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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Finest Worksong


Mom was annoyed that I'd gone into labor early.  She and my sister were planning a visit for the following week.  She'd bought me several modest nightgowns with matching robes that she wanted me to wear in the hospital.  I called the house from the phone in the recovery room to let her know that Kirin had arrived.

"Mom, it's Mary.  He's here."

"Goddamn it," she said.  "What am I supposed to do with all these nightgowns?"

Perhaps my mother thought some practical sleepwear would help me develop the sense necessary to take care of a baby.  That's the best explanation I've got for that question.

"What are you wearing?"

"I packed t-shirts and boxer shorts.  They said I could put them on tomorrow."

"Jesus Christ, Mary.  Must you go out of your way to embarrass me?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're a mother now.  You've gotta stop dressing like an asshole."

And then, we talked about Kirin.

"You realize I'm not dippy about that name."

"Yeah, Mom.  I figured."

"What does it mean, anyway?"

"It's a Japanese beer.  A Seagram product," I told her.

"I'm calling him Devin.  I like that better."

She wasn't kidding.  She hung onto that threat for months.

It was Big Mare's first plane ride.  She was a little wasted when Jason and I came to get them at the airport.  When I think about that trip, I realize what a huge deal it was for my mother to travel 1,250 miles to be with us.  To leave my dad to his own devices, even for just a couple of days, was a miracle.  She must have been a nervous wreck.  She didn't know Jason from a hole in the wall.  We lived in an unknown place.  She was always worried about me.  And now, I had this child to raise.

I could tell Mom was still angry with me for getting pregnant.  She was, however, just as equally overjoyed to be a grandma.  She and my Judy slept on foam rubber folding chairs in Kirin's room.   My mother fed, rocked and burped the new baby. She changed diapers and did laundry.  She filled our refrigerator and pantry with groceries.  Even though I was grateful that she bought us some stuff, I felt threatened by her patronizing maternal instinct and largesse.  Her generosity came at a price, and I was never sure how much it would cost.

We went out to eat twice during their stay, at restaurants that didn't serve alcohol. The town we lived in, Jacksonville, was in a dry county.  We generally bought our liquor in the next town over or on base.  Mom stared into the waitress's apron just a little too long when the woman told her she could have iced tea, but not beer.  My mother looked like she really could have used a drink.  Me, too.

"This Arkansaw is bullshit," she whispered loudly across the table.

I couldn't have agreed more, but I felt determined to make the best of it.

After supper, we went back to the house and passed the baby around.  Like always, my mother inventoried each trip I made to the fridge.  She commented on every glass of wine I poured.  She could drain as many beers as she wanted, but she was dead set against my drinking.  And she made sure everyone knew it.

"What are you?  Your father?" she asked.

At one point, she caught Jason laughing at something I'd said.

"You think it's funny now," she told him.  "You have no idea what you're in for."

I tried to ignore her snide remarks.  I resented her condescending judgment.  I felt bold and out of control, like a willful child.  Determined to do exactly as I pleased. For fucksake, I was a grown-up.  I drank even more.  I'd show her.

Our visit was strained and unpleasant, punctuated by the screams of a colicky newborn and the smell of baby shit.  She turned her cheek away and lifted her eyelids dramatically when I kissed her goodbye.  She squinched up her face, as if my gesture was something to be endured.  I missed her as soon as she left.

And then, it was just the three of us.  For a very long, very short time.

Every day, I got more familiar with loving my son.  I was surprised and confused by the feelings he encouraged in my young, inexperienced heart.  I couldn't believe I was capable of that much emotion.  We laid in bed together in the early mornings, getting to know one another.  With him propped against the front of my thighs, I sang little songs into his open face.  He cooed and barfed up the contents of his bottle into the crook of his neck.

Motherhood was hard work.  I found myself in my pajamas all the time.  I was worn out and needed more showers than I was getting.  The house reeked of sour formula and throw-up, and so did I.

I held my baby and watched TV.  I washed his little clothes and picked up the house while he slept.  I felt tired and shellshocked all the time.  With seemingly so much to do every minute of the day, I was terribly bored and lonely.

Beyond the three rooms that Kirin and I occupied during the day, the rest of the world was still spinning.  My husband left every morning for work and returned in the evenings, exhausted and stressed out.  Babies were more expensive than either of us realized.  It seemed as though we needed so many things and had very little.

Jason was conscientious and pragmatic in his approach to our married life and the future.  I was impractical and unrealistic.  I wasn't interested in agonizing over our finances.  I was afraid to learn how to drive.  I was more concerned with why I no longer felt attracted to my husband.  I considered the possibility that I might have been afraid to have sex again.  I thought if I got myself drunk enough, I might feel more inclined to be with him.  Most nights however, we ate supper in near silence, he went to bed and I just kept pouring.

It's funny.  I don't remember us fighting much.  We just drifted toward our neutral corners and worried about different things, separately.  The whole while, I continued to drink.

I laid on the couch listening to music with headphones on, sobbing myself to sleep. It became a regular way to comfort myself, along with the booze.  I wondered if Jason was getting sick of me.  I was certainly getting sick of him.  And that made me cry even more.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dum Dum Girl


Jason and I were relocating to Little Rock after he finished his technical training in Biloxi.  I called my mother to let her know where we'd be going next.

"It's in Arkansas," I said.

"Ahr-kan-saw?  Where in the hell is that?" she demanded, so determined to despise this bit of news.

I wasn't sure what to tell her.  I didn't really know where anything was located. Besides, Mom was suspicious of all life that existed beyond the parameters of Macy's in Parkchester, Frank and Joe's Delicatessen and St. Raymond's Church.

I looked on the map Jason kept in the car.  I poured over the big drawing of America, divided into color-coded sections.  It was like I was seeing this information for the very first time.  I examined how some states I'd never even previously considered were wedged up against each other - Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma. And how far away on the diagram they seemed from the Bronx.

"How much longer is he gonna have to do this shit?" my mother asked.

"What shit?"

"Army shit."

"He's in the Air Force, Mom."

"Whatever."

I felt equally sad and relieved that we weren't moving any closer.  That woman drove me up a wall.

We rented a tidy two-bedroom apartment near the Air Force base.  My mother sent us some money to buy a couch.  We drove to J.C. Penney, and I chose a gray one with little blue flowers on the cushions.  There I sat most afternoons, scribbling letters on looseleaf paper to Mom and a few girlfriends who I thought might write back.  I went to the toilet every ten minutes and stared at my growing belly in the bathroom mirror.  I waited impatiently for a small person to arrive and keep me company.

We signed up for Lamaze classes and watched a movie on how babies get born.  I decided right then and there that I would have to die in my sleep before my due date.  There was no way in hell I'd be able to survive childbirth.  Even with the help of that film and the certificate they gave us upon completion of the course, I was not confident in my ability to cooperate with this process.

All this time, I suppose Jason was okay with what was happening.  With being married and becoming a dad.  It wasn't like he said anything negative, even though I knew he was disappointed that we weren't stationed closer to New York.  He missed his old pals in Queens.  They were a close bunch.  I wanted him to be happy and excited about what we were doing together, but I felt as though I had a tough time competing with all that nostalgia.  For the most part, he seemed sullen and depressed, and I had no idea how to pull him out of it.

As time went on, it became apparent that folks back home were moving on with their lives.  For as many pages of descriptive correspondence that I penned and addressed, I got very few responses.  Jason's mother wrote faithfully, but I was convinced that she disliked me.  Nonetheless, it was always nice when her packages arrived in the mail.  Homemade pretzels and cookies, suggestions for unique baby names.  A book strongly advising against circumcision.  My mom sent coupons for diapers with holy cards paperclipped to them and one sentence scrawled across the back of each envelope.

Remember to take care of that baby, her messages warned.

Occasionally after we'd already been in bed for a few hours, the telephone would ring.  High school classmates or co-workers from my old job.  Drunk and coked up, they took turns shouting into the receiver.

"Mare!  We miss you so much," they bellowed above the noise of some raucous keg party.

"I miss you, too."

"Wow.  You're gonna have a baby!  Oh, my God!  How is everything?  Are you excited?  When are you coming back?"

I answered as best I could.

"Good.  Yes.  I don't know."

"Wow.  I can't believe you're a mom.  And you're having a baby.  Wow."

"Well, not yet," I said.  "I still have a few more weeks."

"Oh, right.  I knew that just before.  Until I forgot."

They all laughed.

I'm not sure if these girls were impressed or shocked or disappointed with my condition.  It was hard to tell.  As the months passed, our conversations became increasingly strained. We seldom spoke unless a group of them were all together and drinking.  It was kind of sweet.  It was almost as if they were taking attendance and were concerned that I was absent.

"What's new there?" I asked.

"Oh, you know.  These assholes...  What?  Okay, just a minute.  Hold on."

I waited for the next voice to say something.  Until I realized they'd resumed their incoherent discussion and had forgotten I was still on the line.  I listened as they considered getting more blow.  Eventually, I just hung up.  As big and round as I was at that point, it would take forever to get back to sleep.  I was jealous of my friends.

"Who was that?" Jason grumbled into his pillow.

I mentioned their names, but he didn't really know any of them.  He barely knew me.

"They need to stop calling here in the middle of the night.  I have to wake up in a few hours."

He was right.  But still, I began resenting his disapproving tone.  I couldn't help but think my husband's sour mood was my doing.  I'd gotten pregnant too soon.  I didn't have a job and generated no income.  We had bills and needs.  I felt anxious and increasingly compromised.

Jason worked with this nice young man named Ben.  He and his wife were from a farming community in Missouri.  Tina was a heavyset country girl - extremely loud and bossy, almost intolerably so.  She and her tremendous baby started ringing our doorbell regularly.  I guess I hadn't much exposure to infants, and the size of this child was intimidating.

I got the impression that Tina found me very entertaining, what with me being from the big city and all.  She spoke openly about she and her husband's sex life and their plans to make additional enormous children.  I tried not to encourage these details.  She could be really gross.

I thought maybe if I found a cheaper place to live in town, Jason wouldn't be less glum.  Something with a little yard so we could barbecue and play music loud if we wanted.  A set-up that seemed more like a house than an apartment.  Tina and I cruised through neighborhoods searching for available rentals, while her gigantic daughter slept in the back seat.

We found a vacant duplex that wasn't half bad, priced at forty five dollars less than what we were paying.  Both units had been inexplicably empty for quite some time. A kitchen and living area with two small bedrooms separated by a short hallway. A tree in the front and an attached shed out back for a washing machine.  I did see a few cockroaches in the bathtub, but they were all dead.  I pleaded with Jason for us to move.  He begrudgingly agreed and let me have some money for the security deposit and one and a half months' rent.  The landlord gave me the key.

The two of us drove over in the dark that evening to check the place out.  When we turned the flashlight toward the doorknob, we noticed cockroaches crawling all over the front of the house.  Along the bricks and door frame.  As we let ourselves in, water bugs fell from the ceiling.  The carpet looked as though it were moving. That's how badly overrun with bugs this shithole was.  Like a terrifying fever dream.

No one could live there until the larger nests were removed and each apartment was thoroughly fumigated.  That operation could take nearly a week. The baby was due soon, and there was still tons of stuff to do before its arrival. Jason was clearly annoyed and even though the roaches weren't my fault, I kept apologizing like they were.

We stayed with Ben and Tina for several nights, sleeping on their couch and loveseat.  Listening to the sounds of them adding to their family in the other room. Yuck.

I laid awake and tried to think about the things I wanted in my life.  I didn't even know what they were.  I thought I wanted to be married, but I never really settled into being a wife.  Before I knew it, I'd be someone's mother.  I started to feel as though when Jason looked at me, I was just another pest making his life more difficult than it needed to be.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dream Big!

May 13, 2015



Mr. David Sedaris
℅ Catherine Cullen
Little, Brown and Company
1290 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY  10104


Dear Mr. Sedaris:

It was such a pleasure meeting you recently when you came to Charlotte to read at the Belk Theater.  I was so excited for the opportunity to chat with you briefly after the show.  It has been a dream of mine since April of last year.  I practiced what I would say while I waited in line, so I didn't sound like a moron when I got my turn. I think I did okay.

After we met, I realized I didn't introduce you to my husband, David.  Perhaps you recall the nervous, hulking presence standing to my right.  He was wearing a purple shirt and holding all my stuff.  I briefly considered dragging him back over to the table where you were seated, signing books.  I know he would have loved meeting you as well.

Admittedly, I was a bit starstruck.  And our conversation was over before I really had a chance to think straight.  I felt kinda bad.  Dave did buy the tickets for your show as a Christmas gift, so I could actually see my dream realized.  I'm never that supportive of his dreams.  None of them are anywhere near as interesting or awesome as mine.

I apologized as we rode the escalator together toward the parking deck.  I found myself crying momentarily.  It was weird, but I was fine by the time I got to the car. I have a feeling I know why I reacted this way.  It was a great moment.  Meeting you has been one of the most inspiring experiences that's ever happened to me. Plus, you were kind and courteous and pleasant, just like I'd hoped.

Don't get me wrong, Mr. Sedaris.  I do lots of cool stuff.  I have a terrific life.  But this was big.  I admire you a great deal.  I was also relieved to find out that my letters didn't freak you out to the point where you felt it necessary to enlist the help of an outside agency to beef up security on your tour.

Writing to you is fun, and I enjoy being your pen pal.

Love always,


Mary Killian  ox


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Black Velvet Band


My mother had a gift for provoking my emotional collapse with carefully chosen phrases that killed me regularly.  I wish you could have heard the way she said them.  You, too, would have died.

"You look cute" was among her favorites.   Another was "Have a good time."

These gems were unleashed whenever I got ready to leave the house.  They were meant to discourage my confidence.  To temper my enthusiasm with self-doubt and guilt, hopefully preventing too much fun and the harrowing possibility of a careless pregnancy.

I shook off these manipulative attacks like a rhino with a poison-tipped spear in its flank.  I was going out, damn it.  And I was determined to have fun and sex and more fun.  Ideally, in that order.

"Have you even looked in the mirror?" she sneered, as I hustled past her down the front steps.  "Get your ass back inside and wipe that warpaint off your cheeks."

Mom sat in her beach chair, smoking a cigarette and pretending to read The Thorn Birds.  There's no chance in the world she ever finished that book.  It had way too many pages.

"How am I supposed to check my face?  You took the mirror," I called boldly over my shoulder and kept walking.

It's true.  Mom got pissed because of all the hairspray, and she lifted the mirror right off the bathroom door.  We lived like daytime vampires.  No reflections, super pale skin.  Of course now, I understand where she was coming from.  I'm cleaning sinks and toilets all the time, and it's a grind.  That AquaNet was some unforgiving lacquer.  It left a film on everything.  I would have blown my stack if I were her.

"It's as if you're asking to get raped," she yelled after me.

"Nobody asks, Mom!  It just happens."

I feel compelled to clarify that my mother loved me very much.  Because I know the pictures I paint with the words that I choose sometimes make it sound as though she were a monster, and she wasn't.  She just didn't want anything bad to happen to me.  She would sooner beat the living shit out of me herself than watch somebody else do it.  Intimidation tactics were her most creative defense against the unknown.  Reactions to this approach were inconsistent.

I tried to tow the line, even though the line kept moving.  I longed to be the good girl she wanted me to be, but the demands were so fucked up.  All that twisted talk was really confusing.  Perhaps if I had the help of an interpreter who could translate her emotional frustration.  Then maybe I might have been able to understand what she was going through.  We didn't have emotional frustration when I was young.  It hadn't been invented yet.
I called my mother five days after the hurricane.  We still had no power, but when I picked up the phone, the dial tone had returned.  It was also my birthday, and I couldn't bear the thought of her not knowing where I was.  Not one moment longer.  Although I did see myself as a victim of my mother's cruelty, the world was still very much all about me.

My father answered, and we had a lengthy thirty second conversation.

"Hi, Dad."

"Hey."

"How are you?"

"Good.  Lemme get your mother."

He yelled to her, and I heard the sound of her plastic slippers flopping down the stairs.  I wanted to squeeze myself through the phone wire so she could pin my shoulders against the kitchen wall again and scrub my face like when I was a kid. Yank my wrist backwards and tuck it under her armpit as we crossed the street. Rub my chest with Vicks when I was sick and sing old Irish songs.

I heard my dad tell her, "It's the kid."

And she asked, "Mary?"

There was excitement in her voice.  But by the time the phone changed hands, she was cold and guarded.  Poised to attack.

"Yes?"

"Hi, Mom.  It's me."

"I know it's you."

My heart sank.  It had been more than six months since our last argument, and she was still angry.  Still holding her breath, waiting for me to say she was right and I was wrong.  Or so I perceived.  I spent most of my young life trying to guess what the fuck was going on.  But I could only see things one way.  My way.  Same as her.

"Guess what.  I got married."

"I heard."

I couldn't imagine how.  I hadn't spoken with anyone from back home.  But Jason's mother knew.  She wasn't all that thrilled with the news, either.  Perhaps they'd gotten in touch with one another.  I would've loved seeing that introduction.  Two completely different women, forced together through concern for their children's impractical choices.

"And I'm gonna have a baby."

"Well, I figured that."

Her comment crushed me, and she knew it.

"How in the hell are you gonna manage with a baby?"

"Whaddya mean?  I'm doing good."  I tried to sound sturdy.  I added, "We're doing good," for emphasis.

She picked right up on my insecurity and moved in for the kill.

"There's no "we" in your situation.  That poor boy is carrying you.  You're dead weight."

"I'm not.  God, why do you hate me so much?"

"I don't hate you," she said.  "You hate yourself."

"You know what, Mom?  I gotta go."

I hung up the phone.  I felt all the heat in my body swirl around my heart, travel up my neck and settle into my brain.  I started crying inconsolably.  I never cry like that anymore.  If I did, I think I'd scare myself.  Pulling my own hair and shouting "Bitch!" into the quiet aftermath of our exchange.  I slammed the receiver down a few more times.

All in all, I thought the conversation went pretty well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tropical Depression

Folks told us the storm was coming, and they said it was gonna be bad.  I couldn't even begin to understand what all the fuss was about.  It rained at least twice a day in Biloxi, and nobody seemed to give a shit before.  Then again, I'd only been there a couple of months.  Who was I to decide the severity of local weather events?

I watched as my neighbors taped up their windows.  They dragged barbecue grills and motorbikes inside their trailers.  Our landlord suggested we fill the bathtub, just in case we lost power.  This way, we'd have water for washing and flushing the toilet.  I thought for sure he was overreacting.  It was difficult for me to wrap my mind around this kind of emergency.

We didn't have natural disasters in the Bronx.  It snowed in the winter, occasionally dumping quite a bit more than homeowners could shovel.  But school and jobs were seldom cancelled.  Everybody still had to go to work.  Sometimes, there was a fire or a car accident.  But that was about it.

"What's the big deal about hurricanes?" I asked Jason when he came home early from school to prepare for evacuation.  "What is it that they actually do?"

"They flood the place and destroy everything in their path."

"Is that what's gonna happen here?"

"I don't know, maybe.  We might have to stay on base for a couple of days, until everything blows over."

I hated that suggestion.  I was pretty certain I was pregnant at this point.  My boobies were sore, and I spent most of my time trying to will myself to get my period.

"That's crazy.  I'm not going."

"You have to go."

"Why?"

"All military goes to the shelter."

"Where are we gonna sleep?"

"On the floor, I guess."

"What about Waffles?  Can she come?"

"No pets.  She has to stay here," Jason advised.  "Don't worry, she'll be fine.  She'll probably just hide under the bed if she gets scared."

"I'll hide under there with her."

"You have to do what you're told."

I wished I was a cat.  A cat that wasn't pregnant.

Hurricane Elena began rather modestly as a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico during Labor Day weekend.  With no help from steering currents, it stalled off the coast of Florida, developing slowly into a category three storm.  I watched the news reports on TV covering the mass exodus from the area.  Carloads of families frantically stuffing their vehicles with provisions and bugging out to safer locations, while tourists and residents filled local hotels and churches.

As Jason secured the perimeter of our aluminum abode, I prepared food that we could eat during our detainment.  I made three sandwiches and packed a canister of Pringles in a brown paper bag, along with four sodas and some cookies.  The US Military kept us for almost three days.

We camped out on the floor of a classroom in one of the larger buildings on base. We shared the space with other enlisted men, women and their children.  The circumstances were unpleasant and we couldn't have been any less prepared, but at least we were safe.  I laid on our blanket in the darkness, listening to Jason breathe while he slept.  Infants cried and mothers soothed them.

I wonder if I can do this.  Have a baby.  I don't know.  Probably.

I squeezed my breasts on purpose to remind myself just how much they hurt.  My mind switched to thoughts of my mother.  She didn't even know where I was. Thinking about her always made me cry.  I wondered if she might come around once she found out the news.  I wished I could make my mom love me and not be so mad.  I turned on my side and tried to distract myself from the sounds of the wind and rain, ripping the world to shreds.  Hurricane Elena made landfall in Biloxi with 125 mph winds.

When Jason and I were finally released, we walked to the main entrance of the facility. Huge trees had been uprooted and broken in half.  Very few cars had any window glass remaining in them.  Some looked as though they'd been picked up and flung from one end of the street to the next.  I remember trying to identify a soda machine that had come to rest on top of a parked truck.  It looked as though it had fallen from the sky.  Dead birds of all sizes were everywhere.  Live wires sizzled and sparked in the middle of the road like snakes.  Plus there were snakes.  And rats. And other frantic animals.

At least our home was still there when we got back to the trailer park.  And wouldn't you know?  The cat was under the bed.  Some folks weren't so lucky.  I'd never seen anything quite so jaw-dropping in my life, and nothing like it since.

After the hurricane, we had no electricity or water for almost a week.  The temperature soared to nearly 100 degrees.  The first two days, Jason and I made attempts to get to the mall, in efforts to escape the oppressive heat.  Hanging out at the record store and sitting on in-door benches seemed like a brilliant idea.  But the buses weren't working, so we just walked back home and stared at each other.

By the third or fourth day, the Air Force base resumed its regular activity, and Jason returned to school.  To kill time in the sweltering heat, I dragged my ass down to the beach and watched young girls bathe their toddlers in the Gulf of Mexico.  I went back to the trailer and threw out all the food in our refrigerator.  I listened to news reports on the transistor radio.  Countless accidents involving men and chainsaws, men suffering heat stroke, men falling off roofs.

I lay on the mattress in the bedroom.  There wasn't any other place to sit.  I ate dry cereal.  I took sweaty naps on our dirty sheets.  I waited for the water truck to drive through the neighborhood.  I kept checking the phone to see if it was working.  I wanted to call my mom.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

These Promises of Spring

Rory did some time in the doghouse recently.  A little too much spirited backtalk, several days in a row.  Unnecessarily bold responses to routine inquiries that, if left unchecked, would surely become a habit with which I will never be comfortable.

"I brushed my teeth already."

"I finished my homework an hour ago."

"How should I know you wanted me to empty the washing machine?  It's not like you said anything."

You get the picture.  So I pulled the plug on Brother's runaway train.  Before it had a chance to leave the station and pick up steam.  And before anybody got hurt.

"No dessert.  No TV.  Three days, my dear," I told him.

Fortunately, these perks are still valuable currency to my almost eleven year old.

"Not fair," he groaned.

"Give me lip, and I'll make it a week."

There was brooding initially, which is always unfortunate because his sour mood impacts everybody in the house.  When one of us suffers a setback, we all seem to take the hit to some degree.  I also cautioned him that my company is a privilege and if it meant anything to him, he would do his best to earn it back.  Off he went to the bus stop on his own, in a considerable huff.

After he left, I reminded myself that this is true.  I am valuable.  Motherhood routinely teaches me how to recognize and safeguard my own worth, while I to try to teach my children about decency.  There's a lot going on behind the scenes with this gig.

Rory returned in the afternoon with his demeanor somewhat softer and less accusatory.  Fortunately, his happy life has a tendency to dilute even the worst cases of situational irritability.

"Mom, Grayson's riding his bike without training wheels for the first time!" he exclaimed as he burst through the front door.

"That's wonderful!  Did you congratulate him?" I asked coolly.

Let's face it.  Last time I checked, he was still pissed at me.

"No.  I forgot."

The disappointment in his voice was hard to ignore.  His kind observation hadn't earned him nearly as much leverage as he'd hoped.  I could tell he would have preferred the more loving version of his mom.  Instead, he was greeted with cautious reservation, and it bummed him out.

Rory took his science notes up to bed with him that evening, while the rest of us watched our favorite TV shows in the living room.

"You can study for ten minutes," I told him.  "Then shut the lights out.  Do you understand?"

"Yes," he replied.  His chin dropped to his chest.

Desmond made sure he laughed just a little too loudly at the jokes coming from whatever program was playing at the time.  So Rory could hear how much fun it was to not be in trouble.

"That's unnecessary, son," I said.  "Unless, of course, you'd like to join your brother upstairs."

Being a parent is labor intensive.  There are so many moving parts.  And I want my children to like me.  But I can't look the other way when they are disrespectful.  They practice their behavioral skills here in my home, but fortunately, so do I.  This is a vibrant testing area.

The following morning after Rory gathered his book bag and jacket, he looked for me.  I was sitting on the edge of the bed in my room, putting on my shoes.  He planted a delicate kiss on my cheek.

"I'm leaving, Mom.  I love you."

"I love you too, Bro."

"Today's gonna be great.  You'll see," he assured me.

"I hope so, honey."

I followed him to the door and waved goodbye.  His positivity was noteworthy.  But as he left the porch, he headed in the opposite direction of the bus.  I waited for a moment to see where he was going.

His little friends were coming up the street.  And as they got closer, I heard him say something nice to Grayson about his bike-riding.
I totally zoned out on a prompt in writing class.  My teacher read the class this gorgeous piece about spring and cherry blossoms and hopefulness.  I looked across the table at all the seats filled with beautiful volunteers.  Each of us, students assigned the task of interpreting feelings with the help of carefully chosen words. Like that's easy.

What are you doing here? one of the voices in my head asked.  You're not a writer.

Don't listen to her, another one replied.  Just pay attention to the exercise.  You'll do fine.

I made the mistake of looking at my phone.  I love the blinking blue light.  A text from my eldest boy!  The one who'd just about vanished for almost two years, resurfacing only several weeks ago.  A little banged up, perhaps, but remarkably intact.  I'm still thanking God around the clock.

"How is everybody?" Kirin inquired, as if he'd left that morning for the beach and absolutely no time had elapsed in his absence.

"Good.  We're all good."  I trembled when I spoke.  No one had seen him.  No address or phone number.  No social media.  "Honey, I thought you were dead."

"Aw, Mom.  I'm sorry."

"So am I.  I love you, Kirin."

"I love you, too."

What it all boils down to is love and acceptance, I suppose, in a broad and basic sense.  I can't change who he is, and he can't change me.  But the feelings are there.  We are trying a healthier approach to being in one another's lives.  And hopefully this time, we'll get it right.

Anyway, I couldn't concentrate on the poem.  My heart was so caught up in how much I love this young man.  All of them, actually.  My three sons, these promises of spring.  I stole another look at the phone.

Imagine that, I thought, Kirin is taking a shower and leaving for work in half an hour.  This is the most incredible news.

When the messages come in these days, they're still a shock.  Seemingly ordinary details are available to me once again, and they are categorically remarkable.  I tried not to seem so excited.  I wanted to jump in the air and hug everyone in the room.

I think I may have been struggling to forget him, because remembering was so painful.  I had nothing to go on.  No information.  That kind of worry is like grief, only without a body.  It's very confusing.

I hate to admit that I did the same thing to my mother.  Now I understand a little better what she must have gone through.  I found myself praying that God wouldn't make me wait as long as she had to, for me to come back around.  He answered my prayers.

*******

"Are you coming to the bus stop, Mom?" Rory asked.

Seventy five pounds of books pressed upon his firm, round shoulders, yet this child has no burdens to speak of.  His world is filled with fifth grade fun.  Hardly anything keeps him down for very long.  It's inspiring.

"Did you talk to Kirin last night?"

"No, my dear.  Maybe today."

"I can't wait to see him.  We should take him to the comic book store when he comes.  And the movies.  And the pool.  And J.J.'s for hotdogs.

"That does sound great.  I hope we can do all those things when he visits, " I said.

I only walked Kirin to school twice when he was a little boy.  Where I lived was too far, and I had no vehicle.  I leaned heavily on the excuse that I had a junkie boyfriend in my life, but I was also getting high back then.  I cared about my child very much, but he couldn't count on me.  I became an occasional visitor.  I dangled just beyond his reach, like a carnival prize of questionable value.

I thought about these memories as I finished making up my bed.  Life can be so funny and sad and wonderful and worrisome and excellent.  It's hard to make sense of things sometimes.  I keep God close, and I feel like it helps.

"I'll walk you to the bus, Rory, but only if you promise to hold my hand."

"I'll hold your hand, but only if you promise to let go at the corner."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Be Here Now


It's not like I was against abortion.  I'd already had several by the time Jason and I met.  I wasn't particularly keen on having a kid so soon, and I couldn't imagine he was either.  We'd only been together a couple of months.  But it's not like I had any other big plans clogging up my calendar.  I also think something about being married made me feel differently toward having a child.  Like maybe it would be okay.

I told Jason I'd get the situation straightened out.  You know, take a pregnancy test and inquire about my options.  But I dragged my feet.  I kept putting the appointment off, and the weeks started to add up.

I was worried about that bag of pills.  I didn't know how long drugs show up in your system or what they actually tested for at a military gynecologist's office.  I didn't want to get my new husband into any hot water.  I was afraid somebody would yell at me because I'd been careless – again.  If I asked about terminating the pregnancy, would they hassle me because I was married now?  Could they actually do that?

I didn't know if abortions were even available in Mississippi like they were back home.  In the Bronx, it seemed as though clinics were popping up everywhere.  I felt like I'd been to almost all of them.  I wasn't quite sure how things worked down south as far as these kinds of decisions went.  Or if there was even a choice.

After Jason left for school in the mornings, I lay on the mattress in the trailer.  I stared at the water stains on the ceiling, each different shape resembling a fetus. Some of them were holding hands.  I felt wetness collect in the corners of my eyes. I thought about my mother, and the tears came easily.  She was probably still really mad that I left.  I was hoping that anger might turn to worry soon.  So when I finally called the house, she wouldn't hang up on me.

I tried to guess how much it would cost to take a taxi onto the base so I could ask about an abortion.  It was unclear if the town of Biloxi even provided this amenity.  And what if the Air Force didn't allow unfamiliar vehicles onto the premises?  I'd have wasted all that money on a cab for nothing.  Maybe I could walk back.  But shit, I'd still be knocked up.

I wondered if I could convince Jason that keeping the baby wasn't such a bad idea. Babies were little, and it didn't seem like they needed much.  Diapers.  Four, maybe five outfits.  A few toys.  It'd be kinda nice to have something special to take care of.

As time went on, I got too scared to ask questions of any medical personnel.  I would be nearly four months along before I worked up the nerve to get a check-up. The nurse who did the examination read me the riot act for not coming in sooner to see the doctor.  She scolded me about the importance of pre-natal care and vitamins.  I felt my cheeks get hot with shame as I sat on the table in my paper dress.  I'd never considered the risks before.  I simply needed my mistakes erased and forgotten as quickly as possible.

For Christ's sake, I just wanted love.  Why was it always so difficult?