Sunday, March 20, 2016

Breaking Sounds: Let Me Tell You A Story

Breaking Sounds: Let Me Tell You A Story: 1. Rory rolls her shoulders to ease the tension.  Shit, this traffic sucks.  A common thought during her daily commute to and from the o...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Labrador Behind The Wheel

There are two types of drivers in this world: Commuters and Labradors.  You can tell the difference between the two.  A commuter's face is in a constant state of fluctuation, betwixt tension and utter boredom.  An angry raisin staring at the road ahead, eyes fixed upon the end in sight.  Route A to B to A to B until the mind is numb.

I am a Labrador.  If I could, I would let my ears flap in the wind, my tongue loll out the window with a permanent grin glued on my face, and a guffawing sound, Disney-like by nature would echo from my lungs.  Drool and slobber be damned.  Had I a tail it would wag constantly, thumping against the leather seat like a drumbeat to the music from my radio.  I am happiest in motion.  My car is an extension of who I am.

Commuters do not understand this connection.  Other Labradors do.  You can tell when you meet a fellow Lab.  Their eyes soften as they talk about their car.  They talk about how they love to follow the curve of a road as it snakes ahead of them.  They would never dream of flying, even if it shaves off a day's worth of time.  Saving time has nothing to do with being a Labrador behind the wheel.  You can't stick your head out of a plane.  I'm certain that tongue and tail wagging are frowned upon by the FAA.

Music and driving go together.  It's another part of the relationship that I have with my car.  Sometimes I leave NPR on the radio and listen to the voices wafting in from a tiny studio, filled with underpaid nobodies and marginal somebodies.  Most of the time my car and I twist and turn along to a jumble of music.  One of my longest and healthiest relationships was with Julie, the Chrysler Sebring.  She was the first car I had; a green convertible with a tan roof that opened up to the sky.  I don't know why I named her, except that there was a song that was the impetus for naming metal and leather and rubber bits stuck together by a factory full of people I would never meet or form an attachment to.  But I named it, and thought of the car as female.  I was twenty-one years old then.  The car was bought from my folks at the family discount rate.  Not quite the five finger discount, but close to it.  Nine years later Julie had her last drive.  The engine needed to be replaced.  The brake pads were worn thin.  Julie was making odd sputtering noises when I hit the gas peddle, or the brake, or turned the wheel, or blinked.  She wasn't a pet, but it was a loss.  That car was a way to leave the familiar and find a new home.  To be reckless in search of adventure on the high seas of black tar and gravel, and then to return home where it was safe.  Julie was a place for misbehaving and losing items found years later wedged under the back seat.  Julie was all of those things.  Now I have Sam.  Sam is more mature.  She is a less dented convertible.  Sam is new and was purchased from a dealer's lot, where words like "financing" and "loans" and "interest rate" were applied.  Pieces of paper were stapled together and signed.

Sam steers me out of Boston and we move on up and east towards the Coast.  I open up my eyes and watch the lights wink at me from around the bend.  The windows are rolled down and I let my lungs fill up with air.  My tail wags against the leather and I am a happy gal again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Phone

The phone that rang to give me the news of an acquaintance's death at age thirty-two.  The call that came with an offer of a dream job.  The voice that leaps across the static to end a relationship long over with, dragged out for the sake of being with someone.  The voices of two friends laughing about nothing, and launching into stories of fancy to entertain from miles apart.  The muffled crying of a sister in pain, and the words that try to soothe from inside a stranger's house.

The phone that sits on my lap is full of truth and bullshit.  It continues to ring.  I pick it up each time, wondering what lies on the other side.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just Dance - GAH!

"Whisper to a scream
Neath the cover of October skies
Like shooting stars
Because it's bad company"

No, no, no.

"I was a bad mess"

Screw that.

"Ain't gonna have your baby
I'm good without you
I can't trace time"


"Dance with me just for the hell of it"


"Just dance
Just, dance little man
Little man"

Humph.  Yep.

"Take my hand, don't be afraid
I'm going to prove everything 
I roll my heart out like a welcome mat
It's because of me
I can't control my brain"

Darn it.

The music does not hold my attention, but the view in my mirror of the loft buildings behind me does.

The pad of my thumb is irritated, and is reddened by my mood of the moment.  There's a sound that people make when they are about to cut loose, and want to try to hold it in: "GAH!"

I think it's to release all that hot air that is stored inside.  It's our inner kettle whistling.  I feel the noise build up inside my throat, and picture steam emitting from my ears.  I imagine my face red, fog on the sunglasses and hair on end.  I am a cartoon.  I close my eyes and count to thirty, matching the pace of the train.

My forefinger punches the dial through radio stations while a freight train passes by as I wait on an old road.  There is no sign to tell me where I am.  The smoke from the factories in this part of town has choked the life out of the few remaining trees, while the other side looks green from where I am.  I scan from one song to the next, to the click-clack of the tattooed freight cars.  They tell me to Fuck Off, Fight War, and Screw Jaime.  I tell them no thank you, and release my first "GAH!" of the day.  Several loud and long ones follow it, until the train has passed.

It's not until the crossing guards lift and I maneuver over the tracks that I feel relaxed.  Leaving this town means I can breathe again.  I fill up my lungs with the air that surrounds me, ignoring the pollutants, and order myself not to look back.  The teacher in me is back behind the wheel.  A number without a name texts me and calls as I plant my foot on the gas pedal, but I know who it is.  He springs into being with each call, and disappears just as quickly with the determined click of a button. Some relationships become your ghosts while others linger to feed upon you.  But not this one.  The air on the other side is just a bit fresher as I delete a third text, and head north.

"It's like dyn-o-mite!"

Oh, God no.  Music off.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing . . .

A cylindrical lamp spins above my head.  It hangs precariously, attached by a thread of black wire.  It lights up the spot I sit in, with a muted yellow tone, and is flecked with yellow and brown spots.  Something out of a Pottery Barn catalog.  It circles my head slowly; its light halos my face.  I feel the opposite of innocent just now.  My marine has a girlfriend, of course.  I have just discovered her photo stowed underneath the bedside table.  Amazing what secrets you can find when you are clumsy and drop a pen.  I was drawing Dan a picture of a wolf running away from a pigeon.  I had just gotten to the eyes, when I dropped the pen, which rolled its way to the photo, as if pointing the way.  At first glance, I hoped that this was a cousin, an unmentioned sister, a friend who happens to be married or gay.  But the back of the frame is inscribed with a love note from Allison.  It's worse if you know the name of the other victim.

"I love you so much. 


The handwriting is feminine but not girly. It's the penmanship of a woman.  An adult.  She is not a naïf.  We look to be about the same age.  She may be slightly older.

Dan does not know that I know.  Instead, he is humming to himself in the bathroom, while he brushes his teeth.  I suppose he thinks it's polite to groom himself for me before he comes to bed.  We've spent the day walking around Boston, stuffing ourselves with oysters from a paper bag bought at a place by the docks, and kissing each other on street corners.  His family and friends, his brother, the house he is staying in, are all too perfect to be true.  We've just finished dinner, and have said our polite goodnights to the rest of the household.  These intimacies are worse than if we had slept together. 

"Do you want to go to the park tomorrow?"  He calls out to me.

"Mmm," I mumble and stare at the pretty brunette in the photo.

She looks like a good person.  Her face is attractive, but no more so than mine.  I pride myself on my ability to be objective while studying her photo.  She smiles as though someone has caught her in the middle of a laugh, and Dan is probably that someone.

"And then I'll show you where I went to school."  He spits toothpaste into the sink.  It reminds me of what just happened in the bedroom and I feel my stomach turn to iron, but not before it churns.

"Sure," I tell him, my voice flat.

He has yet to notice the change.  I should think he would feel how cold the room is.  I shiver, and run my hands along my arms, now ridden with goosebumps.  I stare back at the woman and decide that I'm the luckier of the two of us, and leave her on the bed to repack the suitcase on the floor.

"My brother loves you, by the way. He says you're hilarious."  He says.  He says.  My thoughts skip a beat like a broken record.

"Yeah, I'm a real riot," I say.

Clothes are piled neatly back inside the suitcase, and I snap everything back into place.  Order is restored.

His brother.  Did he lie to me too, or does he think Allison is out of the picture?  I calculate the 'what ifs' in my head, and lose count of how many there are.  What will it matter if; what will happen or be the result if?  My mind is full of one long if, set on repeat.  If.  If.  If.  If.

Dan continues to speak.  It sounds like prattling to me now.

I sit on the armchair in the corner of the bedroom, coat and purse stacked neatly on my lap, along with folded hands and wait for him to walk out of the bathroom.  He struts into the room like a rooster, leading with his pelvis.  I roll my eyes at him and wait for him to figure out the next scene.

"So, we should . . . uh."   He stops in his tracks.  He is plain to me now.

"Yes?" I ask him.

"Caroline?"  He moves forward, and stumbles over his lines.

Bingo.  Lights out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I decide not to replay the night in my head too much.  Of course, in the quiet of my hotel room, lying alone in the bed, on a mattress that is too hard to be called comfortable, it comes back to me.

The excuses disguised flimsily as reasons are not ones that I can digest.  There isn't any substance there.  Their relationship has changed, shifted, distance has been put between them.  She wants something else.  So does he, but they're afraid to call it quits.  They are comfortable with each other.  She's his safe bet; he is hers.  I stare at the off-white ceiling and shiver.

"I will not be anyone's safe bet," I tell myself in a fierce voice.

"You're so different from her.  You're so full of life!  You're fun, and you make me laugh.  You make me breathe easy.  It's like you've lit me up inside.  I don't know how to explain it."

I scoffed at him when he said these things.  They felt like lines at the time, with her photo lying on the spot of the bed where I would have slept.

I shut off my phone with a decisive click of a button.  This is when I hate technology.  Relationships in the modern age suck.  It's too easy to get sucked back into the bad ones with the danger of cell phones and emails.  This one counts as a bad almost.  I count my blessings for only having slept with him once.  I shift him off to the side.  I tell myself the memory of him will fade away soon enough, because I'm good at cleaning up messes.  I send Anne a quick "Not The One" text and let my mind clap hands as if to say "that's that then."

"Enough.  Enough for now," I tell myself.  But a new thought crosses my path.

Others in my shoes would have stayed the night and ignored the consequences.  Some would have found Allison and told her everything.  I wonder if my inaction is the right thing to do, or the easiest.  I wage a silent battle of morals for the rest of the night.  It continues in my sleep.  A tiger chases me down an empty street at night.  Its eyes glitter a bright blue.  They light up the night, like two beams pointed at me as I run the other way.  When I wake up the next morning, I can not remember if I escape or am caught.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Recipe For A Man

"So."  Anne looks at me.

"So," I agree.

Four eyes blink rapidly to avoid welling up and over.  We hate goodbyes.  I make a mental note to move D.C. to Illinois when I return home.  Anne knocks my foot with her shoe.  One Converse taps one purple heel, careful not to scuff it.  I stare down at my heel and smile.  I can hear my mother's voice telling me that I drive in utterly insensible shoes.

"Call me when you get to Boston."  Anne shifts from hip to hip, and nudges my shoulder with hers.

"I will," I reply and do my best to look sincere.

"And give that guy a chance."  She tells me.

I roll my eyes and stick out my tongue. "Yes, mom," I say, in a sing-song voice.

"Really, you need to hurry up and find the guy already.  You know, before you get all saggy and wrinkled.  Come on, get married and make babies!"  Anne gestures wildly with her arms, and then waggles a finger at me.

"Oy, what are you, my mother?"  

"No, but really, Caroline.  It's your turn now."  She hugs me and we slide arms companionably behind each other's back as we watch Ben, who is loading my car for me.  We squeeze each other tighter.

"Maybe you'll meet a wealthy farmer on Prince Edward Island."

"Mmhm," I nod my head,  "a wealthy farmer who reads books - ones without pictures."

"Oo!  Oh!"  Anne squeals, "A farmer who became a doctor, who built his own house, and has a vinyl collection that rivals your dad's!"

Anne cocks her head and I can see she is making me my own gingerbread man.  I decide to play along.

"His grammar and spelling are perfect.  He has a voluminous vocabulary!  But he's not some pompous asshole."

Anne nods and lists off more items. "At night, he watches Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  He's as liberal as you are."

"Yep," I say, "He likes to cook.  And he doesn't mind chores, especially cleaning out the gutters and killing bugs."

"Mmhm.  And he has one blue eye and one brown."  Anne ticks off requirements on her hands, one finger at a time.  "He doesn't complain about much, and he loves to love you."  Anne hoots and hollers suggestively.

"He loves to dance with you because you fit well in his arms.  Oh, and he can skip rocks!"  Anne knows what I like.

"He sings well, and he's much better at math than I am."  I sneak in two of my own ingredients, and imagine Anne stirring them up in a bowl, tossing the doughy mess into an oven, and waiting patiently for the ding of the timer.

"That's easy to find."  Anne says, with eyes that are twinkling mischievously.  "You've always sucked at math."

"Humph," I say, but she just smiles.

"Hm," I nod. "Yeah, and he'll be tall, and reasonably fit and attractive."  After all, I don't want to fall in love with an ogre.

Lost in my fantasy, Anne opens the oven door, and removes a little man from a cookie sheet.  She scoops him up with a spatula and plops him onto a platter.  Anne carefully picks up one hand and blows into one little finger of the gingerbread man.  He inflates like a balloon, until he is life sized. Anne sprinkles powdered sugar over the cookie to bring him to life.  The man sneezes once, blinks twice, and shifts his head from left to right.  Right to left.  He props his hands up and stands.  Cocking his head like a puppet, he looks at Anne, who points imperiously to me.  The cookie man smiles.  He unfurls one arm, takes my hand in his, and we dance our way down the aisle, where we are married by a somber badger in a minister's robe.

It would be a happy ending, except that I envision getting hungry at the reception, where food is not served, and I nibble on the arm of my giant cookie husband.  He frowns at me.  Little cookie crumbs have fallen out of my mouth.  He picks up pieces of himself, and runs away, into the forest.

"Yeah, but not too tall, you're sort of a shrimp."  Anne pokes me again.

"Beanpole."  I poke back.

"Shorty."  Poke.

"Telephone pole."  Poke.

"Acorn!"  Poke.

"Walking stick!"  Our fingers are exclamation points after each word, and we're laughing again.

An ogre is now hauling me off over its shoulders to its cave.  I make a mental note to avoid watching Rodgers and Hammerstein films for a while.  Or any children's movies from 1950 to 1989.

"Caroline . . ."  Anne starts to say something, and stops.

"Yeah, I know.  I'll be fine."  I sigh.  We still hate goodbyes.

"I wish that I could go with you."  Anne looks guiltily at Ben.

"I know.  But you can't.  You're too busy, and besides," I tell her, "You've got a man." 

"Next time you decide to go on a trip, tell me ahead of time, so I can come with you."  She lectures me with her waggling finger again.

"I will.  I promise.  Next trip," I say.  A tiny stab of guilt is making its way from my stomach up to my throat.

"I love you," she says, and shrugs her shoulders at me.

"I love you," I say, and our voices are sincere.  It's so easy to say it and mean it.  Of all my relationships, this one is the easiest to keep.

Not long after I negotiate my car outside of D.C., I get a text from Anne.  A photo of an old man with one blue and one brown eye stares at me, with a lopsided grin.  The caption reads: "I Found Him! Go to Nebraska!"

I cackle aloud and steer my car toward Boston.  I hum along to the song that pops into my head.

"It's Possible!  For a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage!"

With a shake of my head, I hit the ogre over its bulbous noggin with its own club and escape on a motorcycle, three times my size.  Who needs a Prince when you are your own hero?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Perspectives In Motion

If you stare at an object long enough, it becomes something else entirely.  When you glance from the corner of your eye to the edge of your vision, to your right is a bear!  Or a station wagon.  To your left is disaster!  Or a group of kids milling about.  In a moving vehicle, trees run alongside of you, matching your speed all the way north.  A fire will hypnotize you.  As a child of five, I believed my Grandpa when he told me that if I stared long enough at a campfire, I would go blind.  Grandfathers tell grand stories.  A scar from the removal of a mole becomes a war wound from a bayonet earned while in France, in World War II.  When you're a kid, and your grandpa tells you this, you believe it.  A second scar, along the stomach, was where the tip of the bayonet came out.  Years later, as an adult, you learn about appendicitis, and laugh at your younger self.  You miss your naivety, and crave a return to innocence.  Now, when you believe stories, when you imagine alternatives to reality, you are gullible, not innocent.  Not young. You've put to bed all your playthings, and stuffed them into boxes tucked into corners of the attic.  If, years later, you have your own children, you can unearth toys, dolls, games, and tell your own stories.  Then you get to relive your childhood.  But as an adult, you must alter your perspective to be more grounded.  You are unable to float off the ground and fly, save for one exception: your dreams.

My dreams are always vivid.  I wake up believing they are real.  For a solid thirty seconds upon awakening, I believe that I flew.  I really did save the dragon.  I fought the bad guys.  I ran on the lake.  I escaped the demons.  I kissed the man.  I sung onstage, without clothes on.  In my favorite dream, I was five inches taller.  It can happen.

The next morning, Anne and I giggle together over tea while we nurse well-earned hangovers, and munch slowly on Cheerios and bananas.

We have a day to spend together, and decide to invest in quality time instead of tourist attractions. Which means, we go shopping instead.  She needs shoes, and I need dresses.  That is, if wanting can mean needing.  Ben wisely disappears again until lunch.  Armed with bags full of rainbow colored treasures, we sit outside of a cafe, where we sip on lemonade and trade family war stories with each other.  Ben's family is something of a mystery to me.  I do not know them, and cannot understand how he managed to grow up in Georgia without becoming Southern.  He is such a Yankee, like Anne and I.  He feels more like an East Coaster to me.  When I meet his family in October, I'll be able to see the similarities, and draw better comparisons.

An old man from off the street asks me for a quarter, as we move towards National Mall.  Anne and I are determined to earn some sunshine today.  Our skin is starving for a tan.  I give the man a dollar.  He gives me a blackened smile and calls me beautiful.  I wink at him in return.  Shifting eyes from left to right as we cross the street, I whistle a Tom Petty tune, and sing the words to "I Won't Back Down" off-key, making Anne laugh and Ben grimace comically.  We mosey over to the Mall.  Our happy trio does not feel the tension that the guards and tanks lining the Capitol's gates and fences have created.