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.

Friday, July 19, 2013

WHAT IS NOT THERE? by Hans B. Hallundbaek

My childhood is what is not there.
I had a childhood of course, we all did. But I have spent most of my life running away from it, faster and faster the older I got; like seeking the pot of gold at the end of the ever escaping rainbow.

If twenty years ago you had asked me about my childhood, I would have tried to convince you that it was great, just like I had succeeded convincing myself.

But one day in a silent retreat at Mohonk Mountain House mediating and reminiscing I finally realized in a flash that I had a lousy childhood.

I was born in the height of the depression of the thirties on the flat, poor, windswept west coast of far away Denmark. A typical weather forecast would say: Tomorrow rain all day, possibly interrupted by heavy showers. I do not recall that we had umbrellas in those days, so I guess we just got wet.

But of course the weather was only a small part of the issue. We were occupied for five years by the Nazis, who had decided to build the largest military airport five miles east of our house. That was not a problem until the allied forces three years into the war got their act together and with much determination bombed the airport with scheduled regularity, first by the cover of night and later in day time raids.

They would come in from the west over our house on the way to the airfield. Brigades of flying fortresses B-19 or was it B-23’s, cruising in tight formation at 15.000 feet on their way to the target. Five minutes later these flying bird-machines would lay their strings of eggs over the airfield. They would drop from the opened bomb bay and they would whine demonically as they hurled towards their targets. There in rapid succession they would explode with large thumps. The vibrations shook the ground for miles and reached all the way to our house where we huddled in the basement. I was five and I was scared. My parents prayed and tried to comfort me as I struggled to be brave.

In retrospect the bombing raids, were not the worst part of my childhood, for I was told the Americans were there to liberate us.

The worst part was that I was convinced I was a mistake. Technically I was, for I was born the youngest of four children, and 9 years after my next sibling, when my parents were in their forties.

This meant that they must have had sex at that ripe old age of forty, which was not well thought of in a old fashioned Lutheran church community where each Sunday morning the priest assured ignorant poor farmers and children alike that they were born sinners heading  straight to hell unless we were washed in the blood of Christ.

I do not know how the others took that idea, but for me it was a disgusting thought and the supposed light of Christ’s love never illuminated my childhood darkness.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


"Massah Kaplan! You gots to learn to take what you can git when you can git it!" the nurse told the swaddled newborn as she carted him back to the baby ward in his bassinette, unfed. My son, even then, seemed disappointed in his mother, gazing off into the distance, refusing eye-contact, wailing through his diaper change, and lastly refusing my proffered breast. 

That is the scene I see behind yesterday's, when our son turned thirty-one. Happy Birthday, Abram, my shining, July 4th sparkster! 

My husband had gone to the train station to pick him up, when I noticed the long awaited download of Abram's first song album had arrived via email. I wanted to hear the new songs during this brief alone time. As the song list appeared on the screen, I felt I was witnessing a birth, three years in gestation. We'd paid thousands of dollars in "doctors' bills" - the engineers' fees, the audio time, the producer, the album cover and the mastering. Now I was pushing a button to access my new grandchild - this long-promised ten song album, untitled, but with "Izaac" on the cover, after our son's middle name.

Song after song, Abram's breathy Tom Waitz/Captain Beefheart-meets-Regina-Spector voice sent rays of recognition and pain radiating through me - cut #3 - "Bourbon and Cocaine" describes blow by blow (excuse the pun) how to process cocaine on a mirrored surface and snort it off a sex partner's intimate parts. Cut #1 - "Grown-ass Little Boy" points the finger at his father for not having taught him how to be a man. Cut #10 is the cruelest cut of all: "Lampshade Blues" equates being sent away to a program for drug-abusing teens with our ancestors having been deported to death camps in WW II Europe. He might as well have titled the album: How to kill your parents in ten easy pieces.

The dog barked, announcing Abram's arrival, and I quickly shut down the computer. He couldn't help noticing the look on my face as I got up to hug him and wish him a Happy Birthday. 

"Mom! I'm an artist and a writer, and all I was trying to do was craft a good song. Don't take it as autobiography - It's not about me!"

"My dad wasn't there, but he taught me to hustle"
"My mom was so sensitive she sent me away, but she taught me to feel, to feel, to feel...." These snatches of
syncopated, sock-it-to-me sorrowful irony swelled and reverberated like sloshing water on my brain.

"Oh, Mom! Were you listening to it on the computer? You should get Dad to play it for you on the good stereo speakers." 

"Oh, I will!" I promise. "Congratulations, Abram. I hope you get a lot of great feedback. Your voice is unique.
I've never heard anything like it!" I say what is true, in bright tones that I hope mask the tough time I am having.

At dinner that evening I order lollipop lamb chops, medium rare. The family converses. Later, I look at my plate and at the prone carcasses spooning against one another there. Bits of pink flesh are still attached to the bones. I can't remember picking them up, tearing at the flesh with my teeth or the satisfaction of chewing and swallowing the meat. I only know I'm still hungry, aching for a sweet desert.

"To feel, to feel, to feel.... She taught me to..."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

SECRETS by Dan Martin

Everything about Lisa had to be a secret, where we met (at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica) and that at the end of the week we exchanged email addresses, and that  she even gave me her home address so I could send her my book, which I addressed formally  to “Mrs. Lisa Velarde,” and wrote:  “Dear Mrs. Valarde”  and a few inane lines like “It was a pleasure meeting you…and I hope you like my little book”  above my signature on the inside cover, in case her husband opened the package.

And that she had recommended a book to me, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, an amazing memoir detailing the author’s harrowing childhood, which seemed to mirror Lisa’s own life, abandoned at an early age by a borderline psychotic mother who was in and out of mental hospitals and finally died when she was 10, and a more or less sane but inappropriate and narcissistic father who once hit on one of her friends in high school.

And that after that we exchanged phone numbers and began texting each other, first once in a while and then nearly very day, and that we then we started calling each other, first just to say hi, and then the calls began to stretch out to 10, 20, 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, before the phone would suddenly go dead, which meant that her always suspicious husband Lou had come home.

And that I started to live for those calls and texts and emails. And that maybe she did too.

Everything had to be a secret because there was something about her and me and the two of us together, even though we were 3000 miles apart, she in LA, and me on the east coast, sitting in a bar one night telling her things I’d never told anyone, about my son who was struggling again in life like he had growing up, unable to fit in in high school, how I’d come home from work hoping he wouldn’t be there, cause that would mean he had finally been invited to a party and wouldn’t have to spend another sad, lonely Friday night with me.

And she understood, maybe because of her own 10 year old son who had a rare bone disease and was in and out of the hospital. But to me it was cosmic, synchronistic, my own private late-in-life miracle: “Where have you been all my life?” I said into my cell phone, really meaning it, and then I said it again cause she hadn’t responded. Whether she hadn’t  heard me or was just speechless at the trite absurdity of my words, I didn’t know. But I repeated them anyway. And then she did respond, with what sounded like an embarrassed laugh, but I didn’t care cause she’d  been saying things like that to me too, about our special connection and how we’d always be part of each other’s lives no matter what. And I had believed her.

But  it turned out that Lou had been monitoring her texts and phone calls and emails from the beginning, even had seen the video she’d made the night we all went out together in Costa Rica, and I was in it. And even though there was nothing intimate going on between me and Lisa on the video, just my presence had sent him over the edge.

She called me on a Saturday night, and left a message to call her the next day, and when I did Lou answered the phone and I knew all at once that my job was to convince him that it had all been innocent , that we were just friends, sharing books and family stories, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job, talking about our kids and our families, and telling him that I was going through a divorce and that he was a lucky man to have such a beautiful woman like Lisa who loved him so much.

That last part was a mistake, I knew it as the words came out of my mouth , knew that he would take it the wrong, or the right, way, knew that he would see that it hadn’t all been so innocent, and not just what had gone on on the beach on the last night in Costa Rica, but more important all that had happened since, that I was attached to his wife in a way I shouldn’t have been, but couldn’t help being.

She texted me later that day, a cryptic message, that had always been her style, “I’m in for 72 hour observation,” was all it said. Turned out that after I had hung up the phone with Lou they’d had a big fight which got physical, and he had tried to throw her out of the house and  she had run up to her room and locked herself in. And he had called the police, told them she was suicidal and had locked herself in her room with dozens of bottles of pills, powerful narcotics she was taking for depression and anxiety. So she had been dragged out of the house by the police and involuntarily committed.

A few days later she sent me a text saying that she and Lou and her therapist had all agreed that she should cut off all contact with me. Didn’t even say goodbye cause I guess Lou was monitoring her messages. That was pretty much the end though we did secretly text and email each other once in a while over the next several months, until I got an angry email from her saying to never ever contact her again.

Way back in the beginning Lisa had sent me a birthday present, a “lovely,” that was her favorite word, that she said in her lazy California accent that got to me each time I heard her speak. It was a soft tan leather bound journal, that she’d found in a catalog in England and had sent to me at home cause I told her that my wife never ever got the mail.

I had just got out of Court. I hate going to Court, hate wearing suits, and I always try to settle all my cases in part I think, though it sounds stupid, so I don’t have to go to Court. But this time I’d had to go, it was an unsettleable family Court Matter, about custody and visitation for my sweet but dim client. We did well in Court and I was wanting to share my triumph with someone, so I called home, and my wife answered the phone and I said, like I always did: “What are you doing?”

And she said, “I’m opening a present from your girlfriend Lisa.” Said it just like that, with no emotion, the way she was about everything, so I didn’t know then, and don’t know now, though we discussed it several times afterwards, whether she was mad or sad or indifferent about the fact that Lisa had sent me a present, with a little card inside that said, “I love you….Lisa”, didn’t know what my wife really thought cause we had been living apart emotionally for a long time.

And buried under the tissue paper inside the box was a bigger greeting card size card, that explained and expressed Lisa’s  love in ways no one had ever done before, told me things about myself, wonderful things no one had ever said to me, things I had always hoped were true, thought might be true, but didn’t really think were true, cause no one had ever said them to me before.

I don’t know if my wife found or read what Lisa wrote on the bigger card.

That was the real secret. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

OUR TIME IS SHORT by Ernie Welch

"Et in Arcadia Ego." - Guercino, c. 1620
Not all roads lead to the cemetery.  Some folks are lost at sea, others consumed in fires, or they just walk out the door one morning never to be seen again.  Some though have their feet planted definitively on the graveyard path.  As obvious and natural as this journey may seem, it may be veiled with fear, ignorance and secrecy. 
I like the specter of death.  By that I mean the classic image of a hooded skeleton with scythe and hourglass shadowing our every move. We all cast a shadow.  Here is one that requires no sunlight.  One need only to establish an intimate love and it will shadow that love.  And like a dress-up doll it comes with a variety of costumes.  For example, it can look like two doctors come with bad news.  "The cancer and fungal infection will run their course soon.  There is no more treatment, we've come to tell him we're sending him home."
Now I've never been one smart enough to shirk responsibility.  It was my place to deliver the news.  I told the doctors I would speak to him.  "Time to go home, buddy.  We're done here at the hospital."  When he spiked a fever a few days before he died, his mother wanted him back in.  The script on this was written and rehearsed.  He would die at home.
The closing act was a waiting game for his mom and me.  That week OJ's Bronco went rolling by on the screen.  I was going to work, while Hospice sat with him during the day.  I was, and am, so trapped by my job, for reasons different then from now.  I couldn't tell anyone at work my partner was home dying of AIDS.  I had to teach classes and act as if all was fine.  He drew his last breath with his mother at his side.  I was a few feet away marking finals.  Grades were due shortly, they had to be done.

 It will forever be surreal to me that last week.  Marking papers, proctoring finals, night runs to the pharmacy for morphine, catheters and chucks, waiting for the final act to be played out, his father's ten minute visit to kneel and pray and my closing his eyes one last time.