Friday, October 29, 2010

Afraid of the Dark

I'm so glad it's sunny today.  I like light.  I mean, I really like light.  Sometimes I go through the house and flip every switch and turn on every lamp. Then I run around and light bunches of candles.  Little campfires to ward off the absence of illumination.

See, I'm afraid of the dark.  Have been as long as I can remember.  I'm scared because--  Well, God, you of all people know why, right?  That omniscient property you have?  Oh, and eternality, that too, you know what they mean, don't you?  You were there.

That fact used to burn me up.  If you were there, in my baby's breath pink room, with lime green shag carpet, and French provincial furniture, why the heck didn't you show up?  Be big.  Call down fire or locusts.  Do some signs, miracles, or wonders.  On my behalf.

As I got to know you though, I backed off the shoulda, coulda, wouldas.  It is what it is.  No amount of tears, wailing, or teeth gnashin' is gonna change the past.  And besides, you had your own bullies--tons.  I only had one. 

In therapy, I tried so hard  not to compare my pain, my experience, with other folks.'  Trust me.  That's a bad place to go.  "What happened to you?"  Counseling clients shouldn't be able to ask that.  It's like houses, cars, wedding rings.  You know how big yours is, what it's worth.  So then you try to figure out if theirs is larger, worse, sicker than yours.

I remember this one time.  I was in a group with a whole bunch of other damaged people.  I didn't say anything, but man, they did.  Jacked their jaws 'til I wanted to smack the big, long conference table and scream--SHUT UP!!

This one lady, she saw a car wreck.  Ooooh!  Scary!!!  She wasn't in the totalled car or anything.  Just watched the accident from the berm.  Said she had PTSD as a result.  Liar.  She just wanted attention.  Was willing to pay $95.00 an hour to get it.  She shoulda taken her money up to WalMart and bought herself a life.

This one gal sat across from me.  Probably 20, maybe 22.  For the longest time she didn't say anything.  Not a peep.  Boy howdy, she was  big.  I saw her lips move.  I cocked my head.

"Excuse me?"

Her voice was wee.  "If I get huge, maybe they won't want me no more."

I leaned toward her.  "Who, sweetie?"

Her gnawed nails traced the woodgrain of the table.

"The bad men.  They tie me up.  Stuff a rag in my mouth.  Drive me to that cabin way out in the woods.  Ever since I was four."

I'm glad she didn't look me in the eye.  No one wants to see pity and horror in someone else's gaze.  My fingers clawed into fists. 

"Who are they?  Where are they?  I'll kill 'em for you. Cut off their--"

Her eyes weren't pretty.  Not even when they got big and shiny with tears.  That just made 'em look muddy.  She folded her head, like she wanted to bury it between her prodigious breasts.  She leaned forward, then back again.  Did that.  Over and over.  Hummed something.  I think it was Ring Around the Rosy.  Wasn't that song about the Black Death?

Jesus, I'm sure glad you're light.  You know how the preacher man always says, "Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?"  I always thought he said, "The way, the truth, and the light."  I wanted you to be light.  Needed you to be.  And now you are.  To  me.

One time I was at a ladies' luncheon, and a speaker gal told her story.  Dang!  She had a tough rough to hoe.  At the end of her talk though, she said,  in her sweet, quiet, tiny like a wren voice, "As I look back over my life, bad as it was, I wouldn't change a thing."  I almost stood up and said, "Lady, someone needs to knock you up side the head.  You are a fool."

But now? I think I kinda get what she was saying.  It's like the end of the Joseph and the Rainbow Coat story in the Bible.  Joseph told his brothers, the ones who sold him into slavery 'cause he was a goody-two-shoes, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

I hope I can do that someday.  Save many lives.  From gloom, despair, and agony on them.  I just have to find the afraid-of-the-dark people.  Hand 'em a candle and say, "Guess what, friend?  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light."

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Scaredest I've Ever Been

This is what it feels like.  To live in a house that’s haunted.  Possessed.    I’ve never seen “Amityville Horror.”  I'm too chicken.  I think I remember the commercial though.  Didn’t it say the house was alive?

Mine’s like that.  My house.  I can feel it breathe.  The frame, underneath the brick skin and Pink Panther insulation flesh, expands and contracts when it takes a breath.  In a rounded way, like ribs.

The house has help.  Being bad.  I can’t see the winged, Notre Dame-like gargoyles, but I can hear ‘em.  Their loose jowls flap.  And slap.  I listen to the splash and slippery drip of their saliva.  No.  It’s drool.  They know supper’s soon.

Do you have any idea why creepy concrete critters, with forked tongues and eyes that bulge, cover God’s fortress?  I’m pretty sure I know.  They’re looking for a crack.  A way in.  Into the goodness.  Where the angels are.  See, they want to devour the cherubs.  Feast on ‘em.  Use their rough and slimy serpentine tongues to lap at the chubby baby bellies.  

They’re ready, can hardly wait, to snap the holy bones and slurp the marrow that leaks out.  Most of all, they wanna chow down on the scarlet, still throbbing angel hearts.  Make pigs of themselves on the sweet, golden goodness that lives on either side of heavenly sternums.  No way, no how, do they want that to ever shine again on God’s green earth.

I didn’t read about these guys in the World Book Encyclopedia.  Didn’t have to.  They tell me their hissy secrets almost every night.  Right before they say, “On your mark.  Get Set.  Go!” 

They whisper and whine, so I’ll worry and fret.  Then I can’t help it.  My fear pheromone.  It leaks out of me.  Like pee.  I’m pretty sure that’s how their slave finds me.  Shhh!  Don’t move.  I think I hear him.

I know!  I’ll think happy thoughts—Myrtle Beach in August, hot chocolate with extra marshmallows—the big ones.  Oh!  The time my cat, Ginger, had kittens in the laundry cabinet in the basement.  I swear.  It smelled like Campbell’s Chicken and Stars soup. 

Here.  I’ll smile.  Aren’t my teeth pretty?  Betcha can’t tell I sucked my thumb ‘til I was 12, and then some.  Maybe I can trick my fear gland, and it won’t spray.  Crap!  It’s too late.  I’ve already started to shake.

Did you hear that?  The squeak?  That’s the stairs.  The ones at the top always creak when he starts down.  And of course.  Here come those dang devil birds.  Every night they flock to my windowsills.  Wrestle for front row privileges.  ‘Cause they wanna . . . gape . . . gawk . . . at . . .

Hey!  Maybe if I pretend I’m asleep, he’ll go away.  Naw.  It won’t work.  It never has before.  Why would it now?

I’ve got it!  I’ll scream.  Really loud.  Inside my head.  “Mom!  Dad!  Somebody!  Help!”  If Kreskin can bend a spoon with his brain, surely I can wake someone with mine.

I sniff.  Smear my snot.  Naw.  That’s never stopped him either.

C’mon!  C’mon!  He’s not on the bottom step yet.  Think!  Think!  Okay!  Okay!  Here’s what I’ll do!  I’ll roll myself up in my sheet and quilt.  Super tight.  Like a Taco Bell enchilada.  Maybe that way, he won’t be able to penetrate.  My defenses.  Not this time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mystery in the House Across the Street

Some people swore the house was haunted.  Oh, all right.  It was me.  I said it.  I live across the street.  One morning I walked outside and saw a “SOLD” sign stuck over the one that said “FOR SALE.”  I was stoked.  Maybe someone cool would move in.  A thirteen year-old like me would be great.  Turned out to be a she, a twelve year-old girl.  Not a guy, but still.  
I heard her way before I saw her.
            “I won’t do it again!” she said.  “You can’t make me!”
            It was almost dark.  I stopped my bike when I heard her.   Looked up at the third floor window.  There was a light on, and the curtain, what was left of it, was all raggedy and see through   The window must’ve been open because I could hear everything.
            “Baby!  Don’t (sob)--  Make (gasp)-- Me (whimper)--  Shoot.”  It was a woman’s voice.  Her mom’s gonna kill her?  That’s sick.  
            I let my bike fall over so I could pull my backpack off.  Maybe I heard wrong.   I rooted through my pack.  I keep everything in there.  Two years of scouts had taught me to be prepared.  I dug out my binoculars case and snapped it open.  Stepped behind my neighbor’s bushes and pointed the binoculars at the window.
            Bang!  The gunshot made me jump.  It wasn’t real loud.  Sounded like a little kid’s pop gun.  Even so, the blast pushed the girl across the room.  Her back hit the wall, and she slid to the ground.  Holy crap!  She was petite, with loads of dark hair.  I winced as blood trickled down her chin.  I got my cell phone out.  To dial 9-1-1.  Dang it! It was dead.
            I sprinted to my house.  Opened the front door and yelled.
            “I’m in the shower, Shane.”
            I took the stairs two at a time and stood beside the bathroom door.
            “I think someone just got killed over at the new people’s house.”
            “You what?  Now why would you say something like that?”
            I leaned against the wall and rolled my eyes.  “I’m serious, Mom.  I heard a gun and—“
            “A gun?  No, you didn’t, Shane. Those people haven’t even moved in yet.  There's never been a moving truck or cars.  Besides--”
            “I know, but—“
            “It was probably fireworks," she said.  "Or maybe someone clapped.  I swear!  You’re so dramatic.”
            I snorted.  Clapped?  Seriously? 
            “I’m going back out,” I said.  “I bet the police’ll come.”
I waited for the cops.  They never came.  I got ready to go inside to call 'em, but then the whole thing started over.  Like instant replay.
            “I won’t--” 
            “Don’t make me--" 
            That’s when I got it.  The house is haunted.  The woman and girl are ghosts.  The whole scene probably runs over and over.  Forever.  Guess I'd held my breath 'cause all of a sudden, it came out in a rush. I stood there for a minute, then I grinned.  Ghosts?  Ghosts live across the street from me?  Cool.
The next day I was on my bike when I heard a car go up the alley behind the new people’s house. Then it came down the street.  Toward me.  Fast.  My mouth fell open when I saw the dark-haired girl in the front seat.  What the--?  I huffed.  The alley!  They keep their car ‘round back! 
            The killing mom slowed the car and yelled out the window.
            “Move it, kid.  We’ve got places to go.  People to see.”
            I stayed put.  “Where you going?”
            “For your information, Mr. Nibby, Mystery here has an audition in exactly one hour.  We want to be first in line.”
            My eyebrows went up. “Audition?”
            The girl leaned over.  “Yeah.  They wanna see if I can cry and die.  Now move!”
            She’s even prettier up close. 
            I tilted my head.  “You act?  For real?  Me too.”
            “Cool.  We’ll talk later.  Go, Mom.”
Me and Mystery?  The girl who wasn’t a ghost?  We became best friends.  Until she kissed me.  After that?  Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Almost Christ-like

There was a day I was almost like Jesus.  ‘Cept Jerusalem was Morgantown, and the Roman guards were rednecks.

See, Jake and Wilbur lived in the same dorm, on the same floor as me, my sophomore year of college.  I'll cut to the chase and tell you right now, they were real sickos.  I may not speak the truth in love, but I promise you this, I speak the truth.

Some folks thought Jake and Wilbur were brothers ‘cause they both had buzz cuts the color of straw.  Jake was taller though.  His eyes reminded me of blue copier paper.  Wilbur 's face was best friends with Clearasil.  His eyes looked like puddles.

When Jake and Wilbur were bored and/or drunk, they'd drive around Morgantown, in search of roadkills.  Jake kept a coathanger in his truck at all times.  Whenever he or Wilbur saw a roadkill, whoever was driving would pull over, and they’d jump out.  Take the coathanger and a camera.  Wilbur would lift the roadkill as best he could with the coathanger.  Jake would snap a picture.   The corkboard on the door of their dorm room was covered with candid camera roadkill shots.  It was for this reason I renamed Jake and Wilbur.  I called Jake Warped and Wilbur Twisted.  The names stuck.  Pretty soon everyone in our dorm called ‘em Warped and Twisted.

One day, Warped and Twisted turned their attention to me.  I don't know what got into them.  Not sure if they did what they did because they liked me, or 'cause they didn't.

It was almost dark.  Seems like most bad stuff happens when it's dark or pert near.  I walked off the elevator and into the common area.  There they were.  Waiting.  For me.  They didn’t have on their usual attire--jeans and flannel shirts.  That day they both wore camo.  They had a weird look in their eyes too.  Like the zombie dancers in Michael Jackson's Thriller video.
Without a word, they positioned themselves on either side of me.  They each grabbed an arm, firmly but not gently.  They dragged me over to, then pushed me down on, a chair they'd placed nearby.  They used electrical tape to secure me to the chair.   Next they sprayed me in the face with whipped cream.  When I opened my eyes there were little white puffs on my eyelashes.  They shook bottles of beer and opened them with their teeth, a favorite party trick of theirs.  As soon as the beer started to spray, they aimed the bottles at me.  Doused me head to toe.  My flesh popped out in goosebumps as the cold beer drenched my clothes.
I decided early on stillness was my best strategy.  I didn't think I was in danger, per se.  My guess was they just wanted to do a real good job of humiliating me.  If I whooped and hollered for help, it would attract a crowd. Exactly what they wanted.  Definitely not what I wanted.
Warped knelt down and fished a string of Christmas lights out from under the sofa.  Twisted chuckled, but to me it sounded like a donkey with a carrot caught in its throat.  Warped walked around me.  Wrapped me in Christmas lights.  I pulled my lips in.  Looked at my knees.
Warped and Twisted shoved me across the floor of the common room.  I waited for the chair to get hung up on a crack in the floor or a snag in the carpet. I envisioned the chair falling forward.  There’d be a loud thunk as my head encountered the floor.  Surely my nose would shatter.  Blood would spray everywhere.
Warped and Twisted continued to inch me in the direction of their goal.  I peeked from under whipped cream lashes. Saw they were headed for an electrical outlet. My broken nose concern was replaced by the possibility that fluids and electricity might terminate me.  Snap!  Crackle! Pop!  Smells like chicken.

I held my breath as they jammed the plug into the socket.  Twinkle, twinkle!  Sparkle, sparkle!   I picked a spot on the ceiling and stared at it.  Would death be fast or slow?  Neither.  Something, God's hand maybe, spared me.
Warped and Twisted weren't finished.  They pushed me back across the common room.  Onto the elevator.  My fractured nose fear returned with each whiplash jerk of the chair.  The guys leaned down and in and grabbed the underside of the chair seat.  I smelled beer and chili dogs with raw onions on their breath.  I held mine.  Shut my eyes tight.  I will not cry.  I will not cry.
"Uh, uh, uh," came out of Warped.  On the third uh, they lifted me up and into the elevator.  They held me for a minute, a foot off the floor, then let go.  My teeth made a snapping sound.  Twisted kept his middle finger on the open door button.  Warped produced the roadkill coat hanger from his back pocket.  Handed it to Twisted.  He stepped backward off the elevator and reached into the cargo pocket of his pants.  Pulled out a camera.
Warped's eyes narrowed.  The right corner of his upper lip twitched.

"Lift her up," he said. 
Twisted hooked a belt loop of my Levis.  With both hands, he yanked up.  I thought the crotch seam of my jeans was gonna split me in two.
Warped grinned.  A rare exposure of his big, corn-colored teeth.  "Smile." 
I turned my head as far as I could.  Away from the camera.  Flash!  I blinked several times to get rid of the spots on my eyes.  Warped and Twisted guffawed--a choking donkey and a goose on coke.  They pointed under my chair.
"Looks like she wet herself," Warped said.
I wondered if I had, then realized it was beer dripping off me.
Warped stepped back on the elevator.  He leaned across me and hit all the buttons--G-9.  We rode up.  The doors opened at each floor.  People stared.  The doors closed. We went down.  Stopped at each floor.  People gawked.  The doors shut.  Then we did it again.

I was almost Christ-like that night.  Like him, I was abused.  Mocked.  Stared at.  Not rescued.  People looked away.  So they wouldn't have to be responsible. Some even laughed.  And me?  I remained silent.  Lamb led to the slaughter, no sound does it make, silent.

(Formerly known as Warped and Twisted)

Friday, October 1, 2010

The List

What was that?  I turned the volume down on my car stereo.  Listened.  Nothing.  I checked the rearview mirror.  Blue and red lights flashed.  I stuck my lower lip out.  Again?  Twice in one day?  Dang!  After I pulled over, I rolled down my window and stuck my head out. 

"Is that you, sweet boy?"

The officer squinted, then grinned as he walked toward me.

"Aw.  I'm sorry, m'am.  I didn't see it was you."

I looked up at him.  "I have my driver's license with me now, but I still don't have my registration sticker on.  It's not  my fault though.  It's--"

He held  up his hand.  "I know.  Never is."

I laughed.  "You don't know what I was going to say."

He rolled his eyes.  "What were  you going to say?"

"I was gonna say, it's my husband's fault."

He shook his head.  "I don't know much, ma'am, but I do know blame shifting isn't good for a marriage."

I huffed.   "You're telling me how to do marriage?" I said.  "How old are you?"

His mouth fell open, and he shut it.  "I'm--"

I opened my car door and climbed out.  "That does it.  Now I have to tell you a story."

He glanced back at his cruiser.  "I don't know.  I'm on traffic detail.  I've got a quota and--"

I swatted at the air in front of him.  "Quota.  Shmota," I said.  I pointed to the curb.  "Have a seat."

I leaned in my car window and got a notebook and pencil out of my totebag.  I walked over and sat beside him.  I opened the notebook to a fresh page and drew a line down the middle.

"You married?"

He wiggled his wedding band with his pointer finger.  "Yes'm."

"What's your name?"


"Does your wife call you Mike or Michael?"

"Either.  Or Mickey."

I nibbled the pencil eraser.  "I like Michael.  Sounds handsome.  Strong.  And you are."

I wrote Michael at the top of the left column.

"What's your wife's name?"

"Cynthia.  Or Cyndi."

I printed Cynthia over the right column.  I laid my hands on the notebook and turned so I could look him in the eye.

"I'm going to tell you my marriage theory.  You ready?"

He nodded.

"Now, Michael, whether they know it or not, every bride and groom carries a milk crate of expectations down the aisle at their wedding.  A honey-do list for the other person.  Let's start with you.  What do you want, or expect, from Cynthia?"

Michael stared at the tree across the street.  My eyes followed his gaze.  The leaves were half green, half gold.  Fall's almost here. 

"Let's see.  Cook dinner.  Do laundry.  Keep the house nice."  He counted on his fingers.  "Stuff like that."

I jotted his items under Cynthia's name.  "And what do you think she wants from you?"

Michael's eyes narrowed, and his mouth pulled to the side.  "Fix broken things.  Change lightbulbs.  Take the garbage out."

I handed him the notebook and pencil.  "Write those under your name."

When he finished, I reached across him.  "It's too short. Here, let me."

I wrote on his side.  Yard work,  removal and/or burial of dead critters (bugs or animals), car issues. 

Michael reached for the pencil.  "May I?"  I handed it back to him.

He scribbled at the bottom of Cynthia's column.  Pay bills, make appointments, remember my mom's birthday.

I grinned.  "You've got the hang of this, don't you?"

"Yeah," he said.  "I see what you're saying."

I  held the list at arms' length so we could both read it.  "Now, Michael.  This is the list.  The Boy and Girl List.  In order for a marriage to work, you need to know what your spouse wants and expects of you, and vice versa.  Believe me, when either of you slacks on your list, sooner or later, there's gonna be trouble."

I tapped the Michael side of the paper with the pencil.  "Now, tell me why my out of date registration sticker is not my fault."

He scanned the list.  "'Cause anything to do with cars is on the Boy List." 

I chuckled.  "That's right."

Michael stood.  "How many years you been married, ma'am?"

He held his hand out to help me up. 

"Twenty," I said.

"Then this list thing really works."

I nodded as I tore the page out and handed it to him.  "I think so."

He folded it up and tucked it in his breast pocket.  "Awesome.  Thank you, ma'am."

He started to leave, and I tapped him on the shoulder. 

"One more thing," I said when he turned back.  "Let me tell you one more thing that'll make your wife really happy."

His eyebrows went up, and he caught his lower lip with his top teeth.  I felt my cheeks burn. 

"Come on now.  I'm not gonna talk about that," I said.  "I hardly know you.  What I was gonna say is, do stuff on her list."

He squinted.  "But--"

I lifted my chin.  "Trust me," I said.  "Nothing says I love you more than my husband doing the dishes."

Michael's brow furrowed.  I lifted my hair and let it fall behind my shoulders.  "Just try it."

Michael headed for his car.  He waved before he got in.

I rolled my fingers.  "Guess what I'm gonna do now?"

He shrugged.

I opened my car door.  "I'm gonna go home and put my registration sticker on my license plate.  Oh, and Michael?  Cologne."

It took him a minute, but then he let out a belly laugh.  "Have a good day, ma'am.  And thanks."


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