Friday, June 25, 2010

The Car Daddy

The Hyundai dealership in Fairfax, Virginia stayed open late that night, just for me.  Just so I could call you.

"Should I buy it, Daddy?  It's brand new and bright red."

"I'll look it up in Consumer Reports, honeypot.  Call me back in five."

I wheeled your chair through the doors of the Wishing Well Manor.  Took you outside where the forsythia branches waved and the dogwood blossoms pinked up the world.  I set the brakes on your wheelchair.  Right in front of my new-to-you Dodge.

"I named her Snow White," I said.  "'Cause she's--"

You weren't looking.  Your head hung down as you scratched the wheel chair tray with your too-long fingernails.

I put my hand over the divot in my throat as I walked towards the door of the Wishing Well.  An orderly let me in since it was after hours.

"I won't be coming 'round anymore, Daddy," I said, inside my head, as I walked to your room.  "To show you my cars."

I blinked at the pinky-orange exit sign at the end of the hall.

"There'll be no more visits to the Wishing Well," I said softly, so as not to wake the residents.

I felt hot tears, headed for my mouth.

""Cause . . . there's no more Daddy."

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Shut My Eyes and Think of You

I think you're the reason I'm afraid of heights.  If I squeeze my eyes shut, I can picture you tossing me up in the air.  I clutch the collar of your white dress shirt, to keep from going too high.  My wispy, baby hair brushes the ceiling, and I whimper.  You hug me close.  I can feel the bones under your skin.  "There, there, honeypot," you say.  "Everything'll be all right."

I hold a pen in my hand and a notepad rests on my lap.  I look up at the ceiling.  More stories.  More memories.  Please.

Most nights, you tucked me in and told me a tale.  I liked the ones that started with, "Once upon a time, many moons ago, there lived an Indian girl named Mini Haha."  I wanted to be her, 'cause I liked the way you said her name--with awe and tenderness.

Every year in the spring, we'd go to the Campfire Girls Father-Daughter Banquet.  I wore my navy blue Campfire Girl get up and you'd still be in your suit from work.  We'd stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken, with eleven herbs and spices, and get two box dinners and Dr. Peppers.  You got regular chicken. I ordered extra crispy.  You were usually the last daddy done, but I didn't mind.  It meant we had more time together.  Alone.

Almost every day in the summer, Mom and I went swimming, at a hotel pool, downtown.  Sometimes you walked over on your lunch hour.  The lifeguard would blow his whistle and yell, "No running!" as I raced to hug you.  

I'd sit on the smooth, red-tile edge of the pool and watch your get-wet ritual.  You walked down the steps 'til the water was up to your thighs.  A shudder would run from the top of your body down.  You'd collect water in your cupped hands.  Wipe your arms with it.  Get more water and pat it on your chest and fish belly-white tummy.  I liked to imagine I had a magic marker.  Then I could connect the dots of all your chocolate brown and strawberry-colored moles. 

You'd stand at the rope between the shallow and deep ends and watch me go off the board.  "Do a jackknife," you'd say.  "Now a swan dive."

You clapped when I tried my first flip, even though it was more of a flop.

At the end of every summer, you and I always cooked up a batch of homemade V-8 juice.  We picked all the tomatoes off the vines in the backyard, even the ugly ones.  We put 'em in Mom's big, heavy, pressure cooker.  Added carrots and celery, salt and pepper.  Simmered it to death.  Then we perched Mom's foley mill over her giant, baby poop-colored mixing bowl.  You ladled the limp veggies into the mill.  I turned the crank and watched the vegetables bleed out.  You poured us each a glass, added more salt and pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.  You took a sip, smacked your lips, and smiled.  I did the same 'cause I knew it'd make you laugh.

You walked me to school every day--first through six grade.  I was sure that meant you loved me more than the parents who put their kids on a bus.  In between Green Oak Drive and Gallaher School, you talked to me like I was a grown up.  Told me about B.F. Skinner and Pavlov's dog. 

"Remember how I taught you and your brothers to pee when I whistle?  It's the same concept," you said.

I was sad when it came time for junior high school.  Beverly Hills Junior High wasn't on your way to work. 

Most evenings I'd sit a spell with you and Mom, out in the living room.  You'd sip your Pabst Blue Ribbon beer out of a juice glass and eat red-skinned peanuts from a custard dish.  I'd sneak some nuts when you weren't looking.  Pinch 'em one at a time to make them slip out of their greasy little husks.   You read while Mom and I watched the Carol Burnett Show or Sonny and Cher.  You liked your morse code magazine, Time and Newsweek, and books about the Civil War.  You were always reading.  'Cause you liked to learn.  You knew a little bit about a lot.  I always thought that was cool.  Still do.  Come to think of it, I think you're the reason I like books so much.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Pops Walker looks like a rough George Clooney doing facial gymnastics.  To me, he sounds like Louis Armstrong, with maybe even more gravel in his gullet.  He goes somewhere when he performs, and I think I know where.  His destination, maybe another planet or constellation, is a place called Bliss.

I know Bliss 'cause I've been there too.  It's a place that when you get there, everything is right.  No.  Perfect.  The senses, all five of 'em, are standing at attention.  The creative synapses beneath your head skin are ready to snap, crackle, pop.  And your hands, or your mouth, or both, are ready to do the necessary things.  To create.

Pick your poison--poetry, prose, or song.  Slurp it into your being with a bendy straw, or shovel it in with a serving spoon.  Pick quality over quantity.  Pet your trachea to encourage your voice.

"Come on now.  Don't be shy.  Come out where folks can see you."

Into the air.  Onto the page.

I'm tuckered out.  When you listen, see, learn, internalize, visualize, share, that much, that fast, with like-minded folks, there's bound to be fatigue.  A hungover feeling on Monday.  A sadness that 12 months lie between today and the next time.

I know where Bliss is, do you?  Bliss is in Ripley, West Virginia.

(This piece is dedicated to all my West Virginia Writer pals.  Until we meet again.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Me, You, and the Purple People Eaters

Did I scream when you pierced my ear, way up high?  Almost in the cartilage?

We were at Myrtle Beach.  Way back when.  We'd pulled chairs out onto the cement walkway in front of our motel room.  You, me, and our buddy, John, watched the big, glowing sun ball drop behind the ocean as we sipped Purple People Eaters.  You know, grape Kool-Aid and grain alcohol.

Once I felt comfortably numb, you had John press ice on my left ear 'til I reached up to check if it was still there.  You lit a Bic lighter and held a stickpin I didn't want anymore in the flame, to sterilize it. 

"Here," you said, as you handed it to me.  "Hold this while I go get the potato half."

John squinted.  "Why do you need a potato half?"

"To put behind her ear, silly.  So I don't stab her in the neck," you said.

I giggled and took another swig of my drink.  "Her mom's a nurse," I told John.  "She knows stuff."

I remember now.  I did yell.  Hollered so loud that everyone came out of their motel rooms.  They probably thought they were gonna get to watch me bleed out.

You waved at the boy across the way who looked like the blonde guy on the Dukes of Hazzard.  He leaned against the railing and called across the parking lot.  "Everything all right, Ginger?"

All the guys in the motel that week called us Ginger and Mary Ann, like the girls on Gilligan's Island.   It made sense, 'cause that's sorta how we were back then.  You, tall and elegant.  Me, petite and friendly.

You swept your almost black, Farrah Fawcett-styled hair behind your shoulder.  Pulled yourself up to your full, almost six foot stature. 

"Everything's just fine," you said.  "You guys wanna go to Mother Fletcher's with us later?"

Across the divide, the boy's sunburnt cheeks and scruffy, not-yet-man beard made his teeth look super white. 

"Sure!" he said.  "Y'all gonna enter the wet t-shirt contest?"

"That's for us to know, and you to find out," you said.

My eyes were huge when you turned back to face me.  You winked, and I let my breath go.

I noticed John's shoulders had dropped a little.  I patted him on the back.  "There.  There.  Everything'll be all right."  That's what I tried to tell him with my eyes.

You see, back then, all the boys liked me.  And back then, all the boys wanted you.

Things were different today.  In court.  When you were trying to get permanent custody of your granddarlings.  You wore a black suit with a pink top.  You had your waist-length hair twisted into a complicated figure eight.  You looked at the judge over your Target reading glasses.

Out in the lobby, I'd gotten the feeling your lawyer thought I was cute.  Saw him look at my hands, probably checking if I had a wedding ring.  I wore my all-green Ann Taylor outfit, hoping it communicated this-chick-has-her-act-together.  I also picked it 'cause it made my eyes look green.  I styled my hair Jennifer Aniston straight.  Sprayed it with Aveda gloss drops and everything.  I made it a point to reapply my lipstick frequently, 'cause you never know who's looking when.

Man, I tell you what.  Your attorney sure was a Talky Tom.  Don't know if he's always like that, or if he was just trying to impress the judge.  Or me.

I giggled behind my hand every time the just-the-facts lady judge said, "Get to the point, counselor." 

Even though I thought your attorney was too long-winded, I liked it afterwards when he said my testimony on your behalf was like a verbal hug.  That wasn't what I'd prayed for.  It was better.

The coolest thing was when Judge Just-the-Facts asked me how long I'd known you.  I swept my shiny hair behind my shoulders and said, "Forty years, ma'am."

I almost missed her saying you could have physical and legal custody of your granddaughters.  I was still thinking about those forty years.  Boy howdy.  Forty years sure is a long time. 

I bit my lip to keep from telling her honor something that was neither here nor there where the trial was concerned.  Instead, I looked across the courtroom at you and tried to say it with my eyes.  "It doesn't feel like forty years, does it?  Heck, it seems like Myrtle Beach, and the Purple People Eaters, and the red-hot stick pin were just yesterday."


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