Birds and Bingo, another journal poem*

jessica-furtney-219077Birds and Bingo

She sweeps winter from the garage
with a sneeze and a plume
laughs hard and alone
quite enamored by the middle road
the question: what makes a girlfriend
a girlfriend? what makes birch bark
wallpaper? She sheds this skin so heavy
rake the dust and debris off the beds
you just know who you are she says.

Perfect faces watch from the bark
large colorful women in big billowy skirts
say an amazing amount of nothing
bored, actually, unfortunate lecture
unkissed and hating their faces
who would kiss a girl if she is sick
just love your face she says
all proud and eggy and yellow.

I killed a guy in a dream
he looked bad
not dead but he had celery on his head
body parts under the earth
the remnants of life rubble and more debris
absorbed in ghosts married to disease
and faithfully bound up
in dead things.

It’s killing him to be friendly
constant pain, constipated
a day of pies, the edge of stupid
She hates his breathing, cranky and anxious
She left the conversation, she was a sourpuss
Flagstaff was simply not a good fit
or you could just say the woman’s a bitch.

And ate alligator
perhaps it should have been sweeter
the house of love
scones, fire and a jumping dog
comfortable with casual
a bit fat, a little pouty
and good free counseling.

A million promises and a million minutes
of blue that never dries, never sticks
such deep and soulful rhetoric
a thousand dollar check
will never become permanent
no phone calls or sweet messages
you don’t need another depressed
man she says

Poor, poor wound up selfish silly singing
would there be song without consciousness?
brief and functional, there is no anything
when love and hate are at the podium together
then there are just the squirrels
we should all just play bingo in the trees
it was quite an amazing thing to see
catering to his stupidity
depression is lurking, a recipe
a broken leash on a craggy tree
A girl of duty.

She looks at June and finds hesitation
the fridge is rattling noisy
a lot of noise for a long long time
she had better get ready
clean all of the spring pants
she wants to be improved
there are weeds to whack
better not kill those baby hyacinths
then they would be smaller
speaking in sighs across fluorescent halls,
talking up a storm in a V
like the birds she and Bridget saw
squawking across the sky
noisy winter is flying by
literally.

via Daily Prompt: Lecture

Photo by Jessica Furtney on Unsplash

for more on ‘journal poems’ visit another at https://pocketpoet.net/2017/04/04/life-is-only-a-borrowing-of-bones-a-journal-poem/

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As Fragile as an Interrupted Nap

jens-johnsson-471361My mother claimed, not a boast mind you, a claim, that I was independent before I was born. She may have also used the words ‘stubborn,’ ‘brat,’ or ‘bold,’ but mostly she referred to me as independent. Surely it was no surprise when at 21 I went west. It was always a surprise that I didn’t come back. There was never a conversation between us, right up until the last, on the Mother’s Day before she died, when she didn’t ask, “When are you coming home?”

Do parents identify the destiny of their children with such claims, or invoke it? Did my mother say I was independent, and therefore I am? Or was I, as she says, showing signs of independence in utero. I was her seventh baby. She knew babies. I was her eighth pregnancy. Like I said, the woman knew babies. I was different, she said. Feisty. Restless. Ready to arrive. Are parents, especially moms, clairvoyant? Wise? Logical?

Did I claim identity for my daughters previous to their births? Have my words stamped them, and led them to where they are now in their lives, who they are in the world?

I have often joked that each of them sounded like they were speaking a foreign language when they first started baby babbling. One of them in French, one in Chinese. One’s babbles were soft, tongue-rolling sounds. The other’s harder, more nasally and pointed. It’s a better story when you hear me imitate the sounds. So just imagine. I forgot who spoke which language as I have told the story so many times and ways.

But Riana speaks French now. Bridget, Spanish. No successful forecasting there, not really.

~~~

The girls went to a wonderful daycare center when they were babies. At that center, the caretakers had a routine for naptime which will forever stay with me, perhaps in its own poignancy, perhaps in how the girls adopted the ritual.

Each day,  when it was naptime, the baby room staff dimmed the lights, put on soft lullaby music, set out as many mats as there were babies or toddlers that day, placing them in a grid like a checker board, and then the women put the babies on the mats, on their bellies. For the next hour, they traveled about the baby grid, moving from child to child, kneeling beside the baby, and rubbing its back, soothing and cooing, then on to the next one, and the next, until all babies were asleep.

I sometimes arrived to pick the girls up as this was in process. I walked in on this scene, and I must say it was like walking into how I imagine heaven. The most calm and beautiful sight to behold. All these lovely, quiet, snoozing little ones.

Their fragility, and powerlessness, so clear. Their futures, perhaps, spelled out on the mat. How they napped–spread out, tight in a ball, sucking a thumb, line up like an arrow–told a lot. Metaphor? Prediction? Or just a fortuitous moment?

One or two them were often awake, usually Riana was one of them, her mind absorbing and calculating everything, ready for next, eyes open, thinking, but calm.

Bridget, on the other hand, so deeply and wonderfully asleep you’d think she had melted into the mat. The only child I know of, to this day, who asked, “Momma, can I please take a nap?” A mother’s dream.

~~~

The girls would re-create this naptime scenario at home. Using my scarves–which I have obsessively collected since high school, and still have most or many, anyway–the girls would lay out the baby mats. Of course, there was not room in our small house on Armijo St., for them to create a full grid as they did at daycare. They spread the scarves about the entire house, each room, the hallway. Upon every ‘mat’ they set one of the many fake-fur-covered animals, creatures, pillows or other dolls and toys, whatever appeared to them from their toy chest, that represented a baby.

Then the girls moved from one of the  scarves and its ‘child’ to the next. Rubbing their backs. Singing to them. This sight, not unlike the vision of naptime at the daycare center, was angelic. While taking on the caretaker roll, powerful in charge, they seemed so short. Vocabularies of hundreds. Body weight of under 40. But in charge.

One time, around this era of our lives, when the girls were quite little, we visited my mother, who, by that time, was cured of her cancer, but still suffering immensely. I don’t remember if she was on oxygen by then, or if she was being belly fed by my father. But needless to say, she was not herself, not comfortable, and her day to day life was toilsome. For the most part, my experience was that she was still my mom. Sweet and funny, insightful, but tired. So, so tired.

Frail was a difficult word to attach to my mother. While athletic or academic strengths were not hers, she was one tough cookie. In the face of 10 sarcastic and relentless teasers, she held her own. Yet, frail was not foreign to her, and when it overcame her, in those early days of my daughters’ lives, there was a grace with which she wore this cloak. She was weak, and certain only of the proximity of something nameless.

My girls made her a bit anxious, understandably so. She was definitely accustomed to grandkids visiting her, and often. She always so loved babies and children. But having them actually live in her house, present in her space, 24/7, for the two weeks we visited, after several years of empty nest, yes, it probably wore on her. A lot.

As it would anyone who was ill, and, she had limited patience for  the daily ins and outs of kids. The noise. All the attention they require.

She required her own by then, attention, and was a bit needy. So uncomfortable with the powerlessness of dying. But, I would say, for the most part, she and the girls got along. Boundaries were mostly set. I did a bit of refereeing, and a lot of shhhhhhing.

One morning, the girls wanted to play their naptime game. My mother wasn’t up yet, and I was in the kitchen.  The girls ran in and out; they seemed occupied and quiet enough. I didn’t realize they were going to the kitchen linen drawer. As there were no mats or mom’s scarves available, they had taken every single dish towel, dish rag, and pot holder they could find.

My mother’s front room was over-populated with stuffed animals. As she had been sick, by this time, for eight or more years; and as she’d had several hospital visits; and as she had some 70 nieces and nephews (yes, I am one of some 70 first cousins); and as she was one of nine or ten living siblings; and as everyone knew she loved these toys . . . well, there was quite the collection displayed in the living room. On the couch, along the shelves, all spaces were occupied by every color, shape, and species of animal imaginable.

To my girls, the place was simply stock full of, well, babies. And each of them was getting assigned to their very own dishrag or a pot holder.

When my mother came into the kitchen after having woken up and witnessed this ‘scene’ in the living room and dining room, she looked duly perturbed. 1) She hadn’t had her coffee; and 2) ‘What are those girls doing with all my linens?’

I rose from the table, approached her, and gently steered her back toward the living room. We stood in the doorway. “Just watch, Mom,” I assured her. “It’s okay.”

We watched as the girls went from one baby to the next, rubbing their backs, singing to them, or assuring them that they were okay, and to “just go to sleep, now.”

My mom whispered to me, “What are they saying?”

“They’re telling them to say their prayers and go to sleep. It’s how they do it at daycare.”

“They’re putting them to sleep?” she whispered. Her pre-coffee demeanor softened, and her grandmother heart warmed. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Needless to say, from that point forward during our visit, my girls had full reign of my mother’s precious collection of stuffed bears and bunnies and puppies and angels. And, unlike any child previously, they also could do as they wished with the kitchen linens.

~~~

And again, inaccurate forecasting on my part. My daughters have no inclination, it appears, to be parents, not any time soon.

I’ll give myself a bit of credit, however. I had Riana pegged for a Supreme Court Justice, maybe not in utero but certainly by the time she could walk. And I am sure I said as much, and probably as often as my mother told me I was independent. And while Riana isn’t quite there yet, her career will definitely take her to a place of policy analysis and decision making, if not one of the most supreme voices in the land. The certainty and surety of what she knows, and knows to be right, was definitely evident in her infancy. And, FYI, one of her cats is named, “Ruth Bader Ginsberg.”

And Bridget? Definitely had her pegged for a movie star or comedian. And I wasn’t so far off with her, either. Her career in children’s media is sprouting and growing and destined for very funny story telling to ever bigger audiences. In the earliest of baby days, when Ri and I would be having moments–with my independence, and her knowing everything, we had many moments–Bridget would stop us dead in our tension, and make us laugh. Her ability to cheer and understand, intuit, really, was, yes, evident both in utero, and infancy.

~~~

Sometimes, I need a nap. If my mother taught me anything, in utero and beyond, it was the importance of napping. I fondly remember curling up at the end of the couch where she snoozed, her penny loafers still on, the smell of the leather, the shine of the penny. Ready for anything. Both of us.

Naps are determinedly something not to be interrupted, never. Don’t ever interrupt a person’s nap. Especially a mother’s. Unless the house is on fire. To this day, I nap easily, but not often enough.

When the girls were little, and not ready for a nap, but I was, I had a naptime game. “Let’s play beauty parlor!”

So the girls approached the couch, where I stretched out, oh so ready for just . . . . five . . . . minutes. One toddler toting a hair brush, one running with a warm washcloth. One brushed my hair, one rubbed my feet. Ahhhhh. Just . . . . five . . . . minutes.

~~~

My independence kept me from my mom, as she predicted and feared it would. I was the only one of the nine of us not at her bedside when she died. Her stories keep me close to her, even after her death.

The girls’ independence makes me proud, their lives surprise and soothe me. Without knowing it, they still play naptime, each time they call me. They rub my back with their stories, sing me to sleep with their song.

Emeralds

I wore your slippers, sweaters,
jewelry, your rings, daily
after you died I wanted to try
you on, keep you moving, cuddle
on rainy afternoons, but nothing
really fit, and I broke an emerald
ring, your favorite, the  most fragile
of all gems, perfect for a woman
who wasn’t athletic
and didn’t drive.

I wear you daily still, not clothing,
but laughter, how I move my hands,
wipe my nose, or these eyes. And I
relish how often you are here,
right here, and angry that  you didn’t fight
harder so you could live longer so I could
keep knowing you from a distance,
and you could get to know my girls.

They knew you as ‘grandma doesn’t feel good.’
You knew them as far away.

image by jens johnsson on Unsplash.com

via Daily Prompt: Creature
Creature

eclipse yourself

tooth eclips
blood moon
red cavity in the sky
a missing molar
lunar dentistry

children release teeth
win fairytale
prizes, proud
of the gap
imagine that
just dropping
a limb

a digit or a
hip, a wrist,
a twisted ankle
and blooming
a new one

eclipse yourself
become a shadow
a hole in the western  sky

place a broken
piece of you
beneath your pillow

wake up
with a better dream

 

via Daily Prompt: Cavity
Cavity

Thinks, Thanks, Thongs

roksolana-zasiadko ROSE

Time for a little nosalgia, and I can’t look back at one item, without reminiscing about the other.  Thongs, the kind we used to wear on our feet, that evolved into something else, well, the word did anyway, and blood. Bleeding to be exact. Menses. Messy menses. And the whole bit. So here we go.

When I was a girl, thongs were things we wore on our feet, they were cheap, colorful, foot-shaped slices of rubber with a simple V-shaped toe hold. And by colorful I mean red, green, blue, or yellow. Back to those basic choices we had in fashion back then.

It was a huge deal, I remember, in the 70’s when they came out with thongs that had a thicker sole, and layers of different colored rubber. Whoo hoot! Those were expensive. I couldn’t afford a pair and my mother wouldn’t buy me those when the others were available. Which, by the way, you can now find on Ebay, for twenty dollars. I don’t think they cost fifty cents in the 60’s.

100-Natural-Rubber-Vintage-Nanyang-Flip-flops-Thongs-Sandals-Flat-Slippers

Moving a quick few decades forward, and I’m in my early forties raising adolescent girls. I must have accidentally turned and looked the other way one day, because all of the sudden they are pre-teens, and shopping for themselves, and making fashion choices that were new to me.

I suspect my own mother went through the like with me coming home and wearing halter tops and hiphuggers, showing skin from hip line to tit line. Aghast. I inherited her aghast.

What’d you get?” I asked, when they came home from shopping with friends. “Underwear,” they said, taking their bags quickly to their rooms. They knew me too well.

“Flip-flops, Mom. Those are flip-flops that you wear on your feet,” they told me time and again when I refered to my thongs. “Thongs are something else,” they said confidently.

I simply could not adjust my brain to calling thongs flip-flops. Or underwear (underwear?) thongs. They could not adjust their brains to it being any of my business. At all. Ever.

But I had to wonder . . . did other mothers wonder? C’mon, are thongs underwear, really?–they are strings you thread from clitoris to anus. For a thrill? For…? For what?

Okay, I get it. C’mon. I’m not that out of touch. They’re sexy. They have a very simple way of pointing, like little arrows, to our important, well, places.  So it occurs to me that young women, old women, women everywhere are wearing underwear (kind of) in the shape of arrows for . . . whom? To whom are they showing the way? Holy Toledo.

Okay, I say to myself, don’t knock them until you try them. I am not a prude, really. So I bought a few . . . pairs. Okay, so they were interesting, and here’s my truth. I couldn’t get through a day wearing them. I was distracted. All day long. Couldn’t focus. I mean the damn things kept me pretty turned on all day long. Granted, they’re fun, but nevertheless they make it pretty hard to work and stay on task. Whew!

Granted, the origin of these little ditties may be the elimination of panty lines, which are believed to be ugly, and I suppose that may be a wise fashion choice for some who are worried about such lines. But, really, what is it with these conceptions around women’s clothing? If you have panty lines, even if they are lines created by tight jeans or pants, creating a contour of your underthings, or lines pushing extra weight, albeit fat, out of and around underwear hems, is it unsightly? According to who?

So, my theory was always, if you don’t like the lines, ‘go commando,’ as Joey on ‘Friends’ used to call it. And that also seemed to be a popular fashion statement back in the day when thongs were on your feet. Women went without bras. Without briefs. There is a pure joy and freedom to this, and ultimately the elimination of lines. Right? I know my daughters are absolutely cringing if reading. Sorry, girls.

But, no. Someone, who??? Invented these underwear/not underwear for women to 1) eliminate panty lines; 2) point to pubic places; 3) look sexy when wearing; and, most importantly, 4) look sexy when you are wearing them underneath jeans or slacks, and bend over, and the T of the thong is displayed above the back of your pants, smack dab above your butt crack.

Okay, so what about panty lines is hidden then, if we are just showing them in another place? But now it is titillating. Oh, it’s all so confusing.

Okay, part two of this nostalgic venture. The combining of menstrual cycle, with those underwear string thong things. It’s kind of like wiping your bleeding pussy parts with dental floss. Right? And, why?

I tried all my life to time my very regular periods so that I could catch the first flow before ruining a pair of BIKINI underwear, or worse yet, ruining a pair of jeans or slacks or whatever I was wearing. Rarely happened. The not ruining part, in other words, Oh, the great jeans gone to rest with un-cleanable blood stains. You work for years to get them to the exactly right worn-out look and feel, and then you stain the crap out of them.

Try as I did, I just never learned how to bleed until the day it stopped; it simply never stopped surprising me.

So when women who wear thong underwear experience a similar situation, I can only think, WAIT! so this string thingy obviously can’t catch any blood, what the heck happens to their jeans?

You couldn’t affix a pad to said string underwear because 1) the adhesive would stick to you, to your pubic hair, to your skin, and it would just be a painful disaster on top of what, for some, is already a monthly painful disaster; and 2) women these days seem less inclined to wear pads.

And there came the day, when shopping in the SANITARY aisle (please see Protecting Women, a found poem, Aisle 7, Walgreens for further commentary on this matter) that I came upon–I am still dumbfounded–thong-shaped pads. Are you f’n kidding me? The pad was nearly as thin as the string underwear, so it was supposed to capture exactly how much blood? Who invents this stuff?

Oh, dear. Isn’t there a better way to do this bleeding thing?

The answer is YES! There finally is. It’s about time. Too late for this old hen, but thank the menstrual goddesses for this good news. Thank You!

I had always shared with the girls, to much eye rolling, an idea I found in Hygiea: A Woman’s Herbal by Jeannine Parvati Baker, a book that I lived by as a young bleeding feminist. Not to be confused with a bleeding heart liberal, but I may have been that also. Maybe.

Parvati Baker talks about how, back in the good old days, women would just go out to the woods, squat their little butts over a hole, relax, get out all the goods, just drop them down into the earth, read a book maybe, make the grocery list, then clean up and go on about their lives. Much simpler. Oh, how I hankered for the like.

But I guess there are these new magic, I tell you, magic underwear, called Thinx™. Oh, thank god for brilliant women on the move. The idea is that you just bleed into them, kind of like squatting over a hole, but not as inconvenient.

You just bleed into the friggin’ crotch! It is layered with magic material and sucks the goods right in. Absorbent like no other product has ever been. Expensive, and absorbent, but nonetheless, almost makes me want to bleed again.

JK.

It is not thong shaped, no surprise there. However, I must say, while looking up these Thinx thingies, I did find this intriguing: the patent for the thong shaped Thinx thingy. Holy crap.

Really? C’mon. Come on!!!

It is just one experience men will never have. Nor will they ever know the experience. Flowing blood into a pad or Thinx. Right there. Down from the inside and out to the outside. Of your body.  Imagine, there you are, romantic evening with someone new, having a conversation over a lovely dinner, and a tablespoon, maybe a quarter cup, of blood just flowed out of your body and into your underwear, while you’re sharing an expensive Filet Migon and glass of Cabernet. Plop. Oh there goes the clot that caused the whole thing. Spill. Oh.

I am glad the thought of squatting over a hole in the forest is not even a dreamy option for modern women as it was for the likes of me, who was all padded and tamponed up and once a month felt like a toddler in full diapers. Granted, my ‘heavy’ day made my naturopathic doctor laugh.

“So what’s a heavy day for you?” she asked when we were talking about how things were changing during menopause. “Oh, for sure four maxi pads,” I answered with just a bit of suffering and misery resting on my voice.

She couldn’t help herself but laugh. “In a day?” she clarified. “That’s pretty normal, Anne Marie,” she said gently. “For some women,” she, still gently, explained, “Heavy is four or five pads in an afternoon, or less.”

Oh, I thought, gently, in my now suffering embarrassment brain. Oh.

Flip flops, thongs, thingys, and Thinx. There’s your Monday food for thinking.

Photo of Rose courtesy of Roksolana Zasiadko on Unsplash.com

Three Variations of Raspberry Jam

devin-rajaram-28791This is the promised partner poem to “Glass in Our Tortillas.” An old poem, that tells the story of food, friendship, and having daughters. 

Three Variations of Raspberry Jam

for Julie

Each afternoon we drank atole,
Julie and I, in the shadows of the descending sun
and laughed, at our lives, ourselves,
at her intolerance for carelessness—
as I brushed and braided her snarled hair;
at my disdain for dishonesty—
as she doused and expired the fires of my dramatics.

Julie made tortillas, and served them fresh and warm, to me
with peanut butter, jam, and rich creamed coffee.
I baked Tollhouse cookies, varying the recipe
so she would beg for the secret of their texture,
so she would always ask for more.

We wailed for our mothers who fought
the same cancer with similar courage
on chemo floors two thousand miles apart,
and some mornings we walked to the schoolyard
to watch the sun climb over the Organ Mountains
because we believed in that silence.

But no sooner had she moved in than she shrugged
our genuine time behind and went south
to Ecuador to admire dark women balancing bottles
and baskets on their slippery black hair.
Julie scaled silver icy slopes with sharp teeth
attached to her lightweight boots
by her new boyfriend who held her perspiring hand
the entire way and still has not let go.

They moved to a lake in Seattle to sip Folgers
at dusk, promising forever to each other
and feeding the ducks cookie crumbs.
I sat at my small table alone in the tiled dining room,
where I witnessed her absence take the shape of a womb,
so swollen and hushed, so round and calm,
bulging with the down of her sweet missing voice.

I crawled into that emptiness, curled up
with the contractions and waited
for her to answer my letters or calls.
My first daughter arrived, and my mother’s cancer left
that frail body at last.

My home regained its ability to make laughter echo
from the walls and songs bounce on the furniture,
music dance down the halls.
Pink plastic bottles full of my expressed milk
lined the refrigerator shelves
still full of Julie’s sticky glass jars:
Family-Size Skippy Peanut Butter
and three variations of raspberry jam.
I threw them all out and removed her
number from my automatic dial.

A letter on loose leaf, dusty and yellow
announcing that her mother had died, reached me
months after Julie had buried her under a tree
on the family farm.  The loopy script threatened
that our friendship could evolve
only if it lacked the definitions
I relentlessly attached to it.

She sent a book of fairy tales for my toddler,
a bib that said “Spit Happens” for my new baby girl,
and a bag of soft round homemade tortillas for me.
There was accidental glass in the tortillas.
Small sandy shards that drew
no blood but scratched the enamel of my teeth.

Now, each afternoon, I wipe peanut butter onto wheat bread,
smother it with jelly and serve it with juice
to my daughters who have filled the void
I tried to stuff with Julie.
I sip espresso applauding my toddler’s somersaults
and mimicking my baby’s firmly shaped “oh!”
and I know I wouldn’t mother Julie now.

My girls drop chocolate chips into the bowl
of dough, eating more than lands on the pan
and staring proudly as the cookies flower
in the oven’s dull heat.  They promise
to finish all their dinner
if I let them have “just one more.”

Someday, they too will leave, when they no longer need
me, and I’ll pray for their safe return
so we can begin again as friends.

First published in Puerto del Sol.

Image by Devin Rajaram on Unsplash.com

 

 

Glass in Our Tortillas

IMG_7083

It made for a pretty sweet parenting pleasure to arrive home to a house where I could see the vacuum wheel tracks running across the carpet like directional signs saying ‘This way to clean!’ And to smell the fresh red chile pork in the kitchen. ‘Are we at your mom’s?’ I asked the girls’ dad. And there was our little Ri smiling and gnawing a fist as her wind up swing rocked her back and forth. Yes!

Eva, our first, and only, nanny, not only took care of our baby, but she cleaned and cooked while we were at work. It seemed a luxury for us thirty somethings, but I was teaching full time at the university, and I had my classes on only two days. So it was only for a few days a week that Riana, and our house, was in her care.

One night we came home to homemade tortillas. Warm and soft, wonderful little food blankets piled under a linen towel. We may have sat down for a meal, or just sat down to eat the tortillas, gentle enough to give Riana a few torn-off pieces. And luckily . . . we didn’t.

As one of us was about to tear off a piece for her to grab with those pudgy little fingers, we were chewing on the tortillas ourselves. “My tortilla is . . . crunchy,” I said quizzically. “Like, really crunchy.”

My ex agreed and said, “It’s like sand.”

“Or dirt.”

“Or . . . glass?” I asked.

It is amazing how agile we become in the face of danger for our little one. We threw down our tortillas and pieces and ran to the kitchen where we found broken glass in the trash. I carefully pulled my hand across the counter top where Eva would have worked, my fingers traveling slowly behind the dish rack, canisters, and other counter items. Low and behold, my skin picked up itty-bitty shards. “Holy shit.”

When I called and questioned Eva that night, she evenly, and matter-of-factly, explained that yes she had broken a drinking glass onto the counter, and into the flour she was mixing for the tortillas. She was very sorry for any worry she had caused. “But, Anne Marie, I promise,” she said. “I picked out all the pieces.”

Well, no she hadn’t I tried to explain imagining Riana’s bloody gums and dribbles of red coming down from her little lips over the baby chin bump and making their way down her fat neck. Of course, that never happened, nor did we ever see Eva again.

I love food stories. I love food. I love how it makes us who we are, how we react, behave. It becomes us, or we become it.

As the girls were here at my house recently I cooked for them, we cooked together, shared meals. It occurred to me that we not only have food stories, but we have food behavior, too. In fact, when the three of us witness each other expressing even the tiniest tad of tension; when one of us appears to be experiencing just a little twist in those damn knickers, the first thing we say to one another, always, is: “Have you eaten?”

Our relationship with food is detached–in my family anyway–from our relationship with eating. The three of us love good food. I love to cook and bake. The girls are learning on their own, I am glad to know, as they took only a bit of interest growing up.

As a high school girl Riana made the most perfect snickerdoodles I had ever eaten. Ever. And I say this as a former baker, and they are one of my favorites to make, and to eat. “How did you do it?” I asked.

“Just followed the recipe,” she said. She has never ever made them even distantly resembling the perfect cookie she made that one time. She gave up trying. For Riana, it was seriously a one hit wonder.

Now Riana teaches herself, and she revels with great joy when she succeeds at her jam or cookies. Riana’s partner is in the restaurant business, and he loves to cook good food. Ri surrounds herself with people who are similar in that way. She is an appreciater. We all need appreciaters.

Bridget, upon hearing me talk about how I dedicate a day of my weekend, every weekend, to cooking and baking for myself, for the week. she asked, very kindly, but somewhat confused: “So, you spend an entire day cooking?”

The notion seemed earnestly foreign to her. I think it was both the amount of time it takes, and the amount of time I am willing to give to making sure that I have great food in the fridge and at my fingertips, that confounded her.

She lives in New York. She has a tiny kitchen. She is out more than in as getting from anywhere to the next place, and then to home, in the big city, often requires a lot of time on the street, or under it, as the case may be. Scheduling home time for cooking is not a priority.

Bridget also has a partner who loves to cook, so she, too, is an appreciater. I may not have raised good cooks . . . . But Bridget has committed to learning how to make a pretty decent Al Fredo sauce. This is all. One sauce. And this desire evolves from nothing more than the fact that she, like the three of us, is a picky eater, and she is not wealthy. She has to eat, she can’t always eat out, and her boyfriend is not always available. And she LOVES Al Fredo.

But eating? That idea of “having to eat,” is the real story for us. We agree that food is good, but eating? Eating is an activity that, unfortunately, can fall to the wayside. The three of us stay busy. Hours may go by. Before we know it, we find ourselves asking the question, of ourselves, ‘when did I eat?’ Or, we find a loved one asking us, with a bit of sting in their voice, “Have you eaten anything?”

I offer up my own guilt in the matter, and their father’s. We used eating as a weapon, and that is sad, but perhaps, not that uncommon? To use eating, or not eating as is more often the case, as a message, a red flag. A way to say, I’m pretty  . . . .  fill in the blank. Pissed off. Upset. Anxious.

If the girls’ dad and I had a row anywhere near meal time, which pretty much could be any of three times a day; and I was cooking, and I usually was; he would walk from the room, or leave the table, saying, “I’m not hungry.” Good food went bad.

It is most decidedly impossible to eat food that has become a tool of disdain. Even if I, and/or the girls, trudged through the chow that was set down before us, post or during the fight, or even if it was not an outright fight, but definitely a tense mealtime episode, it simply became hard to swallow. And the leftovers?

They sat in the fridge for days having lost any sensual glory. No matter how good the food once smelled, what aromas and expectations it had once sent to taste buds or to stomachs. Now it just smelled of dis-ease. Until it became part of the garbage. And even there it was probably rejected.

It is, in fact, the swallowing that becomes impossible for me in my greatest stress. My swallow button turns off in the same protest as if to say, “I’m not eating that! I’d rather starve.” Bring on a funeral, a divorce, selling and buying a home, and that switch disconnects itself with an invisible swipe.  Pounds drop. “Shit, I gotta eat!” I’ll say to myself, over and again.

The girls have the same symptom, and neither of them have any room for a poundage drop as they’re both thin. But as a trio we are aware of this in each other, and they will hear it from me, and I suspect they hear it from each other. “Eat!”

Yes, yes, I experienced the ‘Divorce 30’. I learned that it was a thing: that women, I don’t know about men, usually lose (maybe can also gain?) in the neighborhood of thirty pounds as the whole divorce thing proceeds.

Jeez. Even I worried; my sallow cheeks, sunken eyes, waif-like limbs, and OMG size six jeans. My doctor, in particular, was worried. “Just eat, Anne Marie,” she said. “Anything.” This coming from a woman of staunch and enviable good eating habits.  When she gave me permission to eat cookies, if that was what it took, I knew it was serious. Brownies or gummy bears. “Well, nuts would be better,” she told me. “Just eat.”

I did. Little tiny meals. A handful of nuts. Half a power bar. A carrot. Jeez. I was delighted, I must say, when it was all over, and I took the whole lot of size six clothing to Goodwill. Wiped my hands of that mess, and was back to my normal weight. “Just eat.”

Is this where the mantra between the girls and me, evolved? And the question when we notice that tension: “Have you eaten?” If the response is ”I am not hungry,” and the behavior is pretty, well, crabby, we pretty much know that trouble is in the vicinity and aforementioned knickers are duly twisted.

I’m glad we have a fail-safe, and I find redemption in the fact that they are both wonderful and active artists who use their artistic abilities to work through the same disdain, anger, sadness or tension that may also take away their appetite, or simply distract them from eating. So we’re okay, the three of us.

I do not remember using food as an expression of anything but hunger as a child. I do not remember ever saying, “I’m not hungry” to my mother and it being a way of telling her or a sibling that I was pissed off. Nope, not me. I ate, ate well, ate often, ate a lot, and ended up weighing a bit more upon high school graduation than I do now. Quite a bit more. Think “Brick House.”

Needless to say, I was blessed with two parents who both loved to cook, and bake, and did so quite well.

My dad was most proficient at soups and sauces. Navy bean soup. Beef au jus that he served with salted bagels. Split pea soup with pink chunks of ham floating like little ships of flavor. Chipped beef – oh the ooey gooey of it.  YUM! He was also a butcher’s assistant as a boy, and into his adulthood, so he knew cold cuts and cheeses, and Oscar Mayer simply had no place in our refrigerator.

Mom was the casserole queen. Tuna noodle anyone? Or roasts! Pork, beef, and the turkey at Thanksgiving. And the muffins, cakes or snickerdoodles! And as far away as my father stayed from packaged meats, my mother stayed that close to the boxed mix. She had nine kids and a house to keep. Boxes and cans, frozen and packaged goods? Bring. It. On.

In wondering how it is that our food behavior evolved, I think often about the absolute cravings for everything healthy I experienced while pregnant with Riana. I was eating fruits and veggies I didn’t even know that I liked. And one that I ended up not liking.

Grape juice. Didn’t know that my body was unhappy with it until morning sickness came on while in the parking lot outside work. And just as my boss walked by, and greeted me, I heaved up a purple river. He smiled weakly as I stood in the subsequent purple puddle. Poor thing, I am sure he thought, shaking his head.

Riana tells me, to this day, she hates grape juice. Go figure.

With Bridget? I craved everything absolutely un-healthy, especially potato chips and red licorice twists. I made me, and my dentist, happy during those 40 weeks. And is that why Bridget is my sugar bug? Not that licorice is her thing, but holy Toledo that girl can put away the candy.

As a mother I feel a responsibility for my daughters’ food. I cook and bake like a maniac before their visits. I am all about feeding them now, and when they were growing up. I love this part of my role, this part of my motherhood. I love it the way my own mother loved it. Or at least did it lovingly and with a song, though I don’t ever remember her actually saying, “I love to cook for the ten of you.” But I remember her singing!

As responsible as I feel to make them food, what is my role in making them eat?  I don’t remember stories of eating disorders as a kid. I remember the oddity of learning that Mary P., a gal in high school, one of the smartest and thinnest I seem to remember, was suddenly hospitalized. The rumor mill of a small Catholic high school was bitter and feverish, saying that she had only eaten lettuce for a few months.

What an odd thing I remember thinking. Why lettuce? Anorexia and bulimia were not topics of conversation or articles in magazines back then, not until later, so we really had no basis upon which to draw to understand this beyond its presented facts. Lettuce diet. Hospitalized.

Well, for all of the food stories there are, and there are so many, I guess my point is, “Just eat.” Down and out? Just eat. Nervous or sad? Just eat. Eat a little something. And when you notice someone you love getting a little bitey–perfect adjective–if it’s one of us, ask the question. “Have you eaten?” and offer a handful of nuts, or a smoothie. Just beware of the glass.

Side note: yes, they did call me “Annie Bananie with the Big Fat Fanny,” as a child. Nothing more to say.

~

And the poem? Well, please find the partner poem to this piece, “Three Variations of Raspberry Jam,” in a subsequent blog post. 

The image is simply a Google find.

Agile

Love Hate

clem-onojeghuo-285443Rain.*

The wet needles of it
diving into my skin
like a happy cactus
my pores open
one at a time
for each prick
wayfinding.

Each nettle knocks the glass
every headlight illuminated
like a kaleidoscope of night
highway line and sign
even my brights
won’t distinguish the right
way to stay far away
from slip and slick and danger.

Post-storm sunrise
offers billows of gray bathing
the eastern sky, hooded by peach
and pleased with a job well done
puddles reflect orange stripes
pointing clearly to morning
and safety.**

*In the southwest, rain is an amazing and rare thing. Like sunshine, I suppose to the northwest, or even Detroit.

**2018 – I’m on poem-a-day challenge, here is an early morning musing, just for fun.

Thanks for the image: Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

 

Broken, in Eleven Panes

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  1. Bad Breaks

We’ve all suffered a broken heart of one sort or the other. Some that seem reparable and some, not so much. From the go-on-a-few-dates-with-a-hottie-who-dumps-you after the holidays kind of broken heart, to being dumped by the gem you dated for a few years who leaves you quite suddenly. And you find yourself withering on the couch in front of the TV watching reruns for weeks, or perhaps months.

And there is the broken heart caused by the dreamboat you married who went to the grocery store and never came back. And you’re alone but grateful you didn’t have any kids. And you ache in places you didn’t know you could.

And there is the heart break from when best friends, or sisters, or siblings discover that the few miles or countries that separate them is a far larger chasm than they could have ever imagined. And the anger and inability to forgive widens the chasm further. Daily. And that broken heart is a deep and slow healing sort of break.

Then there are the almost unspeakable broken hearts. Those breaks caused by losing a child, a parent, or a spouse too early and from an unforgiving death or disaster. Those are heartbreaks far deserving of narrative and poetry and even a post on a blog, but not here for me at this moment this morning. And I am not sure what led me to the page this morning to write about heart break and healing.

Perhaps it is having a new home, one that I bought and nestled into all on my own, all for me, and the girls, of course, when they happen to visit as they just did for a long wonderful holiday. When we experience all of our lifelong routines, some developed and evolved and solidified long before their father left, and some that developed afterwards (like Christmas shoe exchange — but that is for another blog post), and we fill our days and nights together.

We ate and walked and laughed and sang and played games and made tamales and argued and remembered and we were together easily, and sometimes with tension, but always just the three of us, together. Well, they arrived with boyfriends in tow. And that has just multiplied the fun by a thousand.

And their father does not know this love.

  1. The Break

Surprise and agony run parallel in a heartbreak caused by the end of a long wonderful marriage. When a family is suddenly decimated. Dissipated. Dissolved. Smashed. Crushed. Wrecked. Squished. Blown to smithereens. (What are smithereens anyway?) Like fine China and heirloom Waterford Crystal wiped off the dining room table in one fell swooping swoop – and in pretty much one afternoon. Or maybe it was a month of afternoons. Many moons ago.

When all the pieces of all that beautiful glass fell like snowflakes in an early snow, fell in slow motion, each piece apparently tethered to some sorry, bedraggled and final inkling of hope. They wavered and swayed as they hovered above the wood floor below. I seem to remember each shiny piece landing, maybe bouncing and falling again, or bouncing and then making one last airborne wobble before finally exploding.

Shredded by gravity and impact and spreading thousands of prisms and points, tiny, tiny blades and daggers all about the floor. All those little pieces of the life we knew left now scattered about for the girls and I to sweep up or dance around or stare at and worry on and question into the long, long nights for months.

And to touch. And touch again. And cut our fingers. Again. And again and we went through boxes and boxes of bandages. And tissue. And, of course, we survived.

  1. Break Report

It is that kind of heartbreak that I write about. Hopefully with wisdom and a hope less disheveled. And I do not know why this first post of 2018 on Pocketpoet.net leads me to write about this heartbreak. This time of life that changed me. Spun me around like a spinning top—while we watched the sad string hang limply from his back pocket as he closed the door behind himself.

But here I am today, watching only the gorgeous sunrise across the eastern skyline turning the red rocks of the horizon into a blazing hot pink for a few moments, with a gentle promise of rain. It is this pain that comes to mind.

  1. Comfort Food

I used to describe it this way. “He reached into my chest, pushed past my ribs, grabbed my heart with his angry fist, yanked it out, chopped it up, threw it in a frying pan, scrambled it with eggs and fed it to the other woman. And she ate it with a grin.”

  1. What Is This Exactly?

Those first few nights, after he left, and after I explained again to my youngest—who had asked, “So did Dad go on a vacation, or is this a separation?”—that yes this was a separation and I did not currently know its scope or depth. I simply didn’t. But those first few nights, actually weeks maybe, the girls, barely adolescents — and since I had a king size bed — crawled in with me. None of us wanted to sleep alone. And then, after a while, they took turns sleeping with me, and then, we all adjusted to sleeping alone without their dad in the house. Survival.

  1. Comfort Food, II

Years later it dawned on me that the only food I had fed them in those early months of new family was scrambled eggs with tortillas. I apologized to the girls about how awful that must have been, and they laughed. “We loved it!” they exclaimed. Little did I know that they were less akin to my gourmet soups and stews and casseroles and really just wanted to eat comfort food. To this day we have all acknowledged that scrambled eggs are simply one of our favorite go to foods.

  1. Lunch Hours

Those early days I used my lunch hour to come home and wail. A few times a week. I did not want the girls to hear that kind of anguish. To this day, Romeo and Tillie, our pets, grow anxious when any of us cry or raise our voices. I fear I scared the hell out of them back then. I walked in at noon, dropped the keys and phone on the counter, sat by the cold woodstove, and just sobbed. Sobbed it all out. Sobbed and yelled and cursed. Cleaned my face. And went back to work.

This scheduled time of “feeling” was a result of wisdom from three most wonderful woman.

Jill Divine, exquisite poet and friend, told me, “I’ll give you one year. You can cry your head off for one year, but then you stop. And you get back on your feet.” I needed that year, and then asked for a couple more months, which she granted.

From Penni Patterson, counselor extraordinaire, who said, “Feel this. Feel this, Anne Marie. You fight your feelings. You argue with them. You can’t talk yourself out of them. Stop arguing and feel.” And so feel I did.

And from Mary Poore, my dear friend and doctor. “You have to move the pain,” she told me. “It is stuck right here,” and she held her own hand to her own heart, and I moved my hand to my heart, and I could feel it. “Run, walk, dance, whatever it takes, but move it.”

  1. Graffiti

So I hiked. I walked and I walked and I walked. One day I walked into the forest, after a bright beautiful snow, and drew one hundred broken hearts on every fresh flat surface I could find. Purposefully destroying the beauty of perfectly flat shiny surfaces of freshly fallen snow with my angst and grief. That wasn’t very nice. But certainly, whomever else walked that trail and saw those broken hearts drawn with a stick may have grieved for the author of such public display of heartbreak. Or cursed me for spreading my sad graffiti about. But it would all melt. And go away. And that was the point. I knew, I knew I would survive and they would forgive the temporary defacing.

  1. Tired of Sad

For months I woke up at 2:13 am. Each night. I have no idea why that time. But like clockwork, I woke up at 2:13 and, of course, could not fall back asleep. Insomnia was new to me. As was that type of depression. I finally went to my doctor and begged. “Please, I am so tired of being so sad.” She recommended an herbal remedy that would help both the sleeping, and the sadness, without any heavy side effects, or any side effects at all. It worked. We survived. Sometimes you have to call in the big guns.

  1. The Five Frontiers of Heartbreak

I named the frontiers of loss. Five of them.

The first and most obvious one was The Lover. I had lost my lover. The betrayal was palpable, and the repairs were possible, although never attempted. It was the easiest of all the frontiers.

Then there was The Marriage. Everyone thought we were unbreakable. Surely we’d get back together in a new and stronger way. But that opportunity never arose from the rubble. Marriage is a legal matter, and like all legal matters, there is a form and a signature. Done.

Then the frontier of The Friendship. And this one still stings I guess. For losing a lover? It happens. Dissolving a marriage? Paperwork. But losing your best friend? It’s like rubbing your hand across a bunny ear cactus . . .

And then, oh sad days. The Partner Parent. I truly did not believe until I had no choice but to face the fact that I had lost the person with whom I had children, and who raised them with me, with so much love and care. As Bridget asked with tremendous anger, “We’re going to be one of those families now?”

Finally, and somewhat poignantly, the final frontier. The Friends and Family. I assumed, sadly now that I look back, our respective families of origin and all of our friends were resilient enough to receive the impact of the blow, bounce back, and continue to respect us as a team, albeit broken and remodeled, but still the great people we always were. Some were. Folks, colleagues, friends who would see me on the street, men and women alike, in the early days, and hug me with tears in their eyes. Call. Check in. To this day. Others weren’t. Others who averted eye contact. Or calls. Ties unknotted. Ripples spread. Collateral damage. Dang.

  1. The Ripples and Repairs

Ah, where am I going with this? I don’t know but enough now. Enough.

Perhaps I should attempt some sort of great wisdom, or at least a poem? And certainly a shout out and thank you to all of those who helped us mend. And great love for all those we lost, and forgiveness.

For eventually, yes, we swept up the damn shards, walked barefoot again across the wood floors, and got on with our new life. Just the three of us.

When Rage and Compassion Hold Hands

Ice preys on boulders and slips down, landing
with grimace on rock that cannot
remember the taste of water, the sound
of winter when it tumbles off

the mountain. Anger refuses moisture
or melt. The wind slaps tomorrow
from beneath the icicles. The chin points
to yesterday, will never trust

compassion’s promise to embrace the pond
that reflects February’s Snow-
Moon–predicting a feast for the hungry;
splash rain on the pool where the doe

and the coyote could share a drink. Eyes
meet across the surface, revel
in the demise of the drought’s persistence–
Thirst ending, ice nudged to the edge.

Image from Nate Bell at Unsplash.com

Dark Windows Dark Dark

aaron-burden-191067

I feel the day’s brevity
like sleeves too short
when I was fifteen
and my wrists were exposed
to Detroit’s dull December
I pulled down the seams
but they would not stretch
any further
nor would my gloves
come up.

I feel the day’s brevity
and yawn like a bear
thinking ‘it must be time’
but the hands have barely budged
to seven, I struggle
through spoonfuls of caldeo
think warm thoughts watching
long night’s darkness
slurp yawn slurp
time pushes hard
and the covers greet me soft
at eight.

I feel the day’s brevity
under heavy blankets
dark windows dark dark
coffee lovely coffee
can only do so much
to wake this old girl up
it is not the compass I need
my drowsy desert sun to rise
rise rise and remember
the fun of sunshine and bright
things, hello? anyone out there?

Alas, the longest nights
can only mean they will shorten
soon they will shorten soon
my mantra as a tiny flashlight guides
my dog’s morning stroll I know
minutes will add themselves slowly
to the litany of January
of February nights they will thin
grow thinner they will run like prey
reaching March and leaping
over the gray ridge of winter
and suddenly
light will awaken me
instead of an alarm.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Compass

Baby, It’s Cold Inside – or – Being Trapped by My Boss in the Walk-In

walk in“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

So, on one of  the first nights of my first job, outside of babysitting or cleaning houses, when I was all of fourteen years old, I was trapped inside a walk-in cooler by the chef at a popular restaurant in Detroit. A restaurant now rumored to be frequented by the mob. Go figure. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. About those who have “trespassed against” me.

It was in listening to an interview on Fresh Air the other night (which, by the way, is a very insightful piece on recent news about (mostly) men who have harassed, abused, or violated women in the workplace) that I heard Rebecca Traister referr to the range of men’s offenses–from annoyance to violent crime–as “trespassing.” Good word, I thought. Good word.

Those who have trespassed against me. Well, the list is long. Thus the post, “Yes,” on October 24. That morning I had listed all the trespassers of my life, and I noticed a pattern. When I had said “no” to men or boys they had interpreted that word to mean “yes.”

Upon further investigation–which means writing in my dark  morning office, waiting for the winter sun to please rise soon because I am not fond of short winter days—I realized that sometimes my ‘no’ may have meant ‘yes?’ Sometimes my ‘yes’ may have meant ‘I do not know.’ Or I am afraid. Or sometimes, each time, I experienced the confusion of adolescence. It appears, I was not alone. Adolescence, and womanhood, in this world, is confusing.

I do not remember the moment that walking became strutting.  Somewhere after I turned 11? Twelve? I do not remember when walking changed from just walking to exhibiting. But it had. And I was cat-called. Followed. I was the recipient of whistles, invitations, inquiries. I was flattered. Being noticed for my appearance by strangers was new, titillating, flattering. It made me feel grown up. Sexy. Pretty. Noticeable. I did not feel harassed or that any trespass had occurred. I believe the following explains why.

When I was seven years old, walking home from school with my sister through the alley that ran east and west along Grand River, we saw a man standing by the fence. He was a stereotypical provocateur, I know now, but then he was just a some jerk in a trench coat who exposed himself to us as he rubbed his hard cock when we passed him. We took off running.  We told my brother when we got home. He grew angry, ready to go beat up the guy. “Where was this?”

The second time this happened, I was nine, and in the same alley. And a different man was sitting in a car parked oddly in our path so we could not avoid walking by his open windows to continue on our way. And, as we walked by, we can see that the man, who is staring at us, is also rubbing his erect cock below the steering wheel. We ran again. I don’t remember telling my brother this time.

Perhaps what stopped us from reporting this was that nothing had happened the time before. So an assumption had developed, a precedent had been set: it was a normal occurrence. Us girls were to ‘just be careful.’ AKA the onus is on children to be wary of pedophiles, not pedophiles to be put in jail. This is what happens. Men in the world do this type of thing. Little girls are subject to this behavior. Trespassing happens. And we must forgive according to my Catholic upbringing and praying.

So when I was the ripe old age of 14, and I had seen men’s hard cocks and I had experienced the exuberance of being noticed for my looks, well, no, my assumed fuckability (because man whistled at me until I had boobs and hips  as if those, for some, made me accessible), I really didn’t know much about sex at all. I had been provided the mechanics, and nothing more. Again, adolescent confusion.

Thus, my best friend and I researched what we could one afternoon, going through the set of Encyclopedia Britannica at my house, and the Worldbooks at hers. We flipped to the appropriate alphabetical listing each time we came upon a new term. We read all we could on that topic until another mysterious word appeared. Vulva. Erection. Urethra. Coitus. Still mostly mechanics but we were figuring it out. Our Bodies Ourselves was first published in 1971, and that was nothing that we young Catholic girls would or could access at the time.

So experience became the key. Many of our friends had delved into sexual activity and talked in whispers and coded language about who’d gone how far. The ‘bases’ were part of that code, and the boys in the group were braggarts, making coded comments about what they knew or had done, or had tried. They always spoke to this loudly and in front of others.

The girls, on the other hand, kept the conversations more private. Much of boys’ banter was critical, derogatory, and embarrassing. It wasn’t “locker room” talk, per se, for it occurred in front of everyone. And, again, it fed into the sense of normalcy that I had come to understand. Males showed off, bragged, and maintained a level of cruelty on a subject that females took seriously, carefully researched, quietly analyzed.

No, I am not saying that anything ‘saintly’ was occurring with us girls, we were engaging. But there was a very distinct divide in the perception around the sexual and the flirtatious as I observed it. The boys seemed to use it as a tool for disdain and bravado. We girls wanted it for love and affection.

So, it was about this time that I took a job at Chuck Josephs, washing dishes, and then helping Jerry, the chef. One night, he sent me into the cooler for something. I had never been in a walk-in cooler, and I couldn’t even open the door at first. Jerry came up behind me, extremely close, and wrapped his arm around me to show me how to open the door.

I will never forget the warmth and strength of his body against mine. It was the closest a male, a man, had ever been to me, and it was something. Looking back I can honestly say I do not remember feeling either fearful, or in danger, not titillation and longing, but he was warm and strong. Once the door was open, and we entered the cooler, he shut the door behind us and showed me how to get out, by pushing the big metal button.

He explained to me that nobody on the outside could hear me if I was inside, so be sure to leave the door open. And then he approached me, cornered me, in the back of the cooler, explaining to me in somewhat coded language, that ‘all kinds of things’ could happen in there, and nobody would hear.

“Like you could kiss me,” he said putting his arms on shelves on either side of me and coming in close to my face.

I believe I kissed him.

But I do not remember.

If I didn’t that time, I did the next. I definitely remember a kiss. One. At some point. Working beside him as the prep cook, on many Saturday nights, was a long stretch of hours where I cut carrots or peeled cucumbers, but it was also long hours of his noticing and commenting on me, my body, what could or could not happen with us, in the cooler.

And I did not feel harassed. It did not seem to be trespass. This is my point.

It felt normal.

I worked there for several Saturday nights. Then Al Valente, the owner of Maria’s, the pizza restaurant next door, who often came into the kitchen at Chuck Joseph’s and talked to Jerry, asked me if I would like a job at the pizzeria with more hours. I jumped at the opportunity.

The first night on my new job, Al approached me, turned his back toward me, and asked me to scratch his back. I did.

It felt normal.

On every shift for the next few years, I worked with a team of three or four teenage boys, and one of two men. Al or his backup manager, Ken Angelosanto. Al never asked for more than back scratching. Ken was an outright flirt, and like Jerry before him, wanted kisses, and more, and he spent a lot of time with me at the counter in front of the restaurant, instead of back in the kitchen where he belonged. Both of these men were married and had children.

I did not feel harassed by either of them. It did not seem to be trespass. This is my point.

It felt normal.

I was fourteen.

I worked at Maria’s until I graduated from high school. At eighteen my understanding of men, males, and relationships was pretty consistent, and unfortunate, looking back. What occurred was lost on me. I did not know that it was wrong for my superiors to expect physical attention, sexual attention, and for me to offer it as part of my role as their employee.

I was a smart girl. A good Catholic girl. Not saintly, but not innocent either.  I did not have sex with these men, but the amount of and the normalcy of the sexual and flirtatious interaction, in retrospect, is appalling. But certainly not news.

I am struck by the use of the word “shock” in the stories that take up the airwaves and blogosphere and print these last few months. I know that what I experienced in the first few years of my work life in Detroit, Michigan was not rare or isolated or new. Surely, surely, we all know this goes on, and we have seen it, heard about it, or experienced it ourselves either as the trespasser or the trespassed.

This is not shocking. It is normal. People in positions of superiority trespassing upon their subordinates is not news. The current headlines strike me as about ridiculous as someone reporting each day that the sun rose.

Yet, I am glad that people are talking about this, I just think we should remove the drama and the shock factor. Let’s admit what we all know, and have always known, these types of stories to be true. And let’s be glad that the stories, not news, are everywhere, and we are currently inundated by them and by how normal it is for men to trespass against girls and women. Women expressing long quieted anger. Men continue in denial.

Keep the stories coming. But let’s get real folks. The content, and the behavior are not news. That women have a platform and are stepping up onto it and speaking out is new.

But let’s not forget that the platform has been hoisted by the media, and the government to some extent, and both are run or owned, for the most part, by men.

But change is upon us. I do believe, change is upon us.

via Daily Prompt: Saintly

Saintly