Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One Fine Lady, Summer Thoughts

       When I was a little girl I had a friend who wanted more than anything in this world to be a popular, wild, normal girl. Her mother was a yoga instructor and her father, well, I'm not sure exactly what he did but I think it involved taking people on adventures to the Everglades. She had a little brother as well but like most little brothers, he was not important. 
      Their house was a haven of calm. There were geodes reflecting light and gathering dust on all the windowsills and classical music playing softly from the radio on the kitchen counter. Tofu was served, as well as seaweed, and brown rice with butter a treat and on Sundays we might be allowed to put carob chips in the pancakes!
     This was the eighties. In direct rebellion to her mother's ways, this friend of mine had a room of pink and black garish pop boy madness. Her walls were plastered with movie stars and TV actors, her bangs were carefully sprayed into a shower of what once resembled hair, she chewed gum, she snuck cigarettes, she ravenously ate sandwich meat straight from the drawer in the refrigerator at our house with her hands while making wolf noises until she was sated.
        But this isn't about her. Sure she seemed to sparkle when we were kids, she always had crazy ideas that my brother and I reluctantly went along with. We got in trouble, especially Bubba, because he was the smart one and I just a kid and what could you do with her? She'd break the rules and smile and switch that sassy ass as she walked away from whatever empty threats the parents gave us. But frankly, all that sparkle and sass just turned eventually toward bitterness, and I hear she has at least one child now and I just don't care. She married the boy who used to lob pine cones over the fence at us and once shot a cat that belonged to another friend with a bb gun and killed it. He was in high school when he did that. She married a teenaged cat killer, good for her.
        Her grandmother. Her grandmother owned a kennel out on what was the outskirts of town (and is now much closer in) on what seemed like endless acres of pecan trees and oak grove. There was a pond and pasture and a neighbors cows we would torment and who would enact their revenge by eating our clothes when we went skinny dipping. There were great big dogs the size of horses and sand pears we couldn't stop eating even though they were not sweet and pulled blood from our gums as we ate them. The grandmother would swoop us up on long weekends and take us to the grocery store and buy us anything and then set us loose across the pasture to camp out next to the pond. I was eight and they (my brother and the girl) were ten when we started doing this. Steaks! Lighter fluid! We camped naked! We blew up cans of root beer in the fire! We peed on giant ants! And her grandmother not only allowed us to do this, she financed it!
        The grandmother let the girl dye her hair blond. She bribed us with eyeshadow to clean her windows. She had a boyfriend who was an author, who wrote a dirty book that I read in secret, but he also gave me a copy of Alice in Wonderland which filled my mind with colors and opened corners that made me shake inside.
      One time, I don't remember why, we spent some time in the grandmother's closet. It was a large closet, and even though you never saw the grandmother in anything other than jeans and a t-shirt, it was filled with silk and fur and velvet. I remember standing hidden in the clothes, in some sort of ecstatic trance rubbing my face back and forth against the fabric of her clothes. On a high shelf there were stacks of heart shaped chocolates boxes covered in lace and foil, fake flowers and ribbons and I thought they were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. Were they filled with love letters? My brother would know if that is a true memory or if I made that up, but I was only able to bear the sight of them by promising myself that one day I too would have stacks of chocolates boxes given to me by handsome men and filled with letters tied in string.
        I wish now I'd paid more attention to the grandmother. Who was this woman? More than any other adult in my life she seemed to be a complete person, she had history and depth. This is not to say that other adults didn't but I was a child, it was difficult for me to imagine my parents lives without me. It seemed like the grandmother did not need children to occupy her time, she let us flow in and out of it but her time was already full. She appeared to be living her life, she gave me a feeling of past and future that sometimes caught me full in the chest and stopped my breath. There was more than this! Once she was a girl like me, then a beautiful young woman with lovers, then a strong mother, then a grandmother, an owner of dogs, a boss, a grandmother with a boyfriend, and she was not done! There would be more! What!? That feeling in my chest, that whoosh beneath my feet, that what cannot be named of time passing and me not in it!
         I ran into a woman who knows the grandmother yesterday. We talked about the falling out that happened between the girl and the grandmother. We do not know why and we know it is none of our business, but it is still a shame. I asked  how the grandmother is these days, thinking she must be old now, she must have slowed down. The woman told me that the grandmother has a house on the beach and a boyfriend in New England whom she meets in Spain, whom she meets in Paris. The woman took my phone number to give to the grandmother. She said that I should go visit her at the beach house, that she would love to see me.
           Will she call? I have that falling feeling, that perfect perception that life exists without my existence. I want to go to the beach house. I want to ask about the letters. I want to see her hands and face. I am just a little bit afraid that if I do go visit her I might find myself  discovered tucked deep inside her closet, rubbing my face on her clothes, and trying to find the answers to all my childhood questions in her smell. I think I could, given enough time. Just a few minutes, if she would just shut the door behind her and leave me in the velvet dark.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

        When it rains for many days we all go a little crazy with it.  My bones swell inside my skin until my skin cannot possibly hold, I feel burstable, breakable, my skin feels like it will tear. Everything is wet, the walls in my apartment are wet, my sheets are wet, I try not to walk barefoot on the slick hardwood floors. The mold. There is mold blooming in my bathroom and itching the tabletops, I feel like I am moldy. Overwhelmed with the mold, what can I do? Attack the bookshelves with bleach? The sun is trying to come out now, I've opened the windows and turned on the fans and maybe the rooms will dry out.
      Outside I can hear the frogs and the cicadas, they are screaming their joy, it is the song of summer. September is coming and with it some sort of relief, or at least hope of relief and this great humping son of a bitch of August can leave us alone. Beware the aides of March? March I long for, this is Florida, a paradise of blooms and barnacles and sunkissed bottoms and goddamn yes the blossoms of mold, a plague of frogs, the laughing stock locusts. 
       A couple of my regulars at work, elderly and sweet, tease me with my Miss Maybelle name and change it once a month. Maybelle in May, then Junebug. In July they called me Miss Firecracker, because they couldn't come up with a pun that satisfied. Now they call me Augusta, and I feel like an Augusta. Ramrod straight, no nonsense hair, a pinched and furrowed brow, a spinster aunt, a bit of a bitch. I don't like this me. September. I have hope for September.
          I have hope for September, but she is a shy girl, a long haired sylph, she has dreamy eyes and wants to be an actress, I think, or a poetess. I hold my breath for October. October stands on her own, she's quick and witchy. October combs gum into the hair of the mean girls, she goes to the fair and rides all the rides, she runs down the street and turns out all the lights and sets the signboards swinging, she cackles back at the crows. In October we paint our eyes to look like giant gorgeous spiders and dress like gypsies. In October we fall in love.
       Now the world smells like wet dog and the low creatures are kings. I am not in a good mood and I am sorry. If you want happy, look to the frogs.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Oh my little soldier boy...

        I've been thinking about this boy I know lately. I used to work with him, he worked at the restaurant where I work now until they cut our hours, economic slowdown. He just graduated from high school, it seemed like he was on the fast track to being a fine chef one day. Now he's decided to join the military.
     He comes in sometimes to say hello, and I think he likes the attention. The ladies, the servers, we flutter around him, hug him, kiss his rosy cheeks, slap him, knock his hat off, rub his heartbreak head, tell him dirty jokes, act like his mom. He basks in our chicken fluff, our sweaty flirtation. What nineteen year old wouldn't like that? To have the attention of a full female waitstaff all moving quickly, shouting orders, hair trailing, white arms encircling his waist, we are a tornado of woman to this boy, all of us older than he.
      Chef says, "Join the military during wartime? So stupid."
        We all cajole this boy, ask him if he wants to kill, ask him if he believes in this war, beg him to stay home, go to school.
          He talks about the money. He talks up the adventure, makes me sick. He thinks he's grown, he thinks he's had all the adventure this town, this country has to offer. He's slept with the girls, the pretty high school girls, he's tried the drugs, he's played in the band, he's had the job and he thinks he knows what's what and all the whos and who cares, oh he's so bored. Thirty thousand dollars (he says he'll buy all us servers dinner out one day) and the adventure of a lifetime, my god his life is cheap.
      At what price a life not yet lived? 
        It's not just the possible loss of life or limb or skin, it's what he will see and do that can't be undone. We ship them off after training them for two years and there they see death, and there they see rape and there they see what chemicals and bombs and bullets and bravery do to a human body and maybe then they know how cheaply they sold their souls. For nothing, for a mistake, for a bloody shameful tangled mess of politics and jingoism.
         Those eyes, they kill me when they get back. They have those eyes that have too much in them to focus on what's in front of them, those eyes are broken and we do not take care of them when they come back.
       When I was his age I bought a truck and lived in my truck. I saw snow in the desert, I saw redwoods and gypsies. I jumped in hot springs naked and ice cold oceans in my long johns. I stalked an author. I joined a circus. I met my lonely. I camped with strangers. I got lost and found. I drove up, I drove down, I got tired and I slept.
        I told him all this and said that there are these adventures, that you don't have to go on someone else's preplanned war story, that you can make your own. But how can you tell a young man so full of hot blood and salty semen that the far-away look in my eyes, of what I have seen and what I have done does not make dumb the feel of soft flesh beneath my fingers and hard wood floors beneath my feet? That love is there, how do you tell him that love is there, when he will sell his soul for thirty thousand dollars and the empty promise of a gun?  

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I broke three glasses at work yesterday. The final one shattered in my hand like a cherry bomb, I stood holding the shape of what was a glass, all tiny peices of danger now perfect in my palm. The glass rained over my eyes, my clothes, the server shelf where we keep the silverware and coffeecups. Everything had to be taken apart and cleaned. Only one shard, one cubic fortress of solitude chunk did not fall from my hand when I overturned it. I pulled it from the fleshy part between my thumb and my pointer finger, everyone winced and turned away. And then there was blood and my boss bathing my hand like a skinny Mary Magdelene on Jesus. But I am not Jesus. I worked my miserable shift. The glass looked like diamonds in my eyelashes. It was beautiful.