Present and Unaccounted For

Halfway through my sentence

he left his eyes

and walked away with his mind.

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Introducing Clare

Cat opened the door to her house and paused to listen for a moment before proceeding.  She could hear the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon and she knew her mother had at least had a peaceful evening.  After a moment, Cat moved forward into the house and closed the door softly behind her.  A haze of cigarette smoke hung in the living room and Cat waived her hands around her head as if to clear a space to breathe through as she moved towards the stereo. She knew better than to turn the music all the way off, but she rolled the volume dial back a few clicks.  Her mother lay on the couch, near the entrance to the kitchen. Cat moved quietly to the foot of the couch and removed her mother’s slippers.  Pulling a blanket from the back of the couch, she took care to make sure that it draped over her mother’s body from toe to neck.  Lastly, Cat gathered up the pile of pills that had spilled from the mouth of the pill bottle whose descent had brought it to a bouncing halt onto the floor.  She stuffed the pills back into the bottle and tossed it on the floor, watched as it rolled under the couch.  “Good.” She thought, and she didn’t feel bad about the vision of her beautiful mother, bent over and scratching through dust to retrieve her precious prescription, her weakness exposed in the light of the morning sun.

The next morning, Cat rose early and sat dutifully near the phone.  When 9:30 came and went, Cat made some eggs and tried to the fill the hole in the morning with food.  Her grandmother’s calls had gradually ceased, but Cat still waited every Saturday.  “You never know,” she thought to herself, but as she stared out at the apple tree she knew. As surely as she knew how it felt to fall from the highest branches of that tree and lay on the ground trying to suck wind back into an uncooperative rib cage, that talking to mom hurt Grandma in pretty much the same way.  As she sat alone at the table, Cat let her mind wander around her dad’s house for a moment.  Loud and busy, her brothers rushed about, the little ones all crazy and messy and playful, the older one always pensive and perpetually distracted.  She stopped her mind from wandering when it came to the image of her father, sitting at the kitchen table and staring out the window, wondering what he did to make his daughter forsake him.  Cat got up, washed her dishes and filled a glass with ice water. She knelt in front of her mother’s body on the couch and lightly shook her awake. Clare’s eyes were ringed with red, bloodshot and grateful.  She reached a thin hand out and stroked Cat’s cheek after taking several deep gulps.

“Thank you, my girl, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”  Clare’s beautiful white teeth flashed as she gave Cat a quick smile.  Cat wondered if her father would understand why Cat had to stay with her mother if only Clare had shared more of those smiles with him.  Clare’s jet black hair spilled forward onto the floor as she suddenly jerked forward.  Her hands flew to her chest, patting out a desperate search that ended in her lap. Then her eyes turned into dark clouds.  “Where are my pills, Cat, what did you do with them?”  Clare moved more quickly than Cat had thought she’d be able to and she snapped up her daughter’s scrawny upper arm with one hand, her nails digging painfully into the tender skin near Cat’s armpit.

“Jesus Christ, Clare, you probably dropped the god damned things.”  Cat jerked her arm away, wincing as Clare’s nails dug long strips of raw skin that wrapped quickly in a red glow around her arm.  The raw strips on Cat’s soul wrapped a little more slowly, the burn significantly worse.  Cat stood up and looked down at her mother.  “You should get up and eat something.  Maybe take a shower, huh Clare? I’m going to go see what Tony is doing.”   Cat could hear her mother’s knees hit the floor as she opened the door, but she didn’t really care to see the vision she’d imagined the night before, so she just stepped forward into the sunshine on the porch and closed the door behind her.

Vision

I can still see you.

Standing on your porch,

finishing a cig and watching the sun drop.

I am made of the distance in your eyes

as you carefully search the painted skies

looking for a promise that

she’ll never say goodbye.

I am built of the pain

that comes with knowing

that, in fact, she didn’t

and she never will.

I am frozen with the silence

that is her voice, forever still.

Those nights we should have been there

wrapped up and stamped with “don’t care”

are what she left behind.

You stare into the sunset

and pray for the bombs in your mind

to stop

to drop

but they don’t

and I can still see you.

Poor Man’s Camper

My dad used to tell me and my brothers that patience is a virtue.  As an adult, I have come to view this saying as a both a truth and a tactic.  It’s no coincidence that he would impart this nugget of wisdom on us during times when HE needed patience to deal with our antics, I just didn’t notice that as a child.

Looking back, I know that he lived by this saying for a number of reasons.  It’s a good mantra for people who are poor or struggling.  And for most of his life, my dad has been poor or struggling or both.  Sometimes people get offended by the use of the word “poor”.  Trust me, it is not a description that my father would hesitate to use for himself.  Ever ridden in a Poor Man’s Camper? Not a recognizable term?  Probably because it is one of those things that my father invented out of desperation.

Poor Man’s Camper defined:  A refrigerator box in the back of a pickup truck, filled with kids and about to travel a few hundred miles on MT roads so that transport of the entire family would be possible in the one vehicle we owned.  Also known as a box of potential death or, to my brother, Sonny, the box of torture where he was forced to lick chicken Mcnugget sweet & sour sauce off the cardboard walls. Forced by me. Because he spilled it and I didn’t want it to get in my hair.  It was fine, he could see the gross spots with no struggle; we were child geniuses and had poked holes through the cardboard for light.

My father is a highly talented sculptor.  He can paint and draw too, but he loved sculpting.  His sculptures are breathtaking- and not in the “I can kind of relate to what the artist is doing on subconscious level” way… more in the “holy &%$&^, that is so beautiful I can’t believe you made it” way.  I truly believe that if he had more administrative skills and less children, his career would have been much different.  He never gave up with his work, even though it meant months of travelling, going to art shows all over the US and long stretches of having no money at all.  My childhood memories are riddled with waxballs, foundry tailings, paint specks and art pencils.  He believed in following his dreams, he wanted all of us to believe in our following our own dreams too.  My mom tried not to give up, she really did- but years of near isolation and being almost solely responsible for the daily tasks of raising four kids eventually took their toll.
Of course when the marriage ended, I blamed her- because I was 12 and dumb. Romance and dreams just don’t feed, clothe or diaper children and you can’t stay in love with someone who is always gone. He was running around the country as a hip, starving artist (ok, he probably would say that is not as glorious as it sounds, and I know it wasn’t). She was the “welfare mom” dragging 4 kids around Montana towns where she knew no one without a car. I can understand this now that I’m almost 40 and a little less dumb.  Mom only had to wait for about 10 years for me to come to my senses and cut her some slack.

Still, my brothers and I idolized our dad.  Remember how when taking a solemn vow as a kid, you used to say “I swear to God” because you really, really meant it?  It seemed that the consequences of having lied in an oath including God’s name were bad beyond imagination.  Well…my brothers and I used to ask each other “You swear in Dad’s Name?” to ascertain whether the truth was being told.  I know.  It’s hilarious and sad and we’re all cool with that because sad is always easier with a little bit of humor.  Those who have done some real suffering in life know that this is a truth of surviving tragedy and hardship.   The divorce between my parents was long, truth be told, it pretty much consumed my life after the age of 12. By the time I was 16, I was thoroughly convinced that my parents would hate each other forever and I would never be allowed the privilege of planning an event with my future husband and kids that wouldn’t include having to keep my parents separate.

That was true for a few years, but thankfully, patience is a virtue and grand-kids change everything. I think the reason for that is because grand-kids mean your kids are full grown and you KNOW how fast it happened.  You realize that time with them while they are little really should be a high priority and you’re willing to work through your own personal issues in order to soak up that time. By the time my parents came up for air from their custody battle, two of their kids were old enough to decide who they wanted to live with.   These days, my parents easily hang out with eachother at family functions and, actually, my brothers and I get totally creeped out if they spend any amount of time alone. No, Mom & Dad, you can’t go outside and share a smoke, we’ve had enough of your antics, thank you.

Another Beginning

“Hey Cat?” Tony turned his blue eyes to the sky, leaning his head back, blonde hair shuffling and falling over his ear and cheekbone.  They were sitting on the picnic table in his backyard; an after school ritual.  Cat was perched on the table top with her legs crossed. Tony sat on the bench, reclined with his back against the top of the table, his legs stretched out in front of him.  Over the years, that table had served as many a different setting in their games as they grew.  When they were eight, it was often a pirate ship, or a space ship, a car, a covered wagon.  Last year for awhile it had been their stage during their lip-synced air guitar performances as a rock and roll band.  They’d gotten in trouble for playing the radio too loud and so… the band had to quit, man.  This year they’d both turned thirteen, and so far, the table had only been used as a table.  The tree it sat under, of course, was a different story.

“Hey what?” Cat was quiet these days, her dark eyes often glinting in a way that Tony didn’t recognize.  When she’d first moved into the house next door, she officially became the only girl on the block. The very first day she was there, she’d caught him lurking in the lilac bushes that separated their front yards.  He’d been spying as she helped carry boxes and bags into the house.  Truthfully, he’d been staring because he couldn’t believe how much she could carry considering how skinny she was.  He’d been lost enough in his thoughts about the subject he hadn’t even registered that she’d seen him and made a turn in his direction.  He’d almost jumped out of his skin when he realized that suddenly, she was standing right in front of him, holding a box of clay. She’d dropped the box and put her hands on her hips.  Then, seeing the look on his face, she laughed, reached through bushes, tapped his shoulder and exclaimed, “You’re it!”.  That game of tag had lasted six years so far.

“I haven’t seen Dane for a couple weeks.  Where is he?”  Tony liked Cat’s older brother; he was mysterious.  Dane had always seemed like he was only half present in everything, like part of him was wandering somewhere else.

“He’s in Great Falls with Dad.”  Cat tossed her head back and jumped up, latching on to a bottom branch of the tree with both hands.  In two fluid motions, she hauled her body up and curved it around the branch, coming to a rest in a sitting position on the skinny limb.

“Monkey.”  Tony said as he raised his body from the table and hefted himself up the trunk.  “I have to get on a bigger branch.  That one’s gonna break if I sit on it.”  Cat began to climb to the top of the tree, living up to her name.  She was a fast climber, fearless in that tree, always moving like if she fell, she’d land on her feet for sure.  Tony had gotten less adept at climbing. By the time he reached their spot at the top of the tree, she’d been gazing at the sunset for four minutes.

“Old guy,”  Cat said with a smirk.  He smiled and looked at her, as he’d done hundreds of times since they’d been friends.  Her long black hair always floated around her face as if there was a breeze even if there wasn’t.  Tonight, though, as the sun cast brazen colors into their tree top vantage before fading into a starlit evening, Cat seemed to be shadowed.  Tony quietly sat beside her, wondering what the secret could be.

Debris

Debris

Photo Credit: Ayres Photogragphy

When the wind died down

and the dust settled,

we sat looking at the disaster.

Sifting through debris,

promising to go back to better times.

Times during which complication didn’t mar our intentions.

Times when our needs were less like chains

and more like opportunities.

Now we know,

we should have paid more attention

when what we wanted for ourselves

began to steal from what we wanted for each other. 

Then came the storm,

created by our selfish misunderstandings.

It poured rain into our hearts,

day after day.

It wrought clouds to crowd our minds

moment after moment,

building doubt so thick

we could not see the sea

until we were already choking,

flailing, sinking.

And as we reached out,

aching for something to save us,

all we found was each other to cling to

and that was all we needed.