Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bobby Jack

     Nineteen years ago, my cousin Bobby Jack died in a car accident.
     My cousins and I lived together off and on for the first ten years of our lives depending on the marital status of or our parents, so we ended up feeling like brother and sister for the most part.
     When my cousin Bobby was 19, he crashed his car into a tree only two blocks from his momma’s house.  A tree limb came through the windshield and hit his head, breaking his neck.
     The week before his death I gave him a ride home from jail where he had been held for an outstanding ticket he forgot to pay, which was nothing compared to the rest of our family.
     He was doing well for the most part. At 19, he was an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant, owned his own car and had even moved out on his own. His heart was broken, but on the mend, he assured me and he was thinking about the future-how to make it good.
He and God were getting to be friends, he said.  He just wished he could change faster. That it could happen overnight.
     Me, too, I said.
     One night that week, he had too much to drink, but assured his mom he wouldn’t leave her house. After she fell asleep, he decided he was OK to drive home. Maybe he was. The tree he crashed into, on the easement in front of a small home, had been hit by five cars before. The family who lived in the home didn’t have the money to pay anyone to cut the tree down, but had asked the city to do it, with no luck.
     So overnight, everything did change.
     He was gone and the cousins were left with a gaping hole. Our frame of reference altered forever.
     One time during a long game of hide and seek, his sister and I had given up trying to find him. We figured he’d played a joke on us and instead of hiding he’d grabbed some quarters and “hid” in front of the Pac-Man game at the Circle K down the street. Only later, when we opened the closet to find something to wear to the Super Skate, we found him hunched over on some boxes.
     Belinda, his sister, screamed and shut the door. I re-opened it slowly.
     "Is he dead?” I whispered leaning in close to see if he was breathing. A grin spread across his face, before he wiped away his drool.
     “Y’all suck at hide and seek,” he said. We laughed for days, months, years it seemed like.
     He wasn’t the first person I thought was dead that ended up being alive, so when they called to tell us he died, I assured my mom, they were lying, and I didn’t truly believe them until I sat parked outside of the funeral home waiting for his body. In some weird way, I really thought it wouldn’t show up. That it could happen like that again, and he’d walk up to my car and ask me why I was listening to that new-wave crap and make me let him drive us home.
     I still cry every time I think of him. I still expect him to walk in every time we are all together.
     I want to hold his baby on my hip at Thanksgiving and feed her chicken and dumplings. I want to line up at the scrimmage line and hear him trash talk me so bad, I’d be tempted to bust him in the mouth, like old times. I want him to pin me down, knees on my hands, while he dangles the grossest loogie over my face or give me the worst bruise from his cruel game of “frogger.”
     If he’d been alive last summer, he’d have showed up to my grandma’s birthday party in his Hank William Jr. t-shirt and hop on the picnic table and nail the dance to Beat It, or Billie Jean, or Thriller while we all stood in awe of his still golden, lanky body and what my Grandma still calls, the worst/best “shit-eatin’ grin” she’s ever seen.
     But he’s not alive and I still miss him.
     He’s not here, and after all this time, I ache to have that country punk back.

Monday, April 26, 2010


“Oh, I can make the thread. It’s the weaving . . .” 

Uhm, paper, the meaningful kind.
Really tiny, pointy scissors,
A string you pulled and pulled
From a favorite shirt
A yellow flower pressed
Something silver worn in your hair when you were twelve
Coconut milk and rum
Chubby shrimp in garlic and butter
A colorful strap
An idea
And some words.
Don’t forget words.
Good ones.
Oh, and make ‘em hopeful.
And pieces of an altar, too.
And love. Mostly love.

But wait.
This is the beginning.
not the middle, everything given over.
Scratch all that.

Maybe a new blue shirt, button down,
Sewn to fit.
A notebook, blank and waiting,
Songs you love like knowing.
And something to do.

Yeah, don’t start in the middle.
Start new.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good Throw?

     When I stumble upon an interesting name on Mary Demuth’s Recipe a Day Blog, I click on the link. I find another author around my age, beautiful, a graduate of an IVY League-ish University, travels the world speaking to corporations, is some kind of mathematical computer whiz, likes role playing games, and has published three novels.
     She has also won beauty contests, plays the piano and studied economics at Oxford. Wow.
     I immediately want to know about her personal life. Don’t judge. This was not a SEE you CAN’T have it all search. It was an I want to know how you can be that successful and still please your husband enough that he’ll want to stay married to you search, because my husband almost tossed our marriage out the window during the writing of my first novel (he’s a bit high maintenance) that didn’t even get published. I was looking for inspiration.
     Some call me nosy, but I call me teachable. I’ve always been this way. At seventeen I sat between my friend’s great grandparents and listened to how they met, married and stayed married for fifty years. After sitting at the kitchen table between my mom and aunt so many years, making mental notes while listening to the tales of their horrible first marriages, I was astounded at the possibility.
     So, that’s where I found myself again. Astounded. How did she do it? How could she balance her home life and all this success? I found some interviews about her writing process and upcoming novels, but still none that mentioned her marriage. Eventually, I image-googled her and noticed no pictures of her husband.
     Where was he?
     Maybe he’s dead, which would make me feel horrible for searching to begin with. Maybe they are FBI and her job is a front and he’s incognito. Maybe he is rich and forced a non-disclosure clause in the divorce. Maybe she doesn’t want to make him famous, like the Eat Love Pray, author’s husband.
     Maybe I overlooked the passage where she said she went through a divorce during the publishing of her first book. When I finally found it, I was sad. There was no more information than that and that made me wonder.
     I was supposed to be writing when I started this search, but I convinced myself that as long as I was anywhere near the topic of writing on the Internet I was close enough. I was reading a recipe blog written Mary Demuth, who just released a new memoir, Thin Places. She suffered sexual abuse as a child and has been open about how as an adult, she told her story to gain empathy. Now, after growing and learning, she tells her story to help others and to give testimony that God heals.
     But, it made me wonder about choices writers make, because I am struggling with how much to divulge in my own writing, about my marriage and childhood. Why do some writers choose to reveal very painful experiences and some choose to keep them private? I want to approach certain topics with the right motive, but I wobble on the fence of my weird psyche.
     On one hand, I say, “Don’t do it. People will judge you. Are you gonna give them the stones to throw?” or “Everything is ammunition, ya know?” or “Why not get  a scarlett letter tattoo of the initial of a couple of your major deadly sins and be done with it? Lets see, G, L, S, . . . Is there room for all seven? It worked so well for Hester.”
     On the other hand I say, “Tell everything! It will explain why you’re crazy.”  Or “He did it first? Well, then  . . .” Or “If they do judge, at least they’ll do it with the right information.”
     But lately, mostly, I think I’ve been carrying these stones around too long anyway and they’ve been weighing me down for woeful long. Jesus already knows everything I’ve done. Everything you’ve done, too. No excuses.
     So maybe it’s time for me to lay the stones down. Let you decide if you’ll pick one up. See how it feels. Familiar?  Well, it’s your throw.

     “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”  And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” 
 She said, “No one, Lord.” 
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” John 8-11, The Holy Bible.

"O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this."
      - William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is it too much to ask for an all night library?

     Where, when I wake up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning I can slip out of bed quietly, slide on my PJ’s and flip-flops and sneak out to my bike, and place my journal and pen in my trusty bike basket.
Where I can slide my library card for door access and stumble sleepily into the stacks and Selena, the librarian with makeup like Rainbow Fish, will offer me pan dulce and coffee, if I help her reshelf the picture books.
     And I do, because I love pan dulce and picture books.
     And Margaret, the hot librarian, is wearing her Betty Boop sleeper and filing her nails while listening to Dr Zhivago on audio CD. She points to the stack of novels told in poetic form that she pulled for me before I arrived, because she’s telepathic or nosy or both.
     I find myself pouring over words and they’re pouring over me as I get cozy in the teen section with its hip chairs, colorful carpet and cool posters. I lean a funky pillow against the wall and wish for fuzzy socks, when I notice that fuzzy socks happen to be the prize for library patrons who visit between 2 and 4 A.M., in my choice of purple with shooting rainbow stars or hot pink with buttery yellow hearts.
     I love purple. I stretch my comfy, newly warm feet.
     I look at the second stack Margaret puts before me. Walter and Karen, Lois and Rob, please whisper in my ear.  I’m waiting at your feet. Madeleine, C.S, Sandra and Gary, my ideas won’t let go of me enough, my words are wanton. I’m sleepy enough to improvise tonight, so can you get your muse to kick my muse’s booty? 
     I plug my Ipod into the library’s music machine. All music is at my fingertips. I don’t know if God’s playlist can compare with mine. I am inspired.
     I read, I write. I think.  I dream. I wonder. I draw. I throw a quiet hissy fit. I write some more until my head is bobbing and my words are unreadable.
The smell of coffee reminds me I’m in my dream library and Robert, who is in charge of all the audio-visual files, is stirring cappuccino. It calls my name.
     I grab the hot cup and Robert slips me a napkin with a Neruda poem he’s written on one side and his answer to the poem on the other. I go to the big dictionary and look up two words that are new to me, as usual, and I smile because I was right about one and clueless about the other-incunabula?  I love it though and store it away for later use.
     It reminds me of a short film I’ve been meaning to see, and I find it on the perfectly organized shelves, in the correct genre and I slide my card for access to the empty viewing room, where I sip coffee and watch the film on a full size medium size movie screen in the comfort of the best library known to mankind.
     After watching and taking notes, I make my way to non-fiction and glare at the Writer’s Market, sitting on the shelf, mocking my entire existence or maybe just me in my long socks. I stick out my tongue at it.
     I notice the sky turning. The sun will rise soon and if I stay too long, Chris will show up sleepy eyed, wearing his I Can’t Sleep Without You t-shirt, and stand outside the glass doors to the teen room with a barbacoa taco or Hot Tamales to lure me home, even though he is all the lure I need.
     (So is it too much to ask for a library that tessellates time, so my family doesn’t miss me when I’m away? Okay, so maybe that is too much to ask for, but you have to admit, it’s dreamy.)
     I linger in the periodicals where Image Magazine has caught my eye. Art and Faith. Faith and Art.
     It might as well say Breathing and Breathing, because there is art in everything to me. I recently asked a CPA friend how she enjoyed tax season and her eyes brightened as she described it as a fun puzzle to solve. I saw her mind working and I smile at how mine doesn’t work that way but know her art is in numbers and mine is in words sometimes, pictures sometimes, movement sometimes, and sound sometimes.
     I wish I could pin myself down a bit more.  But it’s impossible. I’ve tried.
     I am learning to be happy Breathing. Breathing. Breathing. And happy that I have a library with librarians that rock, even though they don’t let me eat in there and don’t give prizes to adults. I am happy I can walk or ride my bike there even though it closes on Sunday and Monday and early on Wednesdays and Fridays. I am happy it has great choices of books, magazines, and rooms to reserve, even though I sometimes have to ask them to borrow a book from Kansas on inter-loan library. I am happy it has all the "stuff" it has to offer for free, even though I pay my share of late fees, because I need help learning, teaching and being inspired ALL THE TIME!
     But it doesn’t hurt to dream, does it?
     Just like I am happy with where I am, but I can't stop dreaming about where I'm going, I am happy with my library, but oh . . . the possibilities!