When Stuffed Shirt met Fancy Pants, they realized they coordinated perfectly. When they crossed the beaten path with Mr. Overalls, feeling like they were better than him because he said y’all rather than whatever the hell it was they said, he, with his denim wisdom, told them that at least he didn’t need no belt to keep it all together.
When Brookie Crowney, as part of her parole, joined Chocoholics Anonymous for chewing up BonBon Bailey’s candy ass, the support group was forced to change its name, for Brookie just wouldn’t shut the fudge up about it.
When Cursive met Print, Print lamented about feeling disconnected, to which Cursive replied, “At least people understand you.”
Kath & Tony tampered with the sacred powers of procreation, a sin that, according to the Church, was second only to murder, for it dealt with life— not just the premature creation of it, but sometimes the destruction of it, when that life was inconvenient. Though Tony sheathed himself like a knight in latex armor, if a drop went through the eye of his needle, he would be rich, for he would have to marry Kath— a woman who loved him for him when no other woman ever would.
Talking to the Bishop about having sex with your boyfriend was like inviting a stranger to watch. Kath & Tony held off on confessing, for what good was it to debase yourself, only to sin again? To get it out of their systems, they christened the Church parking lot after hours, their deeds hidden by the trees. My blood had never run so hot for someone that whenever I was around him, I felt I would burst into flames. Though I felt warmth when I was around Elder Roberts, I did not burn; he was more like a cold drink on a hot day. Our love was pure; it did not consume us. Our passion would come after the commitment, for that was lasting love.
The latter half of November that year of my Mormon soldier consisted of Leann tracting (or proselytizing), or going on trade-offs with the sister missionaries, & Kath and Tony seeing each other in secret. Though Kath and Tony had made love, she had yet to see him without his garments, as some devout Mormon couples never saw each other fully unclothed. As for me and my house, we served the Lord of the Mormon Church.
Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley: An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.
When Chad decided to double-cross Dictionary & Thesaurus, he, with the IQ of a boiled turnip, was no match for Dictionary, who didn’t just tell him what he was but went so far as to spell it out & use his name in a sentence while Thesaurus, who was fed up of being overused, called him every name in the book.
Mr. Shaker worked in the salt mines, Ms. Grinder, the pepper mill. They endured a hardscrabble existence, what with him being a water retention expert & she, being blessed more times than were sugar lumps at tea time in Britain. At a well-seasoned age, they retired on a penny pension, ready to spice up their world. When they met over a bowl of grits a yo-yo, they realized that they complemented one another perfectly.
When the Couch Potatoes decided they needed a rebranding, they juiced carrots daily, trying to turn themselves into Sweet Potatoes, which only made them ill, so they marketed themselves as gluten-free sofa spuds instead, but took it too far when they made Bread the enemy.
It was the child who wiled away the time reading under a blanket with a flashlight & the student who stole time from sleep to study under fluorescent lights; it was the unscrupulous sort who made time with married women, the couple who shared their time as they shared their responsibilities, & the returning soldier who tried to make up for lost time; it was the patient who killed time waiting in recovery & the amnesiac who lost time; it was the disgruntled worker who stole time; it was the blackmailer who set the time & the person being blackmailed who tried to buy some time; it was the firefighter who raced against time, the cop who got there in the nick of time, & the prisoner who served time or was awarded time served; it was the saint who gave their limited time, the sinner who took their sweet time, & the martyr who sacrificed their time forever; it was the millionaire who saved time & the poor who spent time; it was the keen who used their time wisely; it was the photographer who captured time, the writer who documented time, & the historian who depicted a time; it was the parent who invested their time, the mother who made the time like she made everything else— with love— & the father who found the time that his father had given away; it was the grandparents who passed the time, even as time passed them; and it was the lover of life who made the most of her time by having the time of her life, for she was the patient living on borrowed time.
For her, motherhood was spent smacking tags on clothes in the store & plush animals at home, on spinning pennies & Minnie Mouse by the tail, on “crashing the checkers” of Connect Four, only for the tray to be filled up again with what she called gold coins & pepperonis. Though such activities became repetitious, the payoff was in her smile that lit up her face like a gloriole & with the laughter that filled a room with mirth.
She taught her daughter about Dreamland, Tomorrowland, & Never-Never Land that was always, always there. She taught her about the Land of Shuteye Town, of Oz, Narnia, & Wonderland, & the Queendom of 40 Winks. She taught her practical magic & made realism magical, which came from the imaginations of those under the Heaven that was beyond imagination & surpassed all understanding.
There were oohs & aahs over the goos & gahs as the parents & grandparents gathered round in fascination with this new life, bearing pink, plushy presents, while the little child who had preceded this life stood back & watched in the cool shallows, thinking her star had dimmed when it had only matured, not understanding that her co-existing co-creators had wanted this life, in part, because her ever-so-wonderful life had come first.
Who will be there to read the latest story I wrote, however unaccredited? Who will be there to share my newest find from the bookstore? Who will be there to listen to me at a poetry reading when Dad cannot?
Who will be there to call, worrying when I haven’t phoned in a couple of days?
Who will be there to binge-watch Big Love with me when I finally have the time? Who will be there to say, “If I hear that one more time . . .” when I claim I am the Energizer bunny? Who will be there to keep me company on the deck while Hannah is being a leaf-gathering and nest-making mama bird?
Who will be there to make lame-o “mom jokes” that were only funny in the way that Alice from The Brady Bunch is funny? Who will be there to give me a reason to pray the car doesn’t break down somewhere because she’s wearing her zebra housecoat? Who will be there to shake her head at me when I brag about not having tan lines?
Who will be there to yell at Dad about his driving when no one else is in the car? Who will be there to yell “Be sure to tell them ‘hot fries!’” at Dad while he’s in the drive-through? Who will be there to yell at Dad when he tries to pull the bait-and-switcheroo with off-brands from the grocery store? Who will be there to yell at Dad?
Who will be there to eat Dad’s overcooked and underseasoned food? Who will be there to ask me to get her a cup of ice because she doesn’t know her way around the refrigerator? Who will be there to try my Grandmother Bernadean’s chocolate roll recipe, when I’ve finally perfected it?
Who will be there to outnumber Dad when he insists he’s right about some obscure fact? Who will be there to remind Dad on how he’s hardly ever right about anything because he’s as stubborn as a Missouri mule? (We come from the “Show-Him” State, you know.) Who will be there to ask, “Is there an echo in here?” when my dad and I say the same thing simultaneously, being on the same wavelength and all?
Who will be there to go with me to the World of Coke and the Campbell Peach Festival? Who will be there to stay with me in the hospital when I am sick while my husband takes care of our daughter?
Who will be there to tell me I am beautiful, just because I am theirs? Who will be there to tell me about myself, before I remembered myself? Who will be there to tell me about Dad, before I was a gleam in his eye?
Who will be the proud mama when I finally graduate from college? Who will be there for the Hannah Boo birthdays yet to be celebrated? Who will be Grandma to my Hannah Banana?
Who will be the other mother to see me bring my Ryan or Madeleine into the world? Who will be there to see them not only be good but do good in it?
Who will be you?
There were so many roles you filled that no one will be able to play the way you did; some, no one will be able to play at all.
There will just be your empty chair, for you are neither here nor there, but elsewhere.
Yet the distance between us, between hello and good-bye, is simply a wrinkle in time— a wrinkle that will be ironed out someday, after I have lived my life— the one you taught me to live.
*I read this poem—originally titled “Who Will Be You?”—at a student poetry reading at Pensacola State College in March 2018, one day after my mother, Betty Ann, was buried.
Once upon a long time ago, it was understood that the men went to the College of Liberal Arts, run by men & the women, the School of Domestic Arts, run by women. But then a Mr. & Mrs., well-versed & quite dexterous in both arts, showed the world that it was better off when men & women not only learned from one another but when everyone was educated & knew how to do things for themselves.
She was a kindergarten teacher, he, a college professor. She taught the phonemes, he, the 100-dollar words. They both saw the value they gave to their students— she, in their beginnings, & he, in their ends.
She took numerous DNA tests, only to fail them, her cat was always upchucking all over her homework, & she was often accused of plagiarism by a TurnItIn bot who had twice the intelligence but not half the talent. When she sneaked into the Student Lab for a prescription to unknot the stress ball that was her life, she realized that she knew who she was, even if she didn’t know what she was, that maybe online classes were for her, & that in-text citations were a student’s best friend.