that last semester,
was spent in a sleepless blur.
Like a shimmer above hot asphalt
was the filter through which she saw
the endlessness of her life as it was—
as if God Himself had slowed down time
to make it last,
fortifying her to make her last.
She relished the days,
having passed the exhaustion stage,
by knowing that if she could do this much
for so long,
she could do almost as much
for the rest of her life.
She was 30 when she began her teaching ministry—
of life after infertility & divorce with
18 undocumented years “about her mother’s business”—
finding herself resurrected through the youthful hope
of her student disciples.
She was a woman of 20-dollar dresses
& 5-dollar lipstick,
who loved fried chicken & cheap wine.
She checked out novels & rented movies,
her ideal date night a shared pizza
& fresh breath.
Her favorite painter was Norman Rockwell,
her favorite book, Confessions of a Chocoholic.
She was more fiddle than violin,
more Encyclopedia Brown than Murphy Brown.
To her, any meat below well done
was positively revolting—
no matter what the TV chefs said.
(They ate bull balls, after all, so
though they had the latter,
they were still full of the former.)
She didn’t need a big house—
just a bit enough house.
Even if she won the jack of all pots,
she would still come stamped
with a certificate of authenticity.
The frazzled, second-time mama,
whose nerve endings were frayed,
grieved for the time she robbed from Penny to spend on Polly,
for the times she snapped at Penny because of Polly,
& for the times she did not even hear Penny because of Polly,
whose color of hangry ranged from tomato red to beet purple.
As the principal of Sally Jane Richards’ Homeschool for the Housebound
(& wife of the dean)
cradled her colicky cuddlebug,
her other hand reached out to reassure her doodlebug—
this shiny new piece of change who had come into her life
without a heads-up & put her into a temporary tailspin—
that Book Club & Reading Club,
Math with Monopoly Money,
A.M. & P.M. Bingo,
Wheel of Fortune-inspired Hangman,
& Alphabet Soup & Word Salad with Bananagrams,
had to wait for the not-so-secret formula
to do its disappearing noise magic trick.
The little blind child,
who cannot touch Santa’s beard;
the little deaf child,
who cannot read Santa’s lips;
the unborn child,
who exists because two people
were under lockdown
but who may never see
his or her grandparents
except through a screen or glass;
the lonely child,
from whom kindness and touch
is denied him—
like the Romanian babies of Communism;
the poor child,
whose needs remain at the bottom of the pyramid;
the special needs child,
isolated from others like her
but loved without pre-existing conditions—
who sees Santa in a way no one else does,
sensing his spirit in her parents,
if not his presence in strangers.
She’d graduated without laude
but with writing awards,
with friendships, experiences,
& a confidence she’d lacked before.
She learned that it was okay to be an introvert,
even as she tried to perform exemplary work
to make up for it;
she learned that it was okay to be a team player
rather than a leader—
to follow what worked & fix what didn’t.
And, in her new, post-graduate life,
she stayed on where she had learned so much,
but when her last article
for the college newspaper
came into print,
a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment.
She learned that no one could hold the presses,
no matter how much they had or
chose to give away,
& she was reminded
of a wise little girl named Pollyanna
who had said that “Nobody could own a church,”
for there was no place for censorship
at a school where critical thinking
was a prerequisite
When she’d been LDS—
a Molly Mormon on the outside
& some kind of nondenominational,
free-spirited Christian on the inside—
she’d had friends, good & plenty,
but when she’d lost her testimony
of Joseph Smith
& returned to her Protestant roots,
she reclaimed her creativity.
When she went back to school
at a liberal arts college,
where she was often
the red elephant in a room
full of donkeys
in varying shades of blue,
she realized that the life she was living
wasn’t a remake
Because she believed
that she wasn’t smart enough for college,
toiling away in dead-end restaurant & retail work,
soaking up life experience,
which was often greasy.
When a little bun was placed in her oven,
she found it in herself
to believe in herself
or maybe even for the first time,
for being little more than the miller’s daughter
who turned words into gold.
Her college adventure ended,
only to beget another,
but wherever her life,
the ultimate adventure,
the journey made her eventual destination
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
taking things on.
She thought she’d found that in STEM,
but it turned to be the A in STEAM.
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
into the cocoons of their homes,
their siblings their only friends;
but for the only child,
Mom & Dad
became their whole world,
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.