Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Missing

The two of them were sitting on the reclining loveseat, reclined, relaxed, sharing a bottle of wine. The evening was gorgeous considering it was mid-February in Southern Indiana. She had the window in the living room open for the fresh air, but a fire in the fireplace for whatever bit of chill had started to set in as evening fell.

It was a Saturday night, the work week over for them both, and they were watching TV. A Dateline 48-Hour Mystery show was on and the episode was the story of a woman who had disappeared and her husband had become, of course, the prime suspect.

He said, "So, what do you think of that?"

She answered, in an off-handed manner, "He really nailed his coffin closed when he didn't report her missing for three weeks and she turned up dead in the canal five houses down."

"Well, you travel a lot. You're independent. You know how to take care of yourself. If you left ME, pissed off, I probably wouldn't look for you, either, knowing you were most likely fine, just angry." He said. "At least not for a couple of weeks."

She sat her wine down before she dropped it and leveled a look at him that could have intercepted and destroyed a nuclear bomb.

The air was so brittle in the room that her voice almost made a visible crack in it..."You're telling me that we've been together for twelve years, and you honest to God think that I would get angry and walk away for two weeks without contacting you? I wouldn't leave here for a DAY without contacting you...thank God I have girlfriends who would be a little more concerned!"

Three weeks later, another Saturday had rolled around, another bottle of wine had been opened and the big decision for the day was whether or not to go to Wal-Mart. They both hated it, but they both knew they needed to go, so they made a list and decided to make it a fun expedition to get what they needed and then go look at stone to put in the patio they had been planning for a couple of years.

On the way there he said, "Don't walk off and leave me in Wal-Mart, I panic when I start looking for you in there and can't find you."

You know? We never really know anyone. We think we do, but about the time we get comfortable, we realize we know nothing about the person we are walking through this life with.

She said, "Wait, aren't you the same person who said a few weeks ago that you would let me go missing for two weeks before you even thought about looking for me??"

He just smiled and drove, obviously not as confused by this as she was.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

From the Outside Looking In

Sometimes it is a lot easier to see someone's accomplishments when viewed from the outside looking in. We are a lot harder on ourselves than others are on us. We just don't realize that. Lately, though, she has been practicing how to quiet her head and try to see herself as someone else might see her.

That is very difficult. There is nothing easy about it. Besides the fact that her mind automatically wants to click to the past or the future, it is sometimes painful to have to look at herself in such harsh light. She is her own worst critic, of course.

Most of what she has learned from this practice is that while she wants to portray herself as hard, distant, cold and uncaring, that is nothing more than a defense mechanism to protect her heart. When she is honest with herself, or allows her spirit to be honest with her brain, she finds that she is not cold and uncaring and really not even all that angry, and it is much more restful to find she is really at peace with the person she has become than to constantly fight demons that should have been harnessed years ago. She finds she is quite happy to lose the battle in order to win the war.

She has been engrossed in the book "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson, for days now, reading and rereading, savoring, and today she read the following passage: "Broughton says he has more ideas about heaven every day. He said, 'Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I'd multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is much more than sufficient for my purposes.' So he's just sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind times two, multiplying the smell of the grass times two."

If we can learn to calculate our heaven, then we have won the war, she thinks.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Case for the Dandelions

The "run to the bagel shop" this stormy Monday morning took on an all new meaning. She was hungry, the dog wanted her bagel bone and was restless about that, and it's just a habit to work until breaktime and then "run down to the bagel shop" on the corner.

This morning she stood glancing out the window to the west, watching another huge storm brewing there, and knew that she had to time it perfectly.

She shrugged into rain gear and tested the air by stepping out onto the porch, facing each direction to get a sense of the wind and how long she thought she had to get there and back.

"If I run there, get a banana nut muffin instead of the toasted blueberry bagel with cream cheese, and walk back pretty quickly," she told Annie, I can just make it before that cuts loose...can just get back inside before the first drops of rain splash down."

The run down was perfect, but a little awkward in a raincoat, the hood bouncing behind her, her tennis shoes splashing puddles up around her ankles with every step. She went inside, ordered her muffin, small house blend coffee and bagel bone for Annie, could feel the charge in the air, the humidity, and could tell by the almost imperceptible change in the light through the plateglass window, that she was just going to make it home before having to pull up the hood and pull on the rubber boots.

She pushed her beaded Moo-Lah cow-shaped change purse into one pocket, her cell phone and the bagel bone in the other and balancing the white paper sack and the cup of hot coffee, walked briskly toward her house. The first left turn and it was visible on the hill. The air thickened and she stepped the pace up a bit.

One drop on the sleeve of the coat, but she still had time.

Just before the sky opened up and dumped its wares, she stopped in front of her house and thought, "Man, look at all the dandelions in my yard!"

She opened the front door and the downpour began. The dog was squirming in anticipation of the breakfast she knew was coming, and she broke the bagel in half, and together, she and her black and tan Dachshund stood on the safe side of the storm door and watched the rain washing the earth while they had their breakfast.

Later in the day, once things had dried out, she noticed her neighbor outside in her own yard, seeking out the dandelions growing there, an industrial-sized cannister of weed killer strapped to her back that made her look like a misplaced moonwalker. She would see one of the yellow flowers and point and shoot, not unlike a cowboy in an old Western. She could almost hear the Spaghetti Western music playing in the background.

She feels she has to state the case for the dandelions. Really, if one thinks about it, they have to see that this is the most perfect species of flower. It comes up every spring and even sometimes in the winter if the sun gets warm enough for a couple of days, and adds a splash of yellow color. The dandelion requires no maintenance whatsoever, and it's reproduction capabilities are enviable.

She shakes her head, realizing that she will never understand what constitutes beauty and what constitutes weeds as long as she lives and closes the blinds on the mass murder going on next door.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Rainbows

The weekend has been stormy. The clouds gather in the south or in the west and fill up with precipitation and blow their way into her world, one gigantic electrical storm after another, full of rain and fury. Eight inches of rain in three days is a lot, even for this part of the Country, and venturing outside, even to the local McDonald's for a McGriddle on Sunday morning becomes a study in geography, planning the streets least likely to be flooded, coursing away from the river and, eyes peeled for signs of trouble, standing water not yet cordoned off by the local police department.

With all that anger built up in the clouds, she contemplates the fact that all she has found this weekend is peace. The pace has been slow. Nothing much seemed a necessity. A trip to a near-by book store to stock in substantial reading material turned out to be the only drive she took, the books being more important than milk or eggs.

She wanders to her cabinet, peers in, finds nothing of interest. Even less interesting is the refrigerator, but she puts eating on hold and curls up in the rocking reclining love seat by the big front window, turns on the lamp situated in perfect reading position at her right shoulder, kicks up the foot rest and soon becomes absorbed in a good book, sipping a diet Pepsi straight from the bottle, absently stroking the head of her Dachshund, Annie, who is snuggled between her and the armrest.

When a flash of close lightning interrupts her, she jumps at the same time the dog does, dropping the book, waits impatiently for the loud thunder that will cause the house to rattle and shake, and she is not disappointed. She looks out of the window in amazement at the hard rain that is so thick it is nearly white, like a translucent shower curtain, making the walls of the apartment building across the street seem dream-like and wavy. If the temperature was forty degrees colder, it would be a blinding blizzard-like snow falling and the effect would be similar.

Suddenly the curtain is raised, and only drizzle remains. To the east the black clouds boil and churn, to the west, the sun is dazzling and she knows there will be a rainbow. Not only is she sure of that fact, she knows, after all these years of being rooted in the same spot on this earth, exactly where to look for it.

She and Annie kick down the foot rest and go to the front door, knowing how fleeting the colors can be, step out onto the front porch of her little brick house and turn toward the southeast and there it is. A rainbow brighter than any she has ever seen. The colors are not terminating into the trees on the horizon but are coming straight to the ground in front of the treeline, a multicolored explanation point at the end of the day, and that is something she has never seen before. She can truly see the end of the rainbow. And as quickly as it formed, it is gone, before she can truly even absorb the magnificence of it, reminding her how precious every second is.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Tears, Fears and Missiles

There are not many things that can make her cry, but the sky might. Just the way clouds form, the colors they take on, will occasionally bring some long-buried memory to the tear ducts in the corners of her eyes. The tears bring a sobbing reflex and soon, she is sitting alone in her beach house on a twenty-dollar Wal-Mart lounge chair, feeling the breeze dry the salt on her cheeks, blowing her nose, shaking her head and wondering what memory, when she turned the corner toward her house on her evening walk, glancing up and seeing the clouds churning, first black, then pink, then the color of scalded corn chowder, blasted out of its comfortable bunker where it had been safely stored, for a split second and reduced her to that tight-throated episode of self-pity or fear

Even after the lid was closed on it for less than a minute, she had no recollection of the color of that missile.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Dreaming

Last night she had a fitful night. That was pretty apparent from the condition of the quilts and sheets this morning and evidenced by the little pounding headache right behind her eyes. With a full day of work ahead, she finds herself squinting at the computer screen already, at 7:30 A.M., chugging iced coffee.

The exhaustion after a night like that is physical and expected. The remnants of nightmares, scenes playing out over and over in her mind until it seems the film suddenly breaks and is spliced, cutting out small pieces of the terror until finally there is nothing left to view, surprise her with their close association with her consciousness, and with their clarity.

When she tries to make sense of the five-minute snippets, only five minutes long since for the past three hours she has dozed in five-minute increments, each time shaken awake by another piece of the dream, she can't. They do not correspond at all with her real world. And the Dream Gods refuse to offer any interpretation. The messages seem apparent yet elusive because they signal a dark side she hates to consider lives within herself, and they literally scream of fear of something, and dread.

There was a dark elevator she had to ride, and it tilted as it made its way skyward, throwing her against the wall, but making her giggle at the same time. There was an empty suitcase on a long trip, far from home, and ridicule because she had forgotten to pack. Then there was a contradictory, comfortable moment...a sweet kiss...followed almost immediately by a speeding car and what seemed would be certain death before she was jerked awake, sweating, breathing hard.

She refused sleep then. Craved it but held it off, dragged herself out of bed and started her day.

When her children were young and would wake her to save them from a nightmare she would say, "Dreams are just movies in your head, they aren't real."

But after nights like last night, the mother worries that dreams are truth and life is fiction. The worry will fade as the movie is spliced shorter and shorter and tonight might be a dreamless one, quiet and opposite, or the sleep world colorful and content and beautiful, proving that there is also a kind and gentle side that is real. Her autobiography. We need the occasional nightmare to help us appreciate the colors of life and the beautiful, sweet dreams. She knows that and she demands another take on last night's movie, clicks the board shut, directs a new scene and covers last night's fiasco with images of flowers and laughter.

There, that is much, much better! Let the day begin...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Believing in Angels

Remember the song, "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go?"

In her case, the lyrics are a little different. They're, "Over the highway and through the town, to granddaughter's house we go."

She made the short drive to pick up her four-year-old granddaughter this afternoon. They were together all day yesterday, but for her, it did not seem long enough. The day in the presence of this little girl is just a study in relaxation, a chance to renew, strengthen, redeem herself.

The child can make her cry, with a few words.

The child can show her her soul just with a smile directed her way.

And the child can make her realize her blessings by saying, "Gramma, what did you wish for last night?"

She answered, after very little thought, "I wished that you could come back over to my house today, and look, it came true...what did you wish for?"

And without missing a beat the little girl said, "That I could see my Gramma again today, and see? It came true."

Love comes in all shapes and sizes, but there is no love like the electric love between grandmother and granddaughter. They look at one another and understand God and believe in angels.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Recliner

She gave her ex-husband an old recliner. He had nothing to his name, really; so few possessions, so hoping to rid herself of the old, broken down, dilapidated chair, she offered it to him, only to find it once more in her possession when it returned with the ex-husband to reside in the upstairs of her house years later. After she evicted him, once again from her life, as if haunting her, the chair stayed firmly lodged in her upstairs hallway, and each time she passed by it she found herself kicking it and cursing at it.

So when Ex called again, asking to come after the chair, she was more than a little relieved but skeptical that it could actually vacate her premises.

He brought three men along: Two younger men and one old man, and the younger ones trudged up her staircase with Ex to wrestle the chair once more down the steps and into her dining room. She looked at it, head tilted, eyes narrowed, and silently challenged it to return to her ever, now...now that it belonged to perfect strangers whose names she never even asked for.

But imagine her surprise when the old man took out his wallet and paid Ex twenty dollars for it, right there in her dining room.

That old, recliner smiled, she swears it did, and stuck its tongue out at her as it exited the house and made its home in the back of a rusted-out pickup truck where, for all she knows, it will stay forever and ever amen.

Now she will be pulling up alongside similar-looking trucks at stoplights and passing them on the streets, forced to always peer over and see if the maroon chair is in position like a Beverly Hillbillies rocker, with an old man perched there, roasting in the sun or freezing in the cold, swigging a beer or rum straight from the bottle.

Life is a study.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

When Daddies Dance - For Fred and Cathi

I wonder if you remember the way you
Used to catch me if I'd fall.
The special things you said to me
From up there, ten feet tall.

I wonder if you laughed at night
At the silly things I did,
About the way I looked to you
To keep my secrets hid.

Because I remember, Daddy,
How much you meant to me and
That you noticed something here
That no one else could see.

I remember that you saved me
From myself time and time again.
Without you all the things I am
I never could have been.

Only special daddies dance and
I remember you that way.
I could never love you any more
Than I love you here today.

Go dance with the angels in Heaven,
Go dance among the stars.
You'll always be here with me
In the memories that are ours.

Go dance across the sky,
You're free to do that now.
Pirouette between the clouds,
Take your final bow.

I'll be standing down here watching,
Applauding loudest of them all
And remembering what you said to me
From up there, ten feet tall.

Now go dance with the angels in Heaven,
Go dance among the stars.
You'll always be here with me
In the memories that are ours.

Kathy McWhirt
3/1/06

Home

Just about the time she is ready to ditch this place, Spring happens. When she starts becoming restless, looking for a way out, the doves commence their cooing. Her grandmother called them "rain doves," a fact she never questioned until later in her life and a fact that she analyzed and understood as a woman. There is a certain way that coo sounds when it is anchored close to the ground by black rain clouds that causes a person to notice the loneliness in the voice, makes the tone more pronounced than on bright, sunny days.

March 1. She took her break and walked under cloudy skies, to the bagel shop on the corner and bought her breakfast, sipped the hot, strong coffee on her trek back home. As she stood there waiting for her bagel and coffee, she looked out the plate glass window that faced Newton Street, the main thoroughfare through her town, recognized the way the traffic moved, the way the buildings looked, the way nothing had really changed in the past twenty years.

She has lived here longer than she lived anywhere. Only 18 years were spent in her parents' home. Only seven years were spent in her first relationship and marriage. Only seven years were spent in her second relationship, only one of those as man and wife. She might be the poster child for the term "seven year itch." Or else she is the poster child for the term "enabler;" for staying anchored to something bad to make things good. Who knows how her brain works? Sometimes not even she has a clue what neurons are firing at the exact same moment to produce thoughts she finds comforting or frightening.

Twenty years in this little town.

She has walked from her pretty brick house on the hill to this bagel shop dozens of times. She has made the split-second decision to forego the bagel shop and instead get a chicken salad sandwich at the deli across the street dozens more.

Nothing has changed much in twenty years and Spring is happening once again. She nods at the doves on the green wrought iron fence and smiles at what must be the third or fourth generation of the same dogs contained inside there, barking mercilessly at her. She could close her eyes and walk to her house on the uneven sidewalks. She is home.