Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Victor

My father once put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, the sound so loud in the small room it made him jump.  I believe the sharp shadows of old regrets lived at the edge of his vision almost constantly, making his eyelids ache. He grew tired of them, I think, the weight of all those shadows.

I imagine him sitting at the cheap wooden table in his kitchen, its rickety legs matching those of the chair in which he sat. Nicotine-sheen covered and coffee stained, it holds the ashtray full of death, orange and black and smelly, and the whiskey glass he picked up from a bar that cradles its amber liquid and sends droplets of dew down its sides to stain the table once more. My father doesn’t like to touch the table – it feels greasy under his fingers and represents so much of what he’s become, and so he gingerly picks up the glass, puts down the cigarette, rests the book open-faced on its surface in such a way as to avoid contact with it. He doesn’t know that he does this, that he still feels this way even after washing and washing and washing it.

I think he put the gun to his mouth many times before that moment, to practice maybe, to see what it would feel like when the time came, that dark hole of its mouth calling and calling and calling to him, making promises he chose to believe, offering relief from the pain in all those shadows, their constancy making him weary.

On this night, as on many other nights, the Dark Presence comes to this room. It waits just outside the limit of his vision but he doesn’t have to see it to know that it’s there. Its energy is like a pulsating heart, beating out its insistent drumbeat, thumping its rhythm: tonight, tonight, tonight. The Dark Presence has come on many other nights, nights just like this one, the angle made by the smoke of the cigarette and the cylinder itself the same each time, the whiskey glass in its ringed spot, the pages of the book turning and turning quickly, as if he is breathing in their essence instead of reading the words; everything in its accustomed spot. Other nights my father has resisted, shifted his position in the rickety chair to signal his intent to stay, turning his back without knowing it on the Dark Presence, which quietly draws back into itself and turns away. It doesn’t go very far, though. No, it doesn’t go very far.

Tonight, when the Dark Presence arrives my father is ready, he has everything ready. It is 3:00 a.m. or thereabouts, the time when demons go looking for the weak, the vulnerable, the tired, the lost. They hit pay dirt when they found my father and visited him many times over the years, and have done their job well, bringing him despair and misery and depression for him to brood over in those dark hours, needling him with all the ways he’s failed, let people down, not measured up, their whiny voices incessant and loud, laughing at him, adding to the pain he carries in his physical body. He has no defense against them, doesn’t know they are separate entities from him and not his own thoughts. They have finally worn away his resistance, and so tonight, as expected, the Dark Presence holds sway, and so they just watch him from the sidelines.

The whiskey in the cheap glass no longer burns as he empties it into his throat, and the thick fog he pulls into his smoke-darkened lungs has no taste. His mouth goes dry as he stubs out the last cigarette he will ever smoke, his three-pack-a-day habit finally broken. Its orange filter lies in the ashtray next to its many brothers – he’s had to empty it twice tonight, already, to make room for more. He gets up from the table, a cheap and ugly table in a cheap and ugly apartment that represents everything he’s ever lost and nothing he ever stood for. He pushes his chair in close, as he always does out of habit. In this moment, he has nothing but vague thoughts of anyone but himself, he is too full of and befouled by the voices, but he writes a hastily scribbled note: “No more pain” and leaves it on the table with the glass, the ashtray and the book, the Bermuda Triangle that took my dad.

He then unknowingly turns to the Dark Presence and invites it along, asks it to please join him as my father walks quietly and without hurry to his lumpy bed, the flattened pillow sweat-stained and old but covered in a cheap but clean pillowcase. He lifts the pillow, takes the gun out and checks the chamber, an act he’s obsessively performed for days, and holds it carefully away from him as he gets into the bed, fully clothed. He pulls the covers up, gets settled and comfortable, adjusting his shirt behind his back so he doesn’t feel the wrinkles. He doesn’t want things to be too terribly horrible when he’s found and he knows he will be found or he would not go to the trouble of being neat. He knows he will make a mess, his death will make a mess, and he is trying to make it less so, as if he is somehow of the belief that this –his being neat about it - will make it somehow less painful. He is very, very wrong. It seems a passionless act this way, incomprehensibly so, and the neatness makes it even harder to make sense of, to understand why. It is clearly not an impulsive decision, it is very much a planned and premeditated act.

* * *

It has been ten years since that night, and every year the memory sneaks up on me. I mean, all year I know my father is no longer alive, I know how he died, I know how long it’s been, I know where his ashes are, I know. But for two weeks before the date I am weepy, crying a little every day, forgetting that the anniversary of the day my father killed himself and nearly killed my brother is looming, until like fucking clockwork, like a goddamn heavy iron shovel, one day I say, “Oh” as it whacks me in the heart, behind my eyes, grabs me by the throat. The grief and the sorrow and the pity and the guilt and the rage come right back, as if they’ve never left. It is just as intense and timeless as it was the day I learned of his death, the voice of my sobbing brother sending his enormous and nearly incoherent pain down the telephone line from Florida directly into my heart, changing everything forever. The only good news is that the sorrow recedes a bit, it goes back to its hidey-hole until next year, or the next holiday or major life event, or until I talk to my brother, or until I speak of it out loud.

I have questions that remain unasked, unanswered. Like these: Did he think of me, of my brother, my sister, his grandchildren, his three ex-wives as he stubbed out his cigarette and stood up? How many bullets were in the gun? Was every chamber loaded? How long had he been planning it? Did he really think he was that unimportant? What were his last thoughts? Did he tell himself when the Dark Presence arrived, “OK, Jim, this is it, it’s time, no more playing around?”

I would photograph the scene this way: Shoot the whiskey glass in black and white from just below the edge of the table, at an angle and from a child’s height, the whiskey holding the only spot of color. Snap a shot of the back of his hand as he stubbed out another cigarette, and the glint of his hazel eyes through the smudges on his eyeglasses he no longer notices, and the yellowed rings on the table and the black burn marks from cigarettes left forgotten, and the cigarettes themselves crumpled up together in the ashtray. I would capture the brief curve of a page-wave as he turns another one. I would take a close up picture of his nose, the one that is so like mine, and his close- cropped white hair, and highlight the collar of his shirt. I would photograph the greenish-blue cover of the book, a book full of adventures he would never have even if he’d chosen to live, and I would photograph myself reading it over and over, aching for answers I will never get, searching the pages for some truth, any truth.

Or no, maybe this: a one act play in which the lone spotlight highlights a man alone at a rickety table on a dark stage, who smokes constantly and drinks occasionally and reads unceasingly. The man’s breathing is just a little too fast and a tiny bit audible, and the tears running slowly down his face go unnoticed, and his attention is not entirely on the words on the page or the drink in his hand or on the cigarette resting and burning in the ashtray, sending tendrils of gray smoke into the already thick air, or even on his own pain, but of the Dark Presence cloak-shrouded in the corner.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


In honor of an old friend...

He comes always in the night
like a thief
and steals her heart. 

She hears the sound of his truck
rattling down her street in the dark. 
The springs and stuffing
are growing out of the seat,
but he's loyal to it, the way a man
can be loyal to an old dog 
that should be put mercifully to sleep.
Even she's grown fond of it, somehow. 

She waits for the sound of the doorbell
a quick press of the buzzer, a hint that he's here.
She rises from the bed, damning him in her mind
knowing she won't protest his arrival
even though he's almost 45 minutes late.

At the door, she turns away, moves ahead of him
to shut the door behind him.  
She stumbles on her way in and he thinks she's just awakened,
that he's woken her.
She doesn't bother to tell him anything different.
She moves by him to go to the bathroom,
brush her teeth, get settled in herself.
He reaches for her, feels the material of her gown
and pulls her to him.
They hug.
She wonders what he's thinking.

He's brought tea and donuts again,
his version of wining and dining.
She looks in the bag, a cry of delight 
at the chocolate honey-dip he's brought.
She bites into it and wonders
who else has he brought tea and donuts to?
Who else does he share his Monday night ritual with?
She pushes the thought aside as they chew and sip and smile.

Later, when the tea and sugar is gone
they lie quietly, comfortably in her bed
and he lays there and talks, about everything
and nothing, it doesn't matter what.
She could listen to his voice forever.
And then he sings to her, the song he wrote
that's so sad and beautiful and sounds like a tune
from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

After they make love, as they stand in the darkness
he takes her own hands into his own and puts them together
a breath of air moving between them.
Look, he says. Feel.
She shrugs, doesn't see his point.
He puts his own hand against one of hers, a breath of air
between them and says again, feel
feel the difference.  
And she does feel it - the electricity between them,
the polarities of their yin and yang, energy melding 
and colliding by turns
in that small space in that moment in time.
And his wonder, his urge to show her the power between them
is touching.

They wake in the morning, turn silently to each other
and join without the interruption of words.
They sleep.
When he leaves, she wonders when she'll see him again
hear his voice in the dark, feel his hands on her body
and his breath against her skin.
She wonders
and tries not to care.

October 1991-ish

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"So anyway, I met a guy."

May 2010

My mother begged me to write this because it's a funny story.  Plus, she wanted to have something new to read when she comes to my blog.  My sister, on the other hand, begged me not to because "you shouldn't put your business out on the street," a sentiment I deeply respect.

However, little sister, I'm a writer....and part of being a writer is putting your business out on the street.  

So this one's for you, Ma. Hope it's as much fun to read as it's been to write.  I know you will forgive the embellishments.

* * * * * * * *

"So anyway, I met a guy."

This is what I tell my mother on the phone in the middle of our conversation, as if everything that had come before it was prelude to this. 

There is four, maybe five seconds of silence and then one of us chuckles, and the  other one snorts, and somebody giggles and then one of us says, "Hah!" and soon the laughter is loud and raunchy and we're pretty much slapping our knees and guffawing because we know: any story that starts this way nearly always ends in tragedy. 

And we know that the last time I "met a guy" he was 10 years my junior and that as a result of THAT little fiasco I had my heart and my ego handed to me on a silver platter, both of them bloody and squirming and sliced in two, and that with hardly a word between us he spit on the tray, handed it to me without ceremony or even looking me in the eye, and walked away.  It seems I had finally, after nearly 44 years on the planet, met my match in the seduction department, and it took a while before I could laugh about THAT little escapade, but laugh I do now, and hard.

"So anyway, I met a guy," I tell her.

"Oh?" she says through her laughter.

"Yeah," I say, once we've calmed down. "Dude had 'Suzie' written all over him. Leather jacket, motorcycle boots, skinny in jeans that perfect color blue.  Had a diamond stud in his ear, wavy silver hair I had to stop myself from touching.   And he had this whole 'former-bad-boy-gone-good' kind of thing going on, and Ma, just the way he stood there."

We both kind of sigh.

So I tell her how I met him, and she's listening closely because you never know, this could be the one.  But the more I tell, the more she knows: this is not the one.  

I will not bore you with the conversations leading up to his inviting me to dinner next time he's in town. But when it comes down to it, I tell him, I'd be more comfortable doing coffee first, k? Because I don't know this guy, and I don't want to be stuck in his truck for an hour on the way to Gloucester because, I mean, what if he's a Sean Hannity fan, or thinks like Rush Limbaugh?  And just so we're clear, I tell her, "I'm not worried about getting killed, Ma, I'm worried about getting mad."  So we meet for coffee, all spontaneous-like, sort of but not quite last minute, it was a 'can you?' and then it was like, yeah where are you, what kinda time you have, what's going on, yeah yeah ok meet you there.  I am  booked nearly solid, wall to wall and back to back including weekends for the forseeable future and he's only in town for a couple days (and did I mention he's cute?).  And this is as good a time as any because it has a hard stop at the end of it -- Lily is waiting for her grandma, i.e. me, to pick her up in like 45 minutes and I will not be late.  And besides, I have no intention of getting involved with anyone, in any shape or form.  Plus, it's just coffee. 

So we meet for coffee and the diamond stud is glinting on his ear lobe and his hair is that lovely shade of silver -- I must be getting old to adore it so and not just on him.  He tells me he changed out of his construction boots and into his motorcycle boots on the drive over from Marlborough in his big red truck because, I think, I asked if he was wearing them when he called.   And his blue flannel shirt just hung a certain way over his tucked in gray t-shirt, with just enough room for a hand to slip in over his waist, and the loops of his jeans sat on his hips just so, one of them with a little dark crease in it, and I nearly had to sit on my hands not to reach out and uncrease it, and the boots, well, those squared off toes just send me....and I had to look away, hard. 

And so there we are goofing around and laughing and playful in the middle of the coffee shop, up against the window counter in the tall seats, sitting side by side facing the cars going by and the people walking. His whole body is now facing me but I am turned away toward the street so I can stay focused on the task at hand, which is figuring out if I want to spend any of my precious time with him again, which I can't do if I'm looking at how he fits in his jeans. 

And then he tells me that dinner was just dinner, that he was a little disappointed about not doing dinner, that he had to shift gears around not doing dinner and maybe I took it the wrong way because it was just dinner and I say, "Listen.  I wanted to do coffee first because I had no idea if we'd get along. Clearly we do.  But really, I didn't want to be stuck in your truck for an hour" -- and I lift my hand next to my ear and make a quacking motion with it and look him deep in the eyes while I smile really big and say in that flirty way us girls have -- "while you talk.  It coulda been boring. And frankly, I don't have time for that."  I might have batted my eyelashes, but if I did it was not on purpose. 

"Wait," he says, with a look of incredulity on his face and putting the palms of his hands on his chest, "I have to drive, too?"  

This is what I like about this guy.

But when we went to lunch the next time he's in town he...but wait, I'm gettting ahead of myself. 

My sister, when I tell her about this invitation to dinner, christens him "Cali-Boy," a nickname I heartily embrace, as if I already know the outcome.  He lives in California but grew up here so he visits every few weeks, says he's thinking about coming out for the summer.  I think we have given him a cute nickname, but it is never a good sign when you begin to call a man a cute little nickname from the outset, especially one like Cali-Boy, and not to his face.  It implies frivolity and immaturity, both of which, as it turns out, apply.  But it's so cute I'm beginning to think even he might like it and think it's cute, that maybe I should tell him about it next time he calls, which I know I won't but mostly only because he'll know I've talked about him.  But the fact that we've named him this early is not a good sign. 

I mean, women aren't like men when it comes to nicknames -- when men name each other it is a term of endearment, right?  If your buddies call you Fridge or PizzaFace or Skateboard, it's because you've earned it in some way, it's a sign that they love you or respect you or that you've deeply impressed them in some way and they will always remind you of that fact.  When women name each other, on the other hand, it's catty and bitchy and mean and intended to hurt and we don't love you or respect you.  In fact, we hate you.  

When women name men, however, it's like naming someone else's pet -- we feel some level of fondness for you, maybe, but we do not respect you or take you seriously.  And usually we name you after it's all over, when we want to put you in a tidy little box with a bow and name the mistake we made getting involved with you. Giving you a nickname takes the onus off us and we get to tell ourselves, well, I'll never do THAT again, or man, he was a total creep.  I won't tell you what we named the mistake who handed me the silver platter, in case he reads this and feels bad  [cue laff track here because, as if - as if I care about his feelings, I mean. He may actually read it.].  But we name this guy from California from the outset, and it's almost like....well, it's almost like Cali-Boy is already history. 

Stay tuned for Part 2:  "Lunch with Cali-Boy"

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Offering


As I walked the Earth today
She seemed so much more
than just a friendly place.
I mean, I have always felt Her warmth
and been aware of Her benign nature.
Mother-Sister Earth has always welcomed me,
greeted me like an old friend,
opened Her arms to me
as I pass through on my way
to somewhere else.
No, I mean today She did not sit quietly
and passively as I walked by,
restfully growing and doing Her thing.

No, I mean, today I saw Her for what She is
as She actively reached out to me,
spoke to me in Her silent way,
offered Her healing and comfort and cleansing powers;
as She waved leaves at me and fluttered flowers --
the “aerial parts” ripe for the picking --
and as roots waited deep below the Earth
to be dug and made into a drought,
as the warrior plants held their protective stance
as the domesticated plants pretended to be tame

I saw the Earth for what She is:
a superabundance of riches, a plethora of power,
a cornucopia of treasures eager to be made into healing potions
and cleansing teas and soothing salves,
warming poultices and calming baths
for the good of me and you.
And She wanted me to, I swear, unlock the mysteries of the names
Of these quiet non-sentient but still loving beings
that each holds its own power to serve.
The Earth is not benign and passive, as I once thought.
Oh no, no, no, not at all.
Oh, quite the contrary.
She is actively offering

to me.