-year battle with the same disease. I fell silent, shocked, and then began slowly, “well, I’ve been raising three of your wonderful grandchildren. And I haven’t had the support network she (the author, who didn’t have children at the time of writing) had. Could that count?” My ever-spry mother guffawed (if quietly). Then she gathered the kids, and boarded the wild, vertigo-inducing theme-park ride I was unable to tackle.
I swore I’d never be vain like my mother. I’ve never seen her with a gray hair, and she is in her mid-seventies. Now the chemicals have saturated her brain. No matter the case I make, she claims I don’t look old.
Two nights ago I went to bed with severe hip pain that then woke me on and off all night. Finally, I slept, but at 6 a.m. , for the first time in half a century, wet the bed. I was afraid, and the next night wore a diaper under my garments. Securely wrapped in a my child’s padding, I dreamed I was a fabulous, famous, beautiful ballerina, all decked out in turquoise. I awoke; the pain was gone and all was dry.
There are two kinds of spiders where I live: the little innocuous brown spider, and the infamous, bulbous, poisonous “violin.” For the fist time in a decade I saw one on the porch – a spider with a minuscule violin on its back. I think I even saw a bow. I marvelled at something so deadly and beautiful. “I have to kill it,” I thought. Instead, as with the harmless others, I attempted to gather it, gingerly, in a cup, to put far, far away from the house. I coaxed the little assassin gently. “Go on,” I thought. It’s not your fault. Go now; live, but play your deadly music elsewhere.” Unlike with the others, though, right at the cup’s rim, its legs curled, stiffened; it died. The violin gleamed in the sunlight, like the first chair player under the symphony lights.
All my life I’ve written music. I don’t know where it comes from. A lot of it I would even switch radio stations, to avoid. Other ideas I recognize as some entry-level genius, pardon the humility. So, from where? Loss? Gain? The devil? The God? The stupid, chronic itching in my ears since I was dunked in the ocean by a rambunctious friend, thirty years ago?
I give my daughter a capsule in the bath. She stirs and stirs until a until a little red sponge in the shape of a dinosuar magically appears! She asks how the dinosaur could ever have fit in the little capsule. All-knowing (as all mothers are), I say,” well, the sponge has ttiny air holes. If you sqush the whole thing up the holes close and the animal is smaller. She tries. It’s still too big for a capsule, so she plays. Later, I tponder -- a human lifetime, squashed into a capsule, what does it all amount to? What’s there of any importance? Well, for one thing, a little girl in a bathtub who in whose heart magic still prevails.
I did a really terrible painting today, experimented with abstract. There are crisscrosses and drips all over and down a face without a mouth. I put it out with the trash. “Did you paint that, Mama?” my wee one asks. “Yes, I say. Isn’t it ucky and scary?” “I think it’s beautiful,” she says.
I’m happy. My eldest daughter has fallen in love with a young man of 19 who reminds her of her dad. I too am reminded of her dad. But I’m worried too. Her dad no longer reminds me of her dad.
When the world is too much, I read my Bible. It’s called “The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury.”” I got it at a yard sale for a buck. It was the most beautiful yard ever. But I wouldn’t trade it back. Okay, I lie. I hate my yard and would trade in a nanosecond. Wealthy now in my new yard (and the house that came with it), I’d go buy a new copy of the Bible, with all the same words. The old one would go in a yard sale for the next desperate dreamer.
People heal from injuries, survive fires or floods, recover from deadly diseases. They credit God with, for instance, handling millions of mutant cells. But where was God when the first cell went awry, or the second, or the 10,033rd? I tend to see God in black and white. He’s there, or not. On the other hand, God is very, very old, isn’t he? Eternal, even. He’s bound to have shades of gray.
A voice in my head says, you were rich, but now you are poor. We sponsor a child in the Philippines with no shoes, but who wants to dance. I head on down to the food cupboard, looking and feeling like hell. I have shoes. I say, “stop shuffling already; dance.” They waggle their tongues. They say, “Don’t be an idiot. We’re not the right kind.”
I used to take comfort in humanity’s significance in the universe. Then as life complicated, I took greater comfort in humanity’s insignificance. But insignificant, compared to what? Now I’m confused. I feel significant again in the face of overwhelming meaninglessness. When will I grow up and get the answer? Or grow down? Whatever. It’s time for chocolate. Chocolate shuts down all questions. Its significance cannot be overestimated.
Words: those fickle ffriends. After the third miscarriage I couldn’t write at all. Words could not convey the heart above the home that housed three beating others. Then, miraculously, at the age of 46, I had a baby. The words came back. But now I don’t trust them.
Here it is again: breakthrough bleeding. I’m on medicaid; can’t get in for a month. A scary symptom, but others have it in peri-menopause. What if I’m dying? Oh well, I can wait a month to find out. I’ve already waited fifty years and of course, already know.
I have recurring dreams about school, about not being prepared. Yet I was an “A” student. Last night I dreamed I was in class. The book being discussed had a lot of skinny people. One was starving. Another wasn’t hungry at all, despite being anorexic. The general theme was hunger. “What is the book about?” the professor asked. I was nervous, I didn’t know. I said it was about being hungry. “Think!” he commanded. “Um, hunger is a metaphor,” the answer all English profs want. “For what?” he demanded. It couldn’t be for food, obviously. “For God,” I said, on a whim. I got the right answer. Then I woke up. “The dream was about me,” I thought. I wasn’t hungry, as usual so I made coffee. I thought of our family, our poverty, my suffering husband, my anxious children, my judgmental extended family who shake their heads at our “foibles.” I thought of getting out a bible. Then I remembered I had some evaporated milk from the food bank. Nothing beats evaporated milk in coffee; it’s almost like cream. I poured some in. It swirled around like the beautiful long hair on a lovely girl. Or maybe Jesus’ locks, as he stood on water. I drank it all down. It made me hungry.
I have a suicidal dog. It’s kind of a joke with us. Don’t make me explain. I don’t even pick up a dropped grape or raisin anymore. If she’s desperate for heaven, let her go. There’s steak and chicken bones up there, and every kind of rawhide imaginable. Someone will clean her weeping Chow-eyes everyday. Someone will come up with a toy she’ll actually play with and enjoy. She’ll get a grooming every day. She’ll run forever in green fields. Or fly over them, with an eye peeled for a shady rest. Our love just isn’t enough. She wants more, like we all do.
I have a rescued dog who was abused by a man. She’s been afraid of men for six years now. My other dog was abused by a woman but she loves women. We say the first dog is smart and the second isn’t. But maybe it’s smart to forgive. Some think so.
We went out of town for a few days to somewhere warmer. Taos. When we came back the gerbils had escaped their cage. I was petrified they might have gotten in the baseboard heaters. We looked and looked and looked. I turned the heat all the way off. Finally, we found them. They were snuggled inside my canvas-and-frame sauna in the bedroom downstairs. I cleaned up their droppings and stored their suitcases for the next time.
My mother-in-law doesn’t believe in vitamins – even during flu season. She doesn’t know about depleted food, pesticides, and the like. She says I am raising my children in too healthy a manner and when they grow up, they’ll never be well. She says, “my children (including my husband) were never sick. My husband says, “she worked full-time forever. Back then, if we were sick, we went to school anyway.” I don’t tell her what he says. She knows what was what. A few days later she sends me a Mother’s Day card. It says I am a wonderful mother. My own mother didn’t send anything. She does believe in vitamins, and so forth, but she’s got other axes. One of those mothers must have some integrity, but I don’t know which one.
Once, in elementary school, I got a “C” in conduct. My teacher said I didn’t respect authority. To this day, I have a healthy disrespect for authority. Life may be more authentic this way, if this is how you feel, but it’s a bitch. I’ve passed this pride down to my children, that they should not stand for injustice. At a senior high awards ceremony last night, my daughter was passed up for awards she should have gotten, hands down (feet too). With over a 4.0 average, her personality is a little, how to say, left of center, a bit alternative. She will challenge a teacher, for example, if her way of solving a calculus problem is a little different, but still elegant, and with the correct answer. I think what happened last night was political. Maybe I should have been punished for my “C.”
Copyright 2004 Julianza Shavin