When the World Became Separated

Peppers

When the world no longer had to worry about rude cashiers
or those just having a bad day,
they no longer met the ones who brightened their day
or the ones whose day they could brighten.
When the world no longer stopped for directions,
they didn’t accidentally end up
talking to someone they didn’t know
or question where they were going.
When the world no longer dined out,
there were no more idle conversations with the servers
who didn’t sing for their supper
but auditioned for their livelihood.
When the world no longer went to the movies,
there was no sharing the laughter,
no need for applause,
or even the opportunity to be collectively embarrassed
when something sexually explicit
reared its ugly head.
When the world learned how to make great coffee
and internet access was affordable to all,
coffee shop conversation,
like water cooler talk,
disappeared,
When the parents became the only teachers,
the only children became little adults,
and those with siblings did not learn how to make friends
beyond their bloodline;
for those who did venture into this brave new world
of shared spaces,
while covering their identity and keeping their distance,
saw others not as possible friends
but as carriers of the unseen
that could take their life.
When the world no longer needed to see the faces of those
who had not been filtered through their social media preferences,
they only saw the caricatures on TV—
the programming that had fomented a second civil war
based on the first.
When the bridal showers with sexy gifts
and the weddings with trite toasts
and the ultrasounds with fathers present
and the baby showers with silly games
and the events with boring speeches
and the birthday parties with other children
and the funerals with sad, funny stories of the departed
and the Thanksgiving dinners with heated political conversations
and the Christmas parties with annoying relatives
and the sermons that humanized Jesus
as much as they deified Him
made everyone realize how much they missed just being there
amongst it all,
for everything was no longer happenstance
but deliberate,
and there was a sameness to the days
that made them seem longer but lesser.
Those who could withstand the isolation because they were not alone
found a new appreciation for what and who they had at home,
but those who were alone and susceptible
pined for touch and smell and being present
in real-time
with real people.
When the world finally became unmasked
and love in the time of COVID
returned,
those who had been watching the summer of destruction
through it all
would never see the world
as it had once seemed to be.

When Culture Shocked Her Back

20200107_115742

The so-called culture of the big city,
with all its restaurants, museums, & theatres
weren’t worth the price to live near them,
for eventually,
they, too,
would be destroyed.
Rather,
this girl from Poplar Bluff,
who found felicity in simplicity,
could be found under a peach tree,
reading books,
not burning them,
painting scenes,
not spray painting obscenities,
building things,
not destroying them.
She had the freedom to believe,
& express belief,
in order & reform simultaneously—
living not in The Twilight Zone
but The Outer Limits
in a part of the world
that hadn’t been beaten all black & blue
with red all over.

Sweet Little Nothings

Things have to fall apart for them to fall together

At the age of 5 & 30,
she married the 1 who didn’t make her life easier
but made her better—
a man who called himself not the black sheep
but the stray sheep—
a man who had a place at every card table
because he believed that was the only way
he could ever surpass their circumstances.
He lost as much money as he had jobs,
but when he met her,
he felt he’d won the lottery—
only to continuously pay taxes on her by
doing everything in his power to keep her.
And she saw beyond their limitations
to their possibilities—
with him giving things up
& she,
taking things on.
She thought she’d found that in STEM,
but it turned to be the A in STEAM.

It’s Still a Wonderful Life

BLOGBADGE_0320GRA

I miss the days of quiet libraries rather than media centers and The Baby-Sitters Club series before they became graphic novels; I miss the B. Dalton bookstores in the mall, sitting on the floor in the corner, reading the Berenstain Bears until my parents finished their shopping.  

I miss the days when that could be done without worry.

I miss browsing Blockbuster with the non-confrontational request to “Be Kind. Rewind,” of waking up to Bob Ross and Mr. Wizard, of talking on the telephone with my best friend, Jessica, watching T.G.I.F. together on ABC.

I miss writing book reports at the kitchen table and thinking all I had to do was work hard and be good and everything would come to me.  

I miss handwritten letters and birthday cards in the mail with a 10-dollar bill inside and the tactile experience of ripping the paper off a gift rather than reaching inside a gift bag.

I miss simple math and spelling bees and Pig Latin.

I miss the compartmentalized cafeteria food, where to taste it was to (perhaps) solve the mystery.

I miss the days of wearing pinafores with black patent leather shoes, of glittery jellies and bows made of neon shoelaces, of Barbie bubble baths with the bubble gum pink bottles of Salon Selectives shampoo.

I miss the park when it didn’t seem so hot; I miss the stand-up merry-go-rounds that made me think of a pinwheel trolley.

I miss the early mornings when I’d be half-asleep, helping my dad deliver newspapers.  

I miss walking across the street to the filling station with my mom, where we’d buy Nestle Alpine White candy bars and dark Milky Ways.

I miss the grandparents who are no longer here and my mom who is here no longer. I miss the aunt and uncle I knew as a child, when I didn’t know there was a difference in being related by blood or marriage because, to me, they were both family.

I miss eating homemade pecan divinity and red pistachios.

I miss running down the driveway in bare feet to fetch the local newspaper, looking through the TV Guide insert to see what science fiction movies were coming on.

I miss the news that was so blessedly short—when life seemed so much longer than it was. I miss the days before reality TV when dialogue was memorable. I miss when photos were a surprise. 

I miss the days when adulthood seemed like this thing that could never possibly happen to me, even as I saw the baby pictures of myself in old photo albums.

I like to think I was born in the perfect time—without social media or cell phones, only being granted these marvels when I was old enough to handle an instant audience, eventually finding my voice in the blogosphere, my shyness having matured to introversion.

And matured I have.  

I have seen the inside of a soup kitchen and the outside of a coffin. I have experienced a person being born and seen a person die—the first, a great big shout out into mortal life, the other, a whisper into life eternal. I have lost my faith in church and found it in the God who is everywhere.  

Now I’m the mother, the wife, the writer who has proven herself to herself, and, in small measure, to others. I am the baker, the homemaker. I am the scholar who went back to college after the time for living the college life had passed; I come home not to roommates but to the family who waits up for me.  

Now I’m the one snapping shots of my child in various stages and poses, reading the nursery rhymes that are darker than I remembered, playing board games without reading the rules. I am the parent who was able to give my daughter a dollhouse—the one thing I always wanted but never got—only to find that she, like me, like us, love our electronic devices.  

So many evenings, I am in my office, she, her bedroom, and my husband, the living room. It is at times like these that the sound of my typing, the music from her Kindle, and the noise from the television come together and let us know that we are still here—just off the hallway that connects us all.

Written July 2019 and published in the March/April/May 2020 issue of Bella Grace magazine.

I remember Mom

5

Rota, Spain, circa 1985

I remember drawing fruit pictures as “presents” for Mom when she was in the military. (Watermelon wedges were my favorite.)

I remember making Mom ashtrays out of the black bases of 2-liter Coke bottles.

I remember Mom & me walking across the street to the Majik Market when we lived on Malibu to get a Nestle Alpine White candy bar.  

I remember reading Encyclopedia Brown with Mom at the Summerdale outdoor flea market, where she & Dad sold lamps & lampshades for Grandma & Grandpa York. We would stay in the LaQuinta Inn on Saturday nights, so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to Pensacola & all the way back to Summerdale the next day.

I remember getting bubble gum in my hair & Mom using peanut butter to comb it out.  

I also remember the smell of “No More Tangles” that Mom would use to comb through my stringy hair which she always insisted be curled for school pictures.

I remember when there was a dust-up at my high school because of an issue I had with one of my teachers. When my principal, Mr. Bill Slayton, wouldn’t listen, that’s when Mom banged her hand on the desk (I heard this secondhand) & said, “My taxes pay your damn salary!”

I remember being so annoyed when Mom & Dad would be watching a football game & suddenly scream, “Get him! Get him!” at the TV. 

I remember when the outlet went out in Mom & Dad’s room, & Mom watched TV “long-distance” (as the power in the other bedroom across the hall worked).

I remember the time we were on a mini-vacation when Mom & I were in cahoots to get Dad to wake up at a reasonable time (like before afternoon), & I set all the clocks forward three hours. It wasn’t until we were at Publix later in the day that Dad happened to see the clock & made a face, saying, “Hey, that isn’t right.” I couldn’t help myself & burst out giggling, confessing my deception.  

I remember Mom always complaining that Dad & I were on the same wavelength. (Especially when it came to food, & we wanted to go out for Mexican.)

I remember Mom telling me that you never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they get.

I remember Mom wishing she’d gotten a picture of Sharon before she was buried.

I remember Mom telling me that Grandma & Grandpa Booker had always treated her just like a daughter.

I remember Mom saying how embarrassing it was when Grandpa Booker hung her underwear on the line.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Mitt Romney rally & Jon Voight approached us from behind. (He actually touched her shoulder!) Mom & I were stunned speechless (it seemed our brains had temporarily shut down). And we’d made fun of Lucy for years for being starstruck!

I remember how Mom would send Dad out for Cokes, cigarettes, or thin crust Pizza Hut pizza with beef & onion right after he got home from work.

I remember Mom getting really pissed whenever Dad would take the entire bag of chips to work instead of putting what he would consume into a separate container.

I remember one of the few times Mom cooked, & she put sweetened condensed milk in the mashed potatoes.

I remember Mom telling me that she told Dad before she married him that she didn’t cook or clean, so he couldn’t complain.

I don’t remember Mom ever getting her own cup of ice.

I remember I always had to have a Coke for Mom whenever she came over.

I remember Mom & I always trying to get Bernadean to make her chocolate rolls.

I remember Mom saying she didn’t believe in whipping because that had been her parents’ answer to everything.

I remember Mom wearing her zebra-pattered bathrobe & house shoes that she stepped on the backs of in the car with me praying we wouldn’t get stopped.

I remember Mom & me sharing Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, & Lisa Jackson books. 

I remember how much Mom hated “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song.

I remember how much Mom loved Hank Williams, Elvis, & The Beatles.

I remember all of Mom’s unfinished projects (like the sewing machine she never used), as well as her endurance for all of Dad’s random research projects.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting, & I was about to doze off from boredom.

I remember Mom’s patriotism.

I remember Mom always getting on to me for not driving with both hands on the wheel.

I remember when we went to Jerry’s Cajun Café, & Mom made such a big deal out of my softshell crabs looking like a tick, I couldn’t eat them anymore.

I remember Mom flipping out whenever cheese was on her sandwich or yelling from the passenger seat, “Tell them hot fries!” (or “thick shake” for thick milkshake), whenever Dad was in the drive-through (which would get him all flustered).  

I remember when Mom & I joined the Mormon Church, & we would have the missionaries over for dinner appointments. 

I remember Mom & me driving around Cantonment to spy on Sister Wade (who monopolized the missionaries).

I remember how much Mom didn’t like Relief Society because it was so domestic. (How to fold fitted sheets really took the wedding cake.)

I remember giving Mom my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley,” to read on the Greyhound bus on the way back from Sidney, Montana, where I nannied for 3 girls.

I remember Mom & I were always declaring that Jeffrey Hunter was the best-looking man ever—with Dad arguing that it was Tyrone Power.

I remember when our cat, Brie, had kittens on Mom’s stomach.

I remember Mom keeping vigil over Brie (who suffered peritonitis), comforting her till she died.

I remember when Punky, our dog, was dying; Punky wouldn’t come in out of the cold, so Mom put a blanket on her & sat with her for a while.

I remember Mom always dreamed of moving to Wyoming.

I remember Mom & I were always quick to let Dad know when he was wrong about something; I’d immediately ask Google to prove our case—if nothing more than to remove that smug look off his face.

I remember Mom sending Dad & me to Albertson’s to buy Bit-o-Honey because she had an addictive personality & would get on “kicks.” She also really got into watermelon & popcorn.

I remember how thrilled Mom was when she knew I was going to have a girl & name her Hannah.

I remember Mom was always so excited to see Hannah, calling her “Hannah B!”

I remember Mom coming to my house on Heirloom Drive immediately when I was freaking out because Hannah would not stop crying.

I remember all the times Mom would come by my house on Heirloom & hang out before picking up Dad; we’d talk & enjoy Hannah, maybe even watch a couple of episodes of “Wings.”

I remember Mom getting Hannah started on the “Smack Quackers” routine.

I remember Mom sitting with me in the hospital when I was so ill & couldn’t stop throwing up.

I remember all the times Mom took me to school & work when she was tired & didn’t feel like it.

I remember Mom weaseling her way out of most of the driving when we went up to Uncle Bill’s funeral.

I remember Mom often joked that her funeral better be held in the afternoon, so Dad would come; I know she knows better now.

I remember Mom.

I remember . . . 

Hugs from friends, yes; handshakes from strangers, no: Being an introvert in self-isolation

FlowersI have been in self-isolation since March 15th—the day before my seventh wedding anniversary. Except for picking up a 10-year-old webcam from a friend (which turned out to be incompatible with my 9-year-old PC), dropping Easter dinner off to my dad and grandmother, and a couple of other instances, I’ve been home, not being bored. My husband is the one who goes to the store to get supplies (doesn’t that phrase sound apocalyptic?). He always takes hand sanitizer with him and wears a bandana for a mask, the latter of which I had originally bought for my daughter’s Halloween hobo costume.

Homeschooling a 6-year-old, taking university-level classes that weren’t structured to be online classes, and working full-time (including trying to learn all the ins and outs of Zoom for my college writing tutoring job), on top of trying to ensure I get outside time (I’d go batty without a backyard), working on my “Great American Short Story” (for this year’s Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Short Story contest”), and binge-watching The Mary Tyler Moore show on Hulu before our free trial runs out has been my life.

I enjoy not having to drive out to University twice a week, trying to find a place to park, lugging an umbrella around, spending money on lunch out, and being stuck there 5 hours (even though my classes are only 2 1/2 hours combined). My writing workshop class isn’t the same, but now that it’s almost over, I realize I could’ve been drinking during class (instant extroversion), but I’m not really a wine person at 11 in the a.m. (That’s what mimosas are for.)

Even though I’m an introvert, I like people—I just don’t like being around them all the time—but being on lockdown means I am in lockdown with my husband and daughter, who are home all the time. Such has been an adjustment, but we’ve adapted. I’m glad that I no longer feel overscheduled as that takes time away from just being (doing all the time gets tiresome).    

I do (not overdo) social media, so I keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. Though it’s not quite the same (and it never will be), it’s something to keep us connected and sharing stories (not just COVID ones), photos, funny memes, random thoughts, and Instagram poems. I thought staying home would be harder than it was, but I’ve realized I need more time in green or blue spaces—more natural therapy than the retail kind. I’ve also learned that when I order things online, it’s a more deliberate choice than when I’m filling up my cart at Target. As for the beach, I don’t love it like I used to. It’s a real drag having to lug an umbrella, chairs, and cooler a quarter-mile trudging through sand. However, if there were no people or waves (and I already lived on it), I would like it more.

Yes, I miss exercising in the pool at the Y, going out with friends (as rare as that is, considering my closest friends are students, have kids, jobs, etc.), browsing the big-box bookstores (where I can read the children’s books to see if they’re good before I buy them), walking around the craft store to get ideas, and even grocery shopping, but those things will be there when this pandemic ends.  

Knowing that makes all this easier.

Though I dig the social distancing (I dislike crowds, not people), I’m not making new connections, and I realized I wouldn’t have the friends I do had I not met them in person first. Though I miss making new friends (or trying to, anyway), I keep in mind this song:

Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver,
And the other, gold.

Brownie points if you figure that one out.

The Yellow Walls

Bed

A shabby chic bedspread of cabbage roses—
part of her “hopeful chest” before it became
part of her “hopeless case”—
lays over her bed like a garden planted in neat rows,
the paisley sheets forming a strange sort of soil—
the ashen color of cremation.
A headboard and footboard frames
this nocturnal resting place
with its pewter-hued, iron curlicues—
prison bars so prettily coiled.

A white shag rests in peace on the HER side of the floor,
a Victorian-era lamp on the white nightstand
provides the pink light by which she can only read
when she is alone,
for all light and sound disturb him.
She is not lonely when she has a book;
rather, she is alone while her husband sleeps,
and she lies in the darkness—
the shadows, the souls of his dreams,
the echoes of his snores,
their screams.

A fancy side chair has become “The Laundry Chair”—
the hallmark of a careless and forgetful housewife—
the type who leaves her nylon stockings
in the door of the car
or her brassiere hanging on the coat rack
for guests to pretend to ignore.

There are no robes
but flip-flops for slippers,
and a mouth guard with dried spit—
an opaque curiosity for the little child who often wanders in.

The change jar on the highboy is always empty—
pessimistic, transparent.
Jewelry trees,
like headless mannequins with wires for limbs,
look like something out of a Tim Burton movie,
holding up cameos like dismembered heads.
Stacks of unfinished scrapbooks sit on this highboy
like guest logs for visitors of a wake.

Twin stacks of library books are on the nightstand—
three by the same author—
under the lamp,
waiting to be read.

Pictures of who she and her husband used to be scatter the surfaces—
a reminder that they were young and thin once.
They ask themselves,
“Whatever happened to those people?”

A suitcase,
bought for the day when they would one day vacation
in Iceland, Australia, or New Zealand—
is often haphazardly filled after her husband’s vanishing acts,
when he would gamble their future on kings and queens.
The case,
in mint condition,
stands in the closet
that is always open—
just like his drawers.

Soundtrack on Repeat

Hippos

19 miles till Empty with my 27 teeth—
no pearly-whites of wisdom;
born tongue-tied with a wooden spoon in my mouth.
Sarah with an h (like Anne with an e),
middle name Lea, not Leah—
who would do that anyway?
Just brown hair, blond roots, & split-end decisions—
double major leaguer of my own destiny.
Livin’ above my means ‘cause I got no means—
drivin’ on an unglazed donut,
just livin’ this dream in the Redneck Riviera,
though I don’t know what kind of dream is being
a creative white peg in a corporate black hole,
comin’ home to more work—
Wheel of Fortune & Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Don’t you know that letter’s already been called,
& I already lost all my marbles.
If arts are liberal, is science conservative?
Slim Jims aren’t just gas station snacks,
& I’m no longer a Wag hag
but still get 2 earplugs for the price of 1.
If you’re a lackey & you know it,
clap your hands
& don’t be modest like the Mormons
with their fireproof underwear.
Wrote The Solar Express,
but no one cared.
Drink coffee out of rebellion
but have to pee first thing
then see “Live, Laugh, Love” stock art/wall filler
on shelves at Target which
gets a visceral reaction from me
like people who say fur babies
‘cause you don’t need no epidural
& alphabet tracing sheets.
Do it the hard way ‘cause that’s the only way I know.
Ablaut reduplication is not being redundant;
say wakey-wakey for left eye & right eye.
Concrete poetry I can draw chalk lines around
& walk all over like the rolled-up weapon
with the fake news called horoscopes
& maybe columnists.
Still driving on E . . . 

A Light-Year of a Dark Mile

Shamrocke

When the world changed
from 6 degrees of separation
to 6 feet,
the longer this change
became a way of life,
the more that distance began to be
measured by time apart.
Children seemed to disappear
like caterpillars
into the cocoons of their homes,
their siblings their only friends;
but for the only child,
Mom & Dad
became their whole world,
other children,
a voice & a face on a screen.
FaceTiming with the grandparents,
whose hugs had become something dreamlike—
the spicy scent of Grandpa’s Clove gum
& wiry whiskers that felt like pine needles,
the intoxicating scent of Grandma’s Charly perfume
& powdery, rouged cheeks that left their mark—
began to fade into something indescribable.