December 31, 2012 § 1 Comment
My friend Chrysta teaches first grade. She taught me a coping technique she uses with her students. I use it all the time to get through small things. Here it is: Brush it off (here you brush your hands together), move on (here you turn your hands in circles over each other, like when you do the locomotion), and put it behind you (this is when you act like you are pushing something back over your shoulders). Then, whatever has ailed you should be gone. It works, say, when you get a rejection letter in the mail, or when you skin your knee. At least you will be smiling by the end.
It doesn’t work for larger losses or pains that cut to the quick of the heart, though. I’ve tried it, but they settle in and stay. The hand motions do nothing for these. There are things that aren’t meant to be “brushed off,” or “moved on” from. There are people you never want to leave behind. That would mean that you could go back to being who you were before things happened. That is impossible.
What I have finally decided to do instead, is to remember the word my mentor and friend, Michael, used to sign drafts he had critiqued for us, his graduate students: Onward. I don’t know about everybody else, but I took this to mean, this is not finished, but it’s worth digging into, worth keeping what’s true and shedding what isn’t moving at all. It’s time to put in some work to figure that out. It didn’t mean to abandon everything, to “move on.” It didn’t mean to quit thinking about it and pretend it never happened (though some of my stories at that time are probably better forgotten.) Rather, it meant to continue whichever direction the story needs to go—forward or backward or sideways, as long as you get closer to the essence of what is important, of what could be. So, that is where I am going in 2013: Onward.
December 16, 2012 § 2 Comments
In the eighties, my mom got her jaw wired shut. Not because she had broken anything: she did it because she wanted to lose weight. Her friend had had her jaw wired shut because of an accident and lost thirty pounds. The woman’s husband was an oral surgeon and when my parents had drinks with them one night, the woman sipping wine between her wired shut teeth, my mom convinced him to do it.
Braces were glued on her teeth, then wires were woven through them, like sewing. I remember her talking through clenched teeth. This must have been torture because she was a talker. She could make herself understood, but it took time and effort. The ideas came way faster than the words. She was some kind of fire, smoldering.
She did lose weight at first, though you would not believe what you can puree and suck through a straw. Really, you don’t want to know. It didn’t take long, however, until she realized milkshakes were meant to be sucked through straws. Sugar foils so many plans.
I don’t know how long she planned on keeping her mouth shut, but it didn’t last that long. She had so much to say, about everything; it must have been painful. I inherited this from her, this inability to stay quiet in the face of things we vehemently disagree with, this love of the sound of the human voice, especially our own.
I am not that surprised, though, that my dad didn’t protest this. He loved silence. I inherited this from him– my opposite forces. I love stretches of time where there is no need to think outside of myself, no need to respond.
My mom was outspoken. We were a loud, antagonistic family. If something needed to be said, by God, we said it. Even if it didn’t need to be said. I have pictures of my mom not long after the mouth-wiring incident. She is tiny, small shouldered, thin faced. Her blond hair is the biggest part of her in these pictures. I am sure she was ecstatic with the way she looked. It was the eighties, the heyday of anorexia. She had won. Now, she looks almost childlike. And all because her mouth was bound shut. I think I will keep my big mouth wide open.
December 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
So, the story goes that she was wearing white hot pants, walking down the street when he first saw her. And, if she was wearing hot pants outside, it must have been warm enough to lie out in the sun slathered with baby oil, and her legs would have been a deep red-brown, next to the white shorts, so I get it. My dad fell in love with my mom first because of her legs, even though she was only 5 feet 2 if she stood up tall. Her curves, smile, and ice blue eyes didn’t hurt either, I’m sure.
My dad, my mom used to say, looked a little like Elvis. A skinny Elvis, but the thick dark hair, the blue eyes, the cleft in the chin: Elvis. That was enough. My grandmother used to say, “Cleft in the chin, devil within,” and she never did really warm to my dad. Maybe because he swept her fourteen-year old daughter away when he was nineteen. Not unlike Elvis.
My dad had a deep rich voice too; he sang in the choir through my whole childhood, and ladies, who I thought at the time were old, but were probably close to forty, would always compliment him after the service. His voice could fill a room. My mom’s voice warbled off key beside him.
These stories rush back to me as I am driving to pick Cole up from school, listening to Bing Crosby. I can hear my dad singing “Adeste Fideles” along with Bing, and when Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” comes on, I can hear him singing that too. I pick Cole up and we both sing along to the song on the radio. “I can’t sing that one anymore,” Cole says. “I have to sing it deeper now.” He does, and suddenly, I hear my dad. Cole looks like him too. We both have the cleft in our chins. I have my mom’s legs, my sister Katie has her eyes, my sister Leigh Ann has her laugh, my sister Jenny has my dad’s light eyes and thick dark hair. All the parts of their story are rearranged in us, recorded like a song.