Monday, November 11, 2013

CANYONLANDS by Pauline Tamari

The white water rafting trip down the Colorado River from Moab was exhilarating. I couldn’t believe I was able to once more feel the thrill of being on the edge; taking a bite out of life, once again. 
It seemed at some point fate dictated a decree of disease that would imprison me in a static state of health debilitation. Prematurely old, sick, alone; an invalid, one who is not valid; whose life is not validated, who has no validity. I could not continue my life work, the work that fed my soul, my passions unattended. I could hardly care for myself; not for others, in and out of the hospitals where the lack of care and compassion was firmly correlated with the overwhelming humiliation from which there was no escape. Each time in the last quarter of a century the ferocious dragon who I had thought I had slain would raise its immortal head I was sure it would be the end. I was sure this last time I was on the only road left, a lonely and painful trek to the grave. 
But here I was back in life again, in the rage of this rushing water as we flow over rocks and ripples sprayed with a canopy of life-giving water, we wind our way down this magnificent alley sheltered on either side by the sand colored mountains. I feel my soul settle in serenity.  When the whitewater hits we steady ourselves, crouch on our fear and scream and yell as unencumbered teenagers on a rollercoaster. When taunted if anyone would want to venture a solo run in the kayak that is trailing the raft there are only two of us who take the bait, a young teen age boy on the trip and myself, the two polar ends of a life course each having an appetite for the taste.  
We would stop in late afternoon our raft pushed up on the side of the sandy, secluded river beach where we would camp for the night. There were no other beings, no other boats, and no other intrusive noises, nothing that grated the ears or distracted the eye, and caused sensory agony, nothing that did not belong there, except perhaps us. 
I would often float in the warm, soft, red muddy waters and let it wash over me at the end of the day. Stretched out, I would float with my face to the sun and just be. For me to just be in this force of this fearsome beauty that surrounded me, my body at peace, at one with me and the world around me, was heaven. I would set up my small tent quickly so I could take a solitary walk, a short hike in search for my soul and my being to become one, one with this awesome mystery that encased me. 
In actuality I was “one,” the other five on this rafting trip were a young couple and a father with two teenagers. When we met in Moab, Utah to begin this adventure, the others were a bit surprised that I, somewhat strange in age and even stranger to be a woman of my age who was doing this type of trip alone. I was quite used to both being strange and doing strange things alone. On this trip even our two river guides came as a pair. But for the most part I felt a comfortable ease with and a part of this rag tag group of river rafters. We had quickly learned to delight in each of our strangeness and our appetite and exuberance in this adventure. 
After an unusually superb dinner accomplished in some magical way over a fire by our river guides, with provisions so expertly concealed on our raft that the first day I began to think they forgot about bringing food, we would all sit around the fire, its light dancing shadows on the red rocks of the surrounding mountains. We talked, sang songs, heard old river stories and drank wine. I was surely back in life. 
Later I would lie on the sand outside my tent. I would think of the starched, scratchy sheets and the needles plunged in my arm, with oxygen in my nose to face one more night of sleepless agony in an antiseptic unfeeling sterile world. I shiver. I then look up at the stars above me, twinkling me messages of delight, the soft glow of the moon and the warm sand beneath me and I feel at peace and alive in that very same moment  as the silent song of serenity sings me to sleep.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


It feels like nothing is ever resolved.
Just when I thought that in knowing
My past more clearly, as in Bud
Actually being my biological father,
Something would be completed.

Rumors seem to have basis in fact –
At least in some fact, if not all.  That
Hearsay, that rumor, that gossip
Repeated to me by my cousin when
We were ten or eleven or nine years old

Had its basis in something, and something
In me knew this, even if what he told me
Was not true.  Yet, why would he have
Bothered to tell me?  He wanted me to
Know.  He felt compelled, on some level

Of his youthful humanity, for whatever
Unfathomable reason, that I should be
Aware of this information.  He believed
It.  And so I lived with his knowledge
Unable to do anything about it or with

It for some four decades when – just
Maybe – I was ready to find out for sure –
And for true –

Bud and I wept on the phone.  It was true.
What Carl had told me that day in the old
Boarding House, which held so many
Memories, so many stories of our roots and
Acadian history – so much of that big story

Of our ancestors – it was there on a warm
Summer’s day in one of the spare bedrooms,
Where who knows who had slept.  On that
Day he told me the rumor he had heard, so
Convincingly, and his cousin James was there

To confirm it.  Yes, it was true, it was very
True.  I have loved you all these years.  Sonorous
Regret in his voice echoes still in my mind.
Bud was my father – but he was not – nor
Would he ever be – my Dad.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I PETER 3:15? by Carol Welch

Fall, 1978.

I sat in the leadership meeting in Wisconsin. Rev. Alan Ell was running the meeting. Alan was 6th Way Corps, probably in his mid-to-late 20s.

I was 19 years old, apprentice Way Corps, and serving as a WOW Ambassador. I would be entering in-residence into the 10th Way Corps at the end of my one year of service as a WOW. WOW was an acronym that stood for Word Over the World. Word Over the World meant that our goal was to move the rightly-divided Word of God so that it would be made available to every community on earth where a person was hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

As an Ambassador for Christ I was to speak the Word in season and out of season; that is, whether I felt like it or not. I was a shining light for God, God's messenger. I had Christ in me and could perform the works of Jesus Christ and greater works. Christ's works were that of healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out devil spirits, manifesting God's power, speaking the truth in love. The greater works included getting the natural man born again of God's spirit and receiving eternal life. Jesus Christ could not do that greater work when he was on earth because he had not yet died and arisen and ascended; being born again, or more accurately "born from above," was only made available to mankind beginning at the Day of Pentecost.

As a Word Over the World Ambassador I would spiritually grow ten years in one. That's what Doctor said, "If we really want to grow, then go." That is, go WOW now.

I faithfully reviewed and recited my retemory cards, business-size cards with a King James scripture verse printed on each card. Over the decades, The Way had different packs of retemory cards: Foundational, Intermediate, Advanced, Dealing with the Adversary, Abundant Life, Word in Business, Way Corps, L.E.A.D., and more. Each pack focused on a certain Ministry class or aspect of the Word. Some cards were printed not with scripture verses, but rather with certain Ministry definitions or principles, such as the definition of "word of knowledge" or a Way Corps principle.

I sat in the leadership meeting in a believer's home in a basement in Wisconsin. It seems there were about 20 to 30 believers at the gathering, all Way lay leadership. Rev. Ell was calling on different indiviuals at random to recite whatever retemory card he wanted us to recite. Each retemory card in a pack was numbered.

Rev. Ell would say, "Number 10." We leaders were to know the card right away and state the scripture reference, recite the scripture word perfect, and give the scripture reference again. My Way Branch leader at the time, David Dubew, had admonished me to know those retemory cards in my sleep. This was eternal life and the accuracy of the Word at stake. The devil was always after the accuracy of the Word.

Rev. Ell called on one of us to recite a card. The man he called on responded with silence; he could not bring to memory the retemory.

Alan then asked the group, "Does anyone in here know the retemory?"

A momentary hush fell on the room.

I immediately jumped to my feet and bolted forth what I thought was the retemory that Rev. Ell sought.

"I Peter 3:15. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. I Peter 3:15." *??*

As I ended my retemory recitation, the pitch of my voice rose slightly like I was asking a question indicating my own self-doubt regarding my answer.

Alan responded in military tone but with a hint of smile on his lips, "Is that a question or an answer Hamby?"

I responded with a hint of a smile, "It's an answer."

He nodded his approval, his smile a bit broader.

I was Way Corps in training, an Ambassador for Christ.

"It is Written" - that was the Way Corps motto.

Friday, September 6, 2013

THE RECLINER by Maurine Netchin

Oh my God!   I bought a recliner.  
Something I vowed would never see the light of day in my home.
I am officially old.   And straight.
And I’m old and straight enough to really need a recliner.    Yes, need.  
I’ve toyed with this for a long time – years really.   But recliners are not for one-bedroom Manhattan apartments.  Recliners are not for people like me who fancy themselves as hip.  To my 40-something niece who lives in Chicago – with the rest of my family -- I am the “cool” aunt from New York City -- cool aunts do not have recliners.  Recliners are for people who watch TV, who sleep sitting up, or, as they say, reclining.  They don’t ride the subway.  They ride the bus, if need be.   
I’ve had a bad back since I was in my thirties – or even twenties, perhaps.  My thousand-section, sectional couch, which I’ve owned for about 30 years, has no really comfortable section.  That’s how I’ve managed to keep it in good shape and own it for so long – I never sit on it.  Only guests sit on it.  If they are uncomfortable, they are polite and don’t mention it.  
For years, I’ve watched TV sitting in a straight-backed dining chair with various forms of back rests inserted, or in bed, with lots of pillows propped behind me.  And all the time, I did quite well without a recliner.
The only people I knew who had recliners were my relatives who would all be octogenarians, or older, or dead, by now.   Those big, clunky, La-Z-Boy things that took up half the room.  Always covered with some horrible fabric or fake leather that looked very uninviting.   Oh yes, and my folks had a recliner too.  Not the La-Z-Boy type.  Some supposedly ergonomic, vinyl, sliding lounge chair that was almost like a bed.  It slid back and forth on a central axis – and vibrated.  If you reclined it all the way back you were looking straight up at the ceiling.  It was useless for doing anything but sleeping or mulling.  It was a putty color vinyl material that didn’t give at all.  Ugh.  My pubescent friends always sat in it because it had a vibrator.  They’d lie back, stare at the ceiling, vibrate, and stab at the fruit in the fruit bowl that my mother always put out on the table next to the chair.  She’d stick a nice fruit knife in the bowl so you could cut the fruit and was always perplexed that my teenage friends – especially the boys – stabbed the fruit instead of eating it.   Eventually, she begged my father to get rid of the chair.  It was an eyesore and it isolated you from everyone in the room, not to mention Mom’s role as the “fruit policewoman.” 
Years later, when I visited my folks, they had replaced that thing with a gigantic, rocking, swiveling, white, faux fur covered easy chair.  Not a recliner.  But with a good, sturdy back for my dad.  He planted it right in front of their huge console TV.   A selection my Dad bought when he was getting on in years and wanted to watch football while drowning out everything else – and everybody else.  It was like a cocoon: high backed, with curving wing chair sides, all covered in that same fluffy, white, synthetic fur; something even a place like Raymore and Flanagan would probably eschew.   Belonged in Las Vegas.  I was actually shocked when I saw it because it was the first really tacky-looking, Archie Bunker type furniture that I ever saw in my parents’ home.  I chalked it up to my Dad’s waning years when his sense of color and taste left him.  Once, he showed up at a family gathering wearing rust-colored, plaid slacks, a striped shirt, a powder blue sports jacket, and white patent leather loafers, and I knew that his Brooks Brothers and Florsheim shoe days were over.   
I never suspected that I might one day traverse a similar slope.  I admit only to similar, not the same.  Let’s call it Manhattan shabby chic, not Midwestern tacky.  A recliner for a former hippie, left wing, baby boomer.  A sort of pseudo-hippie.  Not a weatherman type who blew things up; just a march-on-Washington, end-the-Vietnam war type.  Mainstream for a 60’s pseudo-radical.  
So what happened?  Flash forward.  Here I am in Macy’s.  With a tape measure in hand.  Testing recliners.  Why?  Because my physical therapist says I still have time to reverse a burgeoning dowager’s hump if I get my act together.  Straighten the back; pull back the shoulders; get my head properly positioned over my spine.  And, of all things, sit up in a good, comfortable, supportive chair that reclines for reading, resting.
Alas, to help ward off a true sign of old age—dowager’s hump, mind you.  I can tolerate a lot of stuff associated with aging.  Wrinkles, jiggly thighs, saggy skin, impatience – although plastic surgery is not my thing.  It’s just a slippery slope.  Everything falls.  And falls again.   And, then again.  Gravity will always get you.   And surgery is not something I would ever do electively, anyhow.  Spent too many years defending personal injury and medical malpractice cases.
But a recliner to keep my spine straight and neutral: for this I can relent.
Three times, I went to Macy’s.  And God knows where else.  I did this last year, too, but wasn’t ready yet.  Like wearing your hair naturally grey.  This time, I sat in every “easy” chair they had there;   rockers, gliders, swivelers, recliners, loungers, chaises.   At least they had no faux fur fabric.   Vinyl, yes.   Burnt orange, avocado green -- yes.    And who was in that department with me after 8:00 p.m. during the late holiday hours that kept the store open for us nut-jobs until midnight?  A lot of over-fifty types.  Who else? 
I started small, got bigger, went back; knew that I had to limit my sights to something that could fit in my apartment.  Finally, I gave in – bought an ivory/beige, leather – yes leather – “ergonomic,” recliner; demure and tasteful; but of course.  And I went home to start rearranging all my living room furniture.  What will I discard?  Change?  Shove in my storage space – you know, the one that everything goes into and nothing ever leaves.   I spent hours rearranging; planning, mulling.  Started on that journey to make room for the goddam recliner – or shall we say – I’m not ready to be called a dowager chair.   
Next up, your guess is as good as mine.  Perhaps an ottoman?
Alas, I have finally become my father, sans football, console, and faux fur.  

The Macy’s recliner didn’t work.  Gave me back and neck strain.   Returned it, minus a restocking fee and the shipping fee.  Certainly cheaper than medical treatment.   Undaunted, I kept looking.   After many hours of sitting in chairs, tilting, sprawling, lounging, lolling, and taking countless recommendations, I ended up with something called a “stressless” recliner.   Cost a small fortune.  Imported from Norway.   Who would believe that?   When did Norwegians get into the recliner act?   But it’s comfy, cushy, and wonderful.   And it has an ottoman.   Need I say more?   



Monday, August 26, 2013

WHAT IS LOVE... by Michael Joseph

We left the perch that overlooked the amazing vista. More like we were chased off by the turkey vultures with their eight-foot wing span and clawed feet. In anger and silence my wife walking marriage distance from me.

You see, there are distances I measure by relationships. First date distance is an uncomfortable closeness, unsure of each other. Six month relationship where the couple locks arms around their backs, leaving no room for separation. A year, where you hold hands together. And marriage distance where couples walk seeing each other, but plenty of space between them. So we were in marriage distance plus room for our anger. Her anger at me and my anger that she is angry at me.

We continued to hike through the trees knowing that conversation was not an option. Although looking back, her Brooklyn strut was adorable. My pouting did not allow me to enjoy this, because I was committed to being more upset than she.

We hiked. When you hike there are hills. If hills are what made her mad, well I’ll show her and be more mad.

Breaking our bond of silent aggressive warfare was a rustling of leaves and sticks in the not so distant trees. The sound was of a beast running. We stopped. My son was on my back in a carrying pack. We stopped and the sound got louder and faster, faster and louder and louder. Then we saw it. One of God’s creatures. A majestic stag. It was old and looked wise with large horns, six or more points on each side. A rack that took a lifetime to grow.

When he reached five to ten feet from us, he stopped. He stared. It was a curious stare. His look was a mirror of our puzzlement and curiosity. The stare lasted twenty or so seconds, but a long twenty. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi, six Mississippi, seven Mississippi, eight Mississippi. You get the idea.

I reached for my camera that was on my belt in a case closed by a strip of velcro. The sound of the velcro echoed in the woods. He vanished, vanished like water down the drain. Returning to his mystical existence.

My wife broke our silence with a question, “Who is he running from? What was chasing him?”

I dismissed her question with a roll of my eyes, saying to her with my face, an attitude of that’s as stupid as asking to go on a hike that has no hills, but she was right. We both knew animals don’t run unless they are being chased or chasing something. But before fear and strategy to protect my family came in, I celebrated. Celebrated  my little victory. She broke our silence first. I could stay mad longer, thus maybe she would apologize for ruining our Sabbath hike.

Those were her last words for awhile.

My heart was pumping and my head on a swivel because she was right. There could be danger beyond the trees. Looking and on the alert for the largest beast that lives in these woods. A black bear.

After two miles of trekking, we came across a lean-to. We stop to share some water and have our last smoke together. Posted on the walls and throughout the camp grounds were signs warning of bears in the area. We both knew this, but did not acknowledge it. I said, “Ok, let’s go.” Hoping she would not process the dozen or so signs.

My son, who was now walking, stopped at every watering hole. There were many. Fascinated by the tadpoles and frogs, his enthusiasm and curiosity was annoying and slowing our pace to a crank.

Our silence, marriage distance, utter despair for each other had grown to where we’re not even looking at each other now.

I placed my kid in the pack and started to forward march back towards our house. There was only about ten minutes of woods left before we would be back at the end of our block. That is when she saw it and said, “Is that a bear?”

Somehow she used her grandfather’s shaman powers and quickly placed herself behind me, using me as a human shield. Then I saw it. Softly I said, “Yes, it’s a bear.”

It was about a 100 feet from us, moving left to right across the trail, which was turning to the left. I quickly calculated if I needed to, could I fight it. It wasn’t big really. And growing up I got into some fights, enough of them to know I didn’t like to fight. It really hurts to get punched in your face or punch someone. Your hand stings for days. But I knew I had a shot.

The bear continued on its path and went across the trail into the woods. About five seconds later -- one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi -- there she was. Mama Bear. She looked 500lbs of beast.

I started clapping and shouting, because that is what the book says when you see a bear. Make noise. My three-year old son was having a blast, clapping with me, yelling and laughing away. The bear turned her head and looked right down the trail at me. She looked pissed. I picked up a nearby stick and tried to make myself look bigger and more threatening. My legs were shaking.

Then she took off on the trail, directly towards us. Her hind legs pushing and her forward legs reaching, stretching, pulling, the middle of her body acting as some sort of leverage, gear. The front of her body twisted one way, while the back of her body twisted the other. With each thrust and turn she increased velocity until when she was just ten-fifteen feet in front of me, my wife and child, she stopped.

She stopped short and kicked up the loose dirt and rocks, making a cloud of dirt. Then she disappeared into the trees, into the mystical world of existence.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

ANSWER by Cheryl Corson

On Christmas Eve, the Capitol Hill pot luck group I’ve been part of for twelve years had Secret Santa after dinner. The wrapped gifts were as usual, gender neutral, food-related, and cost no more than twenty dollars. We all picked numbers from a basket and did the gifts with dessert.

This year, you could take someone else’s opened gift from them instead of opening a wrapped one. But a popular gift could only be stolen three times. I think the limit came about after a pair of triple bladed herb scissors kept getting stolen the year before.

This year, Laurie Siegel and I swapped the gifts we got. Mine was a copy of a political humor book that was recycled from the previous year’s Secret Santa. I recognized it as being the one my husband had contributed at the time. Laurie had a gift bag from South Carolina that included a stainless steel wine opener, a set of round cork coasters with black line drawings of old fashioned bicycles on them, and a jar of pineapple and hot pepper jelly made in South Carolina. Laurie said her husband Alan would like the book, and I thought my husband would like the corkscrew. So we traded and no one stole our stuff during the rest of the game.

I do like the corkscrew and the jelly is still half-full in the fridge. The coasters might be okay for the Maine house. But answer this: how can the jelly still be in the refrigerator but Laurie is dead? How can you not outlive your edible Secret Santa gift?

Surely there’s some mistake, like that jelly is ten years, not seven months old, or Death will wait politely, sitting with legs crossed in the hallway, hat in hand, maybe flipping through a back issue of People Magazine while his intended visitor goes about finishing all that is left undone.

All the yarn in the cabinet that has not already been eaten by moths is woven into scarves and rugs and knitted into sweaters. All the handwritten notebook pages are digitized and patched into one or more complete memoirs. The tear in the green flannel sheet is neatly stitched back together. Old family photographs are labeled. 

The brother and sister finally talk about what it was like growing up with that mother and that father, and how it came to be that their paths diverged while still bearing the indelible thumbprint of their street address and apartment number. The husband and wife let go of their hurt feelings and weep for each other’s early and great pain. Then kiss. 

Death starts tapping his foot on the hallway floor.

The wife sends out one last Facebook post to 250 people near and far: I loved being in the sixth grade with you; in high school with you; in bed with you; in business with you. I loved the sound of your voice. I loved laughing until our stomachs hurt.

Death stands, impatient, “Leave the fucking jelly, it’s time to go,” he says.

Monday, July 29, 2013

BACK TO BALTIMORE by Victoria Hall

I arrived at the B&B on East West Street in the heart of Federal Hill, weary from the 12- hour drive up from Atlanta, filled with trepidation. I thought how apropos that even the bi-directional name of the street accurately proclaimed the state of my bi-polar, biochemically confused, bi-directional life.

I knocked on the door of the red brick 14' wide Baltimore row house, on the narrow cobble-stoned street wide enough for passing horse drawn carriages and not so much for my white stallion of a SUV. The proprietor opened the door. Her heavily creased, sun-worn skin, the sound of her whiskey-soaked, cigarette-raspy voice was so comforting. That and her "Baltimorese" was, well,  just perfect. I was at once home.

She took me on a tour of the 3 crowded stories – not the top floor, that was her private quarters. The thick dark red carpet, a cacophony of Tiffany chandeliers, floor lamps along with the many pieces of Victorian chairs, chaises and love seats, immediately claustrophobic, gave the feel of an antique store. The only things missing were the price tags.

The proud owner stopped for a moment in front of what was clearly her "piece-de-resistance,” a walled glass encasement of her very own collection of Martini glasses. Some chipped, some, I swear, with a hint of hot pink lipstick still on the rims. "They are from all over the world," she announced with such astonishment, as if they had somehow magically appeared one-by-one over the years without any participation on her part. By the look of her face, there probably weren't many short- or long-term memory cells left in her brain and the glasses were the result of one too many brown- or black-outs, from one too many Martinis.

A book about the various types of Martinis one could concoct, on the table of the second floor landing that I would be using, seemed to accurately describe my hostess's life, "Stirred Not Shaken.”

The tour continued, with great detail about how to prepare the coffee, what setting to leave the air-conditioning on, how to run the dishwasher. It just so happened that she was leaving to spend the entire month "down de-Oshean," on the Eastern Shore of  Ocean City where I'd spent every summer as a child with my family. If you were from New York or Jersey you went "to da shore," or if from DC "to the beach," but if you were from "Balamer, Murlin" Hon, you went "down de-Oshean.”

And so trustingly she gave me the entire B&B to myself and seemed to be puzzled by why a girl who lived in Atlanta would what to spend the most miserable month of the year, when everyone was vacationing, escaping, as far away as they could, in Baltimore.

There had been books written about her's, that very South Baltimore twangy dialect that actors would try to imitate unsuccessfully in films. A sort of half-Irish and British Cockney, lower Bowery, with many long "O's.” I loved listening to her masterful command of it. "How bout them O's!" she proclaimed as if she was reading my mind.

Linguists and scholars have tried without success to determine the derivation of "Baltimorese.” "You like baseball?” she asked. “Yeh know, the "Oryuls" Stadium is right down the street, yeh can even walk to it!" she said, and then paused as if she'd just calculated that she should have charged me more than the $1200 for the month due to this incredibly close proximity. Then shook her head and continued my tour.

She also seemed to be in a sort of time warp, forgetting that the by-gone Memorial Stadium had been replaced for the past decade with the Wrigley Field-like - covered in brick and ivy - Camden Yards. Still, I loved the Orioles and thought this was a nice bonus.

I had not inherited the language of my home town, but instead sounded like my mom who had been raised in the horse country of Western Maryland with a more gentle, softer "Proper English" dialect according to  my British friends, now with a hint of Southern, as my Yankee friends duly noted. My dad and brothers, however, had it down pat.

She continued, "Here's yur baffroom and make sure yea don't put anything down the "zink,”  it'll ghet stopped up end be jest "harble" to clean out.” 

What I didn't tell her was that I actually had returned home for the first time in many years. It was August of 1999. I felt like a sort of Rip Van Winkle who had awakened from a 17-year slumber and that I was kind of having a "harble" time of it myself. And that Federal Hill on the Inner Harbor was where I was hoping to reboot my life, where my hiatus would begin.

The new Millennium was approaching at mock speed, with forecasts of Apocalyptic, Armageddon, Y-2 K mayhem and end of times madness loomed. I was plagued with an all-consuming, couldn't quiet the voices, desire, longing, visceral need to come home!

Home to the place that I had left so many years ago, home even if it was for just one solitary month, home to do what I knew I was supposed to be doing, something I did in my head every day, something that was so compelling, something that left me feeling empty, tortured because I wasn't doing it, home to write.

Friday, July 26, 2013

SECRETS by Debra F.

It was early summer of 1960 and I would be 12 in September. Still a tomboy who loved to ride my bike, sit up in the tree fort I built myself with some saltine crackers, carrot sticks and my current book, probably Nancy Drew, or the Black Stallion, or one by Albert Payson Terhune, about dogs.

It was the summer that one day after my father came home from work as an office manager in a salt and chemical business he had a gift for me. A real transistor radio! Left behind in the desk drawer of a young man who had been working there. A young man who fled to Canada rather than go into the Army. My parents were both Army veterans and couldn’t quite understand his actions. For most of my childhood we didn’t have a TV, so I didn’t know about the war our country would soon be involved in, or much else of the world, unless it was in the Weekly Reader.

But, the radio! I felt so lucky to have my own radio. Every night I lay in bed, finally in my own room, just that year, a small, sloped part of the attic that my father had insulated, put up wallboard and painted. My own room, although the first moments in that room were those of anger. My sister, Jennifer, had hidden under the bed and when I fell to my knees and full of emotion, said out loud something like: “Thank you, thank you, finally I have a room of my own,” she started to giggle. I was furious and drug her out and screamed at her never to come in my room again. And, she didn’t.

Every night I listened to my radio, crying along with the tragic love songs like Teen Angel and Running Bear or dreaming of boys who might someday love me and who I might someday love. The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, the Drifters, Dion. I was full of yearning and deep passions, all of course, that I kept secret, even from my brother, who was my best friend.

My family was Mormon. My father, the hold-out and the parent I loved most, had recently gotten baptized. I felt it a sort of betrayal, because I did not like this church and I was “with him” in not embracing it. My mother however, was immersed in her beliefs and very serious about them. Even with 4 children, no dryer or dishwasher, a very small house with long red curtains made from Nazi flags, minus the swastikas, she did service for the Missionaries.

The Missionaries were young men around the ages of 19 to 21 who came in pairs, usually from Utah to convince other people to be Mormons. They were often invited to Sunday dinner and my mother washed and ironed the white dress shirts that they had to wear while out trolling for new Mormons. Many times, about the only thing in our refrigerator was a huge bundle of damp shirts rolled up in a cloth and waiting for ironing. I did learn to iron properly, watching her and listening to her instructions about collar first, then the shoulder area, front panels, or was it sleeves next and how to do the cuffs on both sides, and then the back.

On this particular Sunday, we had a TV. Someone in church must have bought a new one and gave our parents their old set. The missionaries were there for dinner. One of them was Elder Andrus and I liked him. He was handsome and friendly and I felt drawn to be around him. There was a movie on that the entire family was going to watch with the missionaries. Probably a Biblical story.

I felt very lucky to get to sit in the dark on the floor, leaning against the sofa, because Elder Andrus sat right next to me. Before long, I was amazed and happy to feel Elder Andrus touch my arm in a very soft and thrilling way. For the entire movie, he touched me, very gently, moving up and down my right arm to my shoulder, to a bit under the sleeve area of my sleeveless top. And also he stroked my upper right leg and a bit under the rim of my shorts. It felt wonderful. Better than when we kids would get our father to tickle our backs!

I couldn’t believe this was happening but I was not thinking so much as feeling and probably is why I have no idea what movie was on. I felt euphoric, like I was floating. The movie ended and the lights went on. Elder Andrus moved away at the same time. But, I was still happy and feeling full of all the attention and connection I had just received.

Everyone was soon dispersing. Elder Andrus moved in close to whisper something to me. Shy and excited I leaned in to hear what he would say to me. “Nice girls do not let men touch them like that. “

Shame, shock and disbelief roll over me. I tell no one. The best I can do is every time I see Elder Andrus is to look at him with the purest hate I can muster. And it is huge. I can tell he feels it and I hope it will kill him. Even after he leaves to go find new Mormons in another area or go home to Utah, my mother speaks of how much she misses him, how inspirational he was. And I know she would not believe me and I know not to tell. Thirty-some years later I notice she still gets Christmas cards from this pervert, who is married and probably a grandfather by now, or considering Utah, a great-grandfather. I fantasize about sending my own Christmas card. I mention the incident to my mother when noticing one of these cards. She tells me I must have been mistaken. I drop the subject. To this day there is no arguing with my mother’s reality, which has no room for anyone else’s, especially mine. The black sheep. The One who left the church.

Monday, July 22, 2013

SECRETS by Merryman Cassels

“How are you like a tree? Do you have arms to reach out and grab something yummy, like the tree has branches to reach out to the sun?”

“Do you have feet that keep you firmly planted on the ground, like a tree has roots that keep it firmly planted?”

Does blood flow throughout your body carrying nutrients as the sap travels through the tree?  You are very much like a tree!”

Tiny, second grade eyes sat criss-cross applesauce and always stared up with awe at Miss Twiggy the Talking Tree as she shared how we couldn’t live without trees!  Even photosynthesis, when Miss Twiggy explained it, made good sense. Recycling, too!

Miss Twiggy’s costume was the most elegant tree suit you could imagine, a burqua of soft stretchy brown velvet with green felt leaves, roots that dragged behind as she walked, and pockets filled with every imaginable animal that might live in or food that could come from a tree. Miss Twiggy, like any proper hardwood, never left the house without a bird’s nest perched atop her head.

Close to the end of the program, when Miss Twiggy would ask her future young environmentalists if they would like to reach into one of her pockets, they would line up reverently and dart a hand into Miss Twiggy’s pocket to retrieve their jackpot of nature. Each year at the Christmas Parade, Miss Twiggy would march down Franklin Avenue, only a few feet in front of Santa himself. “Miss Twiggy, Miss Twiggy! Remember me,”  the children would call out.

For eight years, I was Miss Twiggy the Talking Tree and educated every second grader in Gaston County about trees. At first, I would go to the classrooms with my baby Foard in his carseat, never doubting for one second that he would sit quietly and be every bit as mesmerized as every other child. But, as the years passed, sometimes, Miss Twiggy would have a little first only occasionally, then pretty regularly.

Drinking a bottle of wine a night will do that to a tree. At first, it was just fun, friends gathering with their kids to swim and for dinner, but Brett didn’t like people in his house and didn’t want to spend his money entertaining them. He was a doctor, and I needed to respect that. So as nights with friends began to dwindle, I still enjoyed some of that fun with a bottle.

Brett would always angrily demand I go to bed exactly when he did and perform my wifely duty every night. Wine helped me turn it into a game, “O.K. Big fellow, what’s it going to be tonight?  A, B, or C - Handjob, blowjob, or sex.”  After the ABC’s, Brett would begin snoring, and I would sneak back downstairs, drink more wine, and create ornate birthday party invitations or valentines for my children to give.

As the children got older, I got stronger. I didn’t want Bess or Foard to see me so marginalized. Brett would say he’d be home and want supper at seven, then he’d show up at eight. If the children had already been fed, he’d be furious. When we’d all wait and sit down together, he’d throw down his fork in disgust. “Pigslop!”   A glass or two of wine while cooking dinner, created a lovely haze to laugh off silly daddy and usher the wizening not so little ones off to bed.

Mornings became unbearable, as well. Brett would get up at 5:45, turn on every light, bang around the room, slam into the shower, and then scream for a fresh towel. I started running the golf course at 5:30 am, and would return 45 minutes later, peaking from behind the holly hedge, to be sure he was leaving so I could slip inside as he pulled out of the driveway.

As the years progressed, I managed to drink well and live well. Most would be surprised to even know I had a problem. But, when I went to my husband the spring before I discovered his affair and asked for help, he looked at me in disgust and said, “You are so self-centered. It’s all about you isn’t it?  Everyone enjoys a glass of wine.”  Then he surprised me with a case of wine the next night.

When I discovered Brett’s affair, and the verbal and sometimes physical abuse set in good, five o’clock couldn’t come soon enough. The night I truly began to plan my escape, was a night I cooked a nice supper while sipping wine. Brett was late, and when we sat down, I was stunned to discover, I couldn’t speak. But, I could slur very well. Brett barked at my children, “Look at your mother. She is a pathetic drunk. This is why I had to have an affair.”

Recovery has been a rocky but fertile path. I have been gifted with so many truths and visions along the way. On a recent meditative journey, an oak leaf landed in my hand. I asked the little leaf, why did you come to me?  She said, “Because you are like an oak tree. When there is too much wine, you have shallow roots and are easily toppled.”  I remembered the 150 year old oak that had fallen during heavy rains the summer before. It landed perfectly between my neighbor’s house and my own. The the leaf told me, “When you are strong and your life is balanced, you have deep roots and cannot be toppled.”  I saw myself as a prayerful light rising up through the tree and shooting out of my branches to the sun, and I saw my roots growing deep into the earth. “Thank you wise, little oak leaf.”

I am a tree.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Excerpt from MY SAILOR by Susan Micari

I had come to London in 1972, with the thought of losing my virginity at 19, a long wait I’d had of it too. My comrades gay or otherwise engaged, and nothing ever seemed to come of my come and get it attitude.  Now I was in Italy, Genova, to be exact, waiting for the ocean liner I was supposed to take to NY but which was in dry dock, busted.  I’d taken a train to the center of town and wanted a place to stay.

I looked around for a bar where I could have an espresso and think.  Of course there was one on the corner, open, gleaming with marble and I began to ask in halting Italian if there was a hostel for girls anywhere around.  The waitress behind the counter said, “Si, un hospitale per le raggazze.  Santa Maria Stella di Mare.” And she drew me a map. Meglio e meglio!

I hobbled across the piazza dragging my pink suitcase over the cobblestones, and found the place, guarded by stern nuns. 

The nuns showed me to a cot in a room full of Italian girls who were in their underwear, playing records and lounging around in curlers, talking about home or about boys. They were all virgins too, I hoped, and their parents had them here while they worked as secretaries, and sent money home. There was time to explore the city that day, but the girls warned me that the nuns locked the doors at ten.  I decided to explore the town a little bit, and went out walking, climbing high in the hills to see the top of the ancient city.  Walls so old and colored, such I thought as didn’t exist in America, set there before my country existed, before my ancestors were born in Sicily.  A city as old as time, it seemed.

What I noticed very quickly was a tall, blond, handsome, muscular man with a charming mustache who smiled at me when I looked at him.  "Who are you?" he asked, and I told him about my year in London, my longed for acting career.  
"Come," he said, "I will show you the city and you will be my mascot.  See here?  This is the picture of my girlfriend in South Africa. No don't look at that picture, see this one."  He quickly hid a photo of a girl with naked breasts and showed one of the girl and him hugging.  "She loved me, I was there a long time.  Now I work again. I am first mate on a big ship.  I have five languages.  I am a big man, from Yugoslavia!"  He smiled again.  "I will entertain you!"  

And he walked with me all over town, fed me, met up with other sailors he knew. "Look at this girl.  She is an American.  She wants to be in movies.  My mascot.  We look after her."  And they all drank coffee together, and the men bought me sambucca and anisette and many rounds of drinks.  I trusted the sailor: he was built just like my grandfather in all his old boxing pictures.  I didn’t think he would harm me.  I had no strength left to fight if he did.

I didn't touch any of it.  "I don't drink," I said, and the men were amused.  They tried to get me to take the liquor in my coffee but I made such a face that they all laughed again and drank my rounds for me.  

"I walk you to the nuns, and you rest.  Tonight, I will take you to see the town." He wrapped his arms around me.  "I am on leave now," he whispered, and the rough blond stubble on his face tickled me and made me instantly wet.  He studied my face, "I see you.  You have very pretty lips, pretty girl.  Nice to kiss you now, I think."  His kiss was so soft, and it tickled, and I loved the way his face was so angular and weathered, yet his kiss was so tender.  "How old you are?" he asked. 

"Nineteen, twenty soon, really soon."

"Ah, I am 29. I am long time a man."  

That night he called for me at the hostel, took me to the waterfront, to the New York Bar.  It was under the ruined walls of the ancient fort that faced the bay of Genova.  Leaning against the sides of the wall were women, fantastic women in kilts, in gowns, in bathing suits.  All leaning languorously against the ancient stonework. "Who are they?" I asked. The handsome sailor laughed but didn't answer.  Inside the bar was dark and there was a dance floor already filled with people.  He ordered champagne.  A woman came forward in a low cut gown with the bottle and poured us two glasses. The sailor tasted it and spit it out.  

"Watered!" he growled. "Bring better."  He stood up menacingly and the woman retreated.  Better wine appeared.  I was watching the dancers.  They were strangely tall, muscular, feminine, made up...

"Look," I said, pulling on the sailor's arm, "What's wrong with them?"  The sailor looked up. 

"Transvestites, Jesus Christ," he said sternly.  

"Oh, like Lindsay Kemp?"   I offered the name of a famous drag actor in London I’d seen.

"Who?  Never mind, let's go."  And the sailor threw bills on the table and took me on to the next place.  

"This one is very classy," he said.  It was a private lounge somewhere in the hills, up a private elevator.  Everything was white and sleek, and there were many people, in elegant clothing, draped over sofas and sipping cocktails. 

"Have something," he urged.  

"I don't drink." 

“You must try anisette, then.”
"All right."  The sailor looked lost for a moment as I made a face at the coffee beans floating in my drink.  “This is disgusting,” I said.  “What is there to do here?”  

His face softened, and he smiled, shaking his head.  "I will take you to the nuns for the night."  He took me back to the convent in a taxi that went directly to the gate, no funny business, but the door was locked.  

"It's eleven! Oh, I'm locked out," I tried swearing.  The sailor looked aghast.

"It's ok. You stay with me.  You will be safe."  

So the sailor took me to his hotel, and gave me his toothbrush and a big shirt to sleep in.  I reached inside my bag when he was in the bathroom, and rummaged around for my condoms, moving them on top of all the junk in my bag so I could reach for them if, when, if...

"Hey," the sailor shouted, returning to the room as he wiped shaving cream off his face, "I saw you.  What did you put in your bag? You stole my money, you little puttana?" 

"What? No!  Those are my, my..these!" I reached into the bag and pulled out the box of condoms.  And then I was frightened, "Aiuta mi!" I cried loudly, "Aiuta mi!"  The sailor fell on his bed, laughing until he had tears in his eyes.  "What's so funny, you big ape!" I stared at him.  

"You said, 'Vieni qui, vieni qui!' Ha, ha, haaa! You said, 'Come here!"  The sailor wiped his eyes.  "I can do it to you, you know," he leaned toward me.

"I know you can do it you big ape, but you better not because I’ll hit you right in the nuts, BECAUSE I want to go home!"  

"No," he said, "I said I canna do it, I cannot hurt you."  

"Oh," I said, "Well I still want to go home."  

"Please stay," he said.  "I just got out of jail..I..I am afraid of the dark."  I looked at him in wonder.  "I am afraid of the dark.  Could you, just stay, hold my hand?"  And I did.  I sat fully clothed on the floor, holding the big sailor's hand.  Something hurt badly, and so I cried.  

“What is it, cara?” he said. “You are afraid of me?”

‘Yes,’ I thought,  ‘but, see, I’m a virgin, and.. and…when I was 16, a man I worked with, he scared me..he hurt me…in his car.  I try to be brave all the time, and I want to make love someday, but I just can’t.  Nothing is going to be all right, is it?  It will always be a big mess like this.’  I thought again, ‘I’m tired.  I’m tired.  I can’t be brave any more…I quit the church and I hate all the boys at school, and I can’t understand what everyone is talking about anyway.  Sex with boys looks just awful to me…I loved only a girl.’

What I said was, “I hate my mother!”  Who hadn’t protected me, who had blamed my beauty and sensuality for the attack.  Who wanted me to think she was ungainly, unredeemable, who hated me.

“All right, baby, no one will hurt you while I am here. I will hate your mama, too.”  And he went to sleep holding my hand.   

I watched him sleep, so handsome, so handsome... He cried out once in his sleep, so I stroked his forehead, and whispered, “Shhh.”   At dawn I got up, and he watched me sadly as I stretched and got ready to go back to the nuns. "Goodbye," I said.  He stared at me from big blue deep haunted eyes.  I was still a virgin.  I was exhausted.