Sunday, June 27, 2010

all over the place

This week, I went for a run for the first time in probably three years. I also took my road bike for a spin – its tires hadn't kissed the road since before I was pregnant with Ruthie.

I met up with some sensations and muscles that I had forgotten all about. It felt good to move. It also felt good to stop.

Then, I started thinking seriously about whether and when I might attend Yoga Teacher Training. The prospect makes my soul quiver and dance. I want to start right now, but does it fit?

I've also been thinking more about my book and when it might materialize. I need to nail down and pin up some specific writing goals.

So I'm looking at some decisions: what do I want to focus on? Where do I want to invest my time? Maybe I should just figure out a way to sleep for a week.

So in an effort to distract myself and make no progress whatsoever, I decided to write a story. I have trouble falling asleep anyway, and fiction is such a lovely escape. You'll read it, won't you? Come away with me.


At the Water

Lena dropped her carry-on bag heavily on the hardwood floor of the new bedroom. The echoy thunk slapped her ears like a door slam—audible regret. Shoot, I hope I didn't just break my iPod. She scanned the empty room quickly. The pink paint would have to go, of course, but she had to admit she liked the sloped ceiling and the alcove around the window. She could easily imagine her bed against that wall and just the right antiquey desk under the window. I can do this, she thought.

She dug in her bag for her keys. Dad had driven her car down here last month when he came to close on the house while Lena stayed back to finish the school year. He had already been working at the new clinic for a couple weeks by the time she arrived. His dress shirts hung crisply in his closet, which was half the size of the one at their old house. Mom wouldn't have approved.

This will be good for us, Dad had insisted the night he left. A fresh start. Lena nodded and put up her smile like the white flag she was so used to flying. He drove straight through the night. I'd rather see Chicago at midnight than at any other time, he had joked as he poured a tall thermos of coffee.

So he was gone when Lena had padded down the moss-covered steps built into the side of the hill that led to the pier. He was too far away to see the glinting bit of gold she carried in her half-curled palm. Lena had stood on the pier a moment, feeling the slats bend as she shifted her weight from heels to toes, hesitating before she drew back her arm and pitched the ring far out into the lake. The tiny sploosh had surprised her – it had been such a dead weight hanging from her mind that she half expected it to kick up a tidal wave.

But the concentric circles spreading from that tiny ground zero faded quickly and that was it. The ring was gone. For a second, Lena thought she might dive in after it. But a single look at the lake's algae-covered surface sealed the deal in her heart. She hadn't yet decided if she had given her mother's high school class ring to the lake as an offering or as a bribe, but it certainly finalized things. She would move on. Depression and suicide are not contagious. Lena knew that above all else.

She relied on friends to ferry her to school and finally the airport. It wasn't very hard to say goodbye – her inner hedges had grown tall in the past year, fertilized by the tragedy that had eclipsed her so completely. Only her ragged edges could be touched by anyone.

The house had sold in an instant—it was valuable lakefront property, located just a day's drive from the Illinois-Wisconsin border. The new owners would just vacation here in the summer. They wouldn't know the scenery of sadness that winter could bring on and they would never see the white bathtub streaked with a watery red in their dreams. She hoped their kitchen table would be round rather than rectangular – that room had seen too many sharp corners and dividing edges.

From outside, the new house looked like it was either half awake or half asleep – Lena couldn't decide which. Its two bedrooms featured street-facing gabled windows that stared down at her with raised eyebrows and heavy lids as she sidled up to her car, keys in hand. She squinted in the sun and wondered if she would ever get used to the smell. She fingered her long ponytail and absently brushed it under her nose, half expecting that the blond strands had already absorbed the smell of low tide. The lake seemed to occupy another universe – a place where evergreens created perpetual yard shade and only the stillest afternoons smelled mildly dank and fishy. It was hard to inhale completely here.

Lena sat in the driver's seat and typed her destination into the GPS. It wasn't too far – 15 minutes and she'd be at the water. She felt guarded, though – the Atlantic seemed too big to offer anything more than anonymity. She didn't expect to call the South Carolina coast home. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

When she got off the highway, Lena parked on a residential street, a block from a public access point. She stopped at the corner board shop for some sunglasses and the screened windows all stood open to the ocean breeze. She could breathe better here.

She crossed the empty street and strode across the boardwalk and down the steps to the beach, focusing on her feet and the countless divots in the sand. So many others had walked here first. She didn't look up. She didn't want to see the horizon and know that the ocean went on practically forever until it finally touched the sky. It was too much.

She kicked off her shoes in the dry sand so she could feel the wet, compact shoreline under her bare feet. She looked back and felt comforted by the footprints trailing behind her – they marched forward confidently and without a trace of hesitation, and it was impossible to identify exactly where they began. Her eyes swept the sand, fiddling over the shells and stones that piqued her gaze – and then – the sun reflected sharply off an object on the ground and burned a transitory spot into her vision. Probably just a bottle top. People never think twice about throwing trash at the water, like it will just dissolve.

But wait – no – Lena picked up the object and held it in her palm. Waves crashed in her ears. It was a solid band of silver: smooth, unmarked, unadorned. She wiggled it over the knuckle of her left thumb. Snug, still hot from the sun.

A few more steps and the waves could lick her toes. Lena knelt and submerged her hands in the water. The water crawled up her arms – a cooling touch. The ring caught the sunlight again and she raised her face to the horizon.

Suddenly Lena felt like she was stiffly shaking hands with a dear friend. She stood, and without thinking about clothes or keys, she plunged into the water and danced in the waves, buoyed and light.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

bad mood

I'm standing outside when it hits. 

Its not like I don't see it coming. All the signs are there – the blackening sky, the increasingly insistent wind, the head-under-water humidity, the sky that's starting to speak. But I just watch. Passive. Waiting. 

I shiver as the first drops find me. I know what to expect now – this thing is not going to break up – but still I'm rooted to this spot. 

The distant rumblings are closer and distinct and my fibers fixate on the space between heat and vibration. Lightning and thunder. The storm moves closer. 

The fat, pregnant drops multiply in mid-air, birthing small wet clones – now covering all the dry spots on the driveway, now dotting and drenching my extremities, limbs, core. The sky is crying into my hair and the tears catch in my lashes, soaking me deeply. I am inundated, not sipping but guzzling the sadness that feeds me in ways the sunny days can't. 

The wind really whips now, but I'm committed to this spot. The sheering forces do what they want to me, trying to break me in half, but I know their strength. I've seen storms like this before and I've never lost a limb.

Then across an ocean of minutes or maybe years –what is time?—the storm slackens and stops. But there's nitrogen in my lungs and I'm starting to feel the sun and my sap is coursing in an inner river. 

I've weathered another storm – I'm still here. And my leaves feel a shade greener. 

Bad mood? Maybe. Or perhaps just an inevitability – terrible in its own way, but beautiful, too. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

build up

Lately, I've been letting myself go.

It's not that I'm lazy or lack self pride – I just don't like to shower every day.

And the reason is this: I love the extra light, audibly squeaky clean feeling of lathering up and rinsing off more than one layer of yesterday.

It's a feeling I wish I could bottle and sell but is so refreshingly easy to recreate – so I do.

Of course, I enjoy the unique perks associated with at-home work, so I live by no dress codes or real expectations of presentability. Some weeks, I do find my way to a daily shower, but somewhere in there I'll slip in an off day, just to grip my routine by the ears, shake it up a little, and really love my shower.

It's a lot like when white noise accumulates and blends into my consciousness: the refrigerator runs, computer fan spins, neighboring lawn mowers duel. Then, one by one, each noise shuts off. I reunite with silence and feel like I could roll around in it, it's that good.

Or like in our kitchen – we have a fairly small space, and our table hulks up a lot of the room. The past two weekends we've had visitors, so we kept in the extra leaf. When we finally took it out and reduced the table to its usual footprint, the kitchen felt blissfully large. I'm still noticing it every time I walk through the space.

I like conscious accumulation because the world seems so new when I finally wipe it away. [Hm…is this finally a philosophical reason to avoid cleaning the house?]

When I used to run regularly, I always said my favorite part was stopping. It's not that I disliked running. I simply relished in the bodily celebration I felt when I pushed hard and then returned to regular breathing and moving. Standing still never felt so good. By ramping up routine physical functions to a sometimes painful level, I could simply stop – turn it off – and experience I high I could create in no other way.

I miss that feeling.

I think I miss it enough to look for my running shoes this week and try them out around the block a couple times. Run – just so I can stop.

And maybe even shower.

[Side note: a million thanks to Cindy at Mitetees for creating my new header. Check out her stuff by clicking here]

Monday, June 14, 2010


It's November, 1998. I'm about to run what could be my final high school cross country race. I toe the line, wait for the gun. My heart is already hammering at race pace but I'm standing stock still, poised. The gun pops and my muscles shoot into motion. I go out hard – who cares if it's too hard – and fix my gaze on the soles of the fast girl's feet. She pulls me over those proving grounds. Somehow I hang on. And on. 

My mind goes to sleep, lulled by the white noise of my breath crashing in waves against the insides of my ears. I see only Fast Girl's feet and hear only my own breath until I round the corner into the final loop of the course. I lift my eyes up and to the right – slowly, as if my sockets are pockets of wet sand. I see my mom. She's cheering and I notice her face seems kind of stricken. Huh. I must look terrible, my lethargic brain concludes. 

Then, the finish line. It's done. Third place – good enough to advance to the State Meet. I'm almost too spent to feel proud. But I do. I really do. 


Flash forward nearly 12 years – I'm standing here with the pre-race jitters but there is no starting line. I haven't raced in years. And this isn't even my event. 

At the back of a full auditorium, I wait for my five-year-old daughter to take the stage wearing a bright pink tutu. My heart hammers like that empty stage is waiting for me. Somehow, this thing that has really nothing to do with me has me all wrapped up in knots, so nervous I could puke. And then the beat begins and Chipette voices squeak through the sound system, singing a song months of watching from the other room have grooved into my subconscious mind. 

And – there she is! My kid! Tapping a routine I was almost sure they'd all forget but pull of with classic cuteness. My grin is goofy and my eyes are starting to mist and there's a living lump in my throat. I'm not a very weepy person so this surprises me, but only for a moment. Suddenly I realize that this is how my parents must have felt, watching me run my way to the Big Meet and a million other times they told me they were proud of me. I always heard them, I thought I understood, but only now do I really get it. I feel the pride threatening to burst through my chest for this person who has belonged to me ever since she first kicked my ribs from the inside but every day proves that she really belongs to herself. Then all at once I'm imagining the many milestones left for this daughter to meet – achievements, successes, graduations, transitions – a lifetime of proud moments. I'm really almost crying now. 

The dance is done and I'm trying to clap around the baby on my hip. I swallow the lump and try not to look stricken as I hurry to catch her off the stage and say my congratulations. She hears me, but there's no way she really knows. Not yet. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010


It's four o'clock. On a blanket in the yard, I'm curled like a hug around my baby. She's mouthing clothespins, pulling them one by one from the bucket like golden tickets, examining their angles and tasting their textures. An ant crawls across her knee; she practices her pincher grasp but misses the prize by a mile. I flick it off her leg. I peek-a-boo my tongue between my lips and hide it in my closed mouth. Her eyes, somehow, grow wider when I stick it out again. This game could go on and on but the laundry flaps overhead and she looks up – a whole new world.

My older girls are ten feet away, raking the sandbox like it's their job. Which, technically, it is – they're playing "maids" and requested that I dole out chores. [No, they wouldn't clean their room – believe me, I tried that. Only yardwork would work for this game.] They show me their hands, caked with wet sand – our work gloves, they explain. The corners of my eyes crinkle – I'm working on my laugh lines.

I rest my head on the blanket, pressing my forehead and nose against my baby's bare leg. A deep breath fills me to bursting. I'm exhaling slowly when she grabs a clump of my hair, squealing as she nearly scalps me. I pry open her fist to free myself but let her have another go, just to hear that laugh.


It's 8:30. All the kids are asleep and I leave the house with dog on leash. As dusk begins to settle, feathery and soft, I notice the season's first firefly igniting its tail briefly, then disappearing into the shadows. I wait for it – it blinks again.

I wrap my hands around this moment and press it to my chest so hard it almost hurts. They're sacred, these bits of bliss burning holes in the dark.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


"What's new?" She asks.

I scan my living landscape.

The kitchen washcloth smells like sour milk, no matter how often I change it for a new one. I swept a cubic foot of dog hair off the floor this morning, on three separate occasions. Eliza threw an in-public tantrum that made my ears burn and skin crawl. I can't find a deodorant I like so I've been going without. I'm fairly sure that fairly soon Ruthie is going to choke on some scrap of whatever while I'm not looking. Claire spilled juice on the table today and instead of helping wipe up or saying sorry or even oops she spoke sharply to Eliza for gasping at the incident. I did manage to clean the bathroom yesterday. I'm not sure what to make for dinner. We finally got a laundry line in the yard and the sky split open on my first load.

"Nothing," I reply. "It's been raining all day."

Monday, June 7, 2010


I don't see her until I walk right through her and she eddies around me in a swirl of cool, moist air. There is no sound. She smells earthy and damp and not like death at all. I stop and inhale deliberately, not scared, standing in that pocket of coolness where she haunts like humidity after sundown. Her essence settles deep into my lungs and whatever she was, all those years ago, bonds like oxygen in my bloodstream. My cheeks feel warm.

Mosquitoes will find me if I don't move on, so I continue down the gentle slope, fingers brushing the top-heavy, hip-high grasses that line the path. But she trails along in dewy bits, soaking my shoes.

She was young when the light left her eyes, I can feel that. A certain electricity hangs about youth that the old ones lack. And a measure of ignorance, too. She wasn't paying attention that day when she walked in these woods. She missed all the signs and stepped right into his sights. It was quick. Shock registered with the explosion and her last ounces of adrenaline fossilized, left here for me to trace and wonder.

A breeze kicks up and she leaves me in wisps, settling back into the low spots to rest in cool, dewy peace.

Spread my ashes here, please. I'll rest just as peacefully, haunting walkers and runners who won't hear me humming harmonies to the bird songs because their ears are plugged with those white buds that blast in and block out. They'll pass by in their throngy parades on a Sunday morning but leave me in silence at 8pm on a Friday night. I will watch the sun set alone.

But today i'm alive and breathing and thinking and here, unaccompanied and unbridled by thoughts of endurance or who is nearing their edge, of sunburns or bug bites or blisters or I'm too hot or Can you carry this. I walk through this place I consider mine but which really belongs to all the panthers and people who have passed through here, then and now. My invisible footprints trail behind me, leaving barely perceptible traces of my own storied vitality.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

five going on fifteen…

Can't we go thaaat way?

Nope, we're turning right.


It's the way back to the car.


Why do you have to keep saying huuuhhhh? Enjoy the walk – we're only halfway through. Just because we're walking back to the car doesn't mean you have to get so upset.

At this, she stalked ahead. As far ahead as she could get. 

A few minutes later we caught up to her [she couldn't hold that pace]. Offhandedly, I asked: 

Is something bothering you?

No response. My first silent treatment. 

[Minutes later, she grudgingly accepted my apology for imitating her. She righted her mood, but I'm sure the incident was not forgotten but filed away in her injustices folder.]


Later, she admired her hair in the mirror.

I look so pretty.

We had been practicing her dance-recital bun hairdo earlier in the day. She does have a striking profile.

Eliza came into the bathroom. Her hair was tussled and windblown. Her regular style. Claire tore her eyes from her own reflection and considered her sister.

You don't look pretty, Eliza.

John sent Claire straight to her room. The door slammed. He called her back out into the hallway.

You can close the door, Claire, but you may not slam it.

She stomped away, closing the door firmly but without a sound. She cried for awhile but the storm quickly passed.


It's bedtime.

Goodnight, Claire. I love you. Sleep well.

I love you a million times a million, Mama. I love you more than I can say.

She may be five going on fifteen…but she's still five -- stubborn but sweet, willful but malleable, opinionated but obedient.

For now.