Painted Pictures

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.  

Advertisements

Working in the city meant semi starvation rations, living in the city meant free days at the museum of art, tranquil walks even in the coldest winter months.  My worst day was when Pristina died.  She came with me to the city when I moved from my parents home in the suburbs and the community college that taught me nothing.  They tolerated both of us (yes the college as well).

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.

After I found myself awake beside the man I didn’t know,  my longing for Pristina grew – she was just across the hall all alone.  I crept out of bed, gathered up my strewn clothing and crept along the hallway to my own studio apartment.  I cried and petted my cat telling her that I would not leave her again.  I fell asleep, the next day I was late for work though refreshed.  I received a promotion, raise as well as a corner office in the basement that year for my diligence.

I didn’t go home for Christmas that year.  In the new year my parents wrote me from Florida encouraging me to visit them in the new retirement community they had found.  I started working a second job in the evening and for two years Pristina and I worked and slept in a studio apartment and the writer across the hall slipped us poetry under our door.

I paid off my last college loan on November 16th and that night I ordered out and shared a rare New York Strip with soft wedged potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and vinegar for myself and Pristina.  Pristina sneezed over the potatoes and licked her lips each time she swallowed a dainty piece of meat.  She taught me the art of savoring a meal.

Pristina and I moved to a one bedroom apartment with wooden floors and an ancient looking bathroom which depressed us both.  The kitchen was dark green with brown linoleum and I told myself we would get used to it because the skyline of Chicago was worth the depressing dark interior.  It wasn’t and one year later we moved into a renovated old brick factory.  The writer who turned poet lived on the bottom floor with his wife and their golden retriever.  The writer turned poet’s wife would tap on my door; she had long dark black hair and her face was smooth but she would smile at me and invite me to their apartment.  “No worries, no worries, I’m not jealous.  Come and eat with us.”  I always refused and Pristina would sit upon an old heat register meowing at the poor dog who lacked exercise.

I left for work one frigid January day and was late coming home because the CTA was running slow and the sidewalks were slippery.  Pristina was alone and in the dark when she died without me.

Her funeral expenses set me back financially, and I had to miss a day of work but I came home with a jasper jar with her ashes in it.  I called my mother to tell her and after explaining that Pristina had not died years ago I hung up and sat in the dark.  I understood the coldness of a smooth jasper jar.

The writer turned poet, turned writer showed up in February with a great framed painting of Pristina for my brick walls.

“You need color up here.  Pristina, her dark fur and golden eyes will make this place feel like home again.”

I said nothing to him while he drilled and worked and swept up the dust of his labors.

“Why don’t you have dinner with us?”

“No thank you.”

He slid the wide door of my apartment shut and tip toed away.  I sat in the dark for another night with my back to the painting.

April in Chicago can be violent.  The wind slammed and bounced against the tall buildings and tumbled down to rattle old brick ones sheltering poets, writers, wives and administrative assistants.  The dog below howled in a low whimper when the lightning was replaced by the thunder.  Pristina lept down from her perch on the wall and walked, her tail perpendicular, to the register and sat to mew in the old register.

There was calmness.

I thought of making love one more time to the poet before I had my picture painted and hung next to Pristina but thought no, I did not want to surrender again to my needy self consumed psyche which was only fodder for the deceitful.  You see, I spent so much time imagining my happy ending I discovered I loved being relieved it never happened.  In fact I realized that there was no such thing as poets, painters or writers only a terror of being alone.

Dead Today

How long are we dead Missy? A moment, a flash of time that encompasses exquisite pain and then – what? Do we remain in a paroxysm of memory or do we go blank a sudden release?  And really, old friend, what is worse?

So I read today that you are dead.

Are dead, and were dead, and was dead. Ah the beauties of the English language, each statement reflects for the audience who I am…well to hell with them.

How long are we dead Missy? A moment, a flash of time that encompasses exquisite pain and then – what? Do we remain in a paroxysm of memory or do we go blank a sudden release?  And really, old friend, what is worse?

Your obituary was short and brief; no viewing, no opportunity to submit to your favorite charity – the abortion clinic, the woman’s homeless shelter or possibly the city’s club for user men. They put you in your grave and since weather permits a “brief” family ceremony is allowed, graveside, where the dirt hides their mess now. At last, my friend, your very own address.

And what dear, is the ceremony about? The children that don’t know you because you were unfit or broke or worse, deceived into believing you were too much of all the above?  What of the son who was raised by your parents, the same parents who smiled at our girl scout uniforms and told us both we were communists? What, would, will, shall, it be about?

And your “companions,” will they be there? Yeah, I know dear and so do you, if they slept with you then they loved you right? Tell me, did you ever get over that notion? You know, being able to brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say, ‘I am more than an easy lay’? Or did it ever occur to you that possibly sex, no matter how intense, is not love? Did they ever give you the time?

Maybe, I don’t know.

Missy, I always thought you pretty; your smoke-blue eyes and blemishless ivory skin, even young as we were, I thought you pretty. It was always you who ran from the boys on the playground — they showing you their crotch and yelling, “sharpen my pencil, Missy, sharpen it for me.” On the playground, God help the early-developed girl.

Later we watched the boys, who stood up straight for the blond prom queen’s father. While they fawned over future wives, they made sure you knew their intent; making you blush and me shudder. They snickered in their Christian youth groups and pondered you. We fooled ourselves into thinking that their gold crosses meant something to them. But they were raised right and condoms were always ready in their pockets and roomy back seats. For justice’s sake, I wish them daughters with large breasts and low self-esteems.

As for me, I wait for the dead to tap on my windowpane, and for someone else to tell me their name. Today it was yours and in a swirl of green girl scout uniforms, hobo Halloween costumes and trampled prom dresses your blank, smoke-blue eyes, look back at me, no more questions just perhaps surprise.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Beautiful

I’m not dead yet – but the beautiful is.

I read romance novels when in high school; wild and glorious sex and I thought about dying a virgin.

I’m not dead yet – but the beautiful is.  I saw her in the obituaries a couple days ago – and now her funeral is just across the street, in a stately Catholic church, but I won’t go.

First of all, because it’s Friday, second because I don’t want to see anyone dead today.

She was beautiful when she was young, very much so but her photograph for the obituary was only vaguely beautiful – what I call a George Orwell beautiful.  Remember, in the novel, 1984 remember?  He made love, the hero, and he was afraid of rats, and he thought the lower class, the ignorant lower class, had a moment in time, a brief, glorious moment in time when their women, young girls, were gloriously beautiful.  Then of course they married, had children, thickened around the waist and did all their laundry by hand — so became lumps.

Well, listen, George, some of us are born lumps, stay lumps, then fade from memory – never close to glory.

Back to the beautiful.

She wore the short skirt of a cheerleader, and she was, I’m sorry to say, loud.  Her obituary says she was kind and gentle – she wasn’t when she was eighteen, thirty years ago now.

I won’t tempt fate (that’s 21st-century I-don’t-believe-in-God gibberish), so I’ll say, hey “rest in peace,” when the hearse pulls out, and her parents follow behind.

You see I got over the romance novels and followed up with Jane Eyre and all of Austen.  They didn’t pull any punches, the good are not rewarded, and the only defense an unbeautiful has is a dry humor and endurance.

I’ve never given up my conservative bent toward human nature because of the books I’ve read – we all fall short, don’t we.

What I’m trying to say is being unbeautiful, and realizing the lies of romance and gravity-defying sex, gave me a jump up.  Losing my virginity was a terrible experience – I really should have waited for someone who cared but then perhaps I would have died a virgin.  Perhaps I will die a virgin anyway, living on a technicality.

So when the hearse of the once beautiful pulls out, I’ll stand at my window, still standing as an unbeautiful, but still standing.  I will say a prayer to a God that no one believes in really, words that people disdain ( how do you know, how can you be sure).  I’ll pray because I’m sure that as surely as the beautiful die and fade and my teeth grind at all the lies little princesses are fed, we do not end up in glass coffins but in lead.

 

Photo by Greg Ortega on Unsplash

When She Thought of Him

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper. 

After the shove or taunt, she imagined herself with the older man who came at night.  He was the one who would cause envy in all those who sneered at her during the day.  He was the one who spoke to her gently, read poetry and didn’t like to dance.   She remembered events that made her happy but never happened.

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper.  When the cool started to settle in she dreaded the call to be sociable outside the need for church.

The whispered jeers and snarling looks of disdain from her peers would not have been so painful if they had not, in turn, been so hypocritically kind to her father.  Their kindness lightened his face with hope when invitations were sent but she refused to go.

“Mrs. Harper will think you rude; you didn’t accept her last invitation.”  She would go and in the prettiest dress but feel awkward and uncomfortable none the less.  She would sit as still as possible allowing her tea to cool or lemonade to grow warm.  She wouldn’t eat a thing for fear of looking more uncouth and gangly then feel the tears burn into her eyes knowing her father was disappointed.  So she thought of the older man who came at night.  He would walk by Mrs. Harper’s window and she would think that he was so handsome and some day she would be the envy of all the lovely girls when she walked by his side.

After such times away from home and books, and bubbling brooks, away from tracks in the snow and blankets of fallen leaves she would think of him.  She saw him in the fields right after harvest, standing alone among the stubbled stalks of corn.  She saw him late at night while the new moon hid in angles; he stood between the broad, tall barn and her lofty old farm house.  He stood and gazed up at her window and when she crept up to the glass to see if indeed he was there, he would not flinch or change expression but continue to stare.

When William only tipped his hat at her not seeing her, she would think of him, tall, angular and looking off into the distance.  When Tom’s smile turned into a laugh as she walked by she thought of him, standing just below her window.

Then one day her father sent her away to Chicago.  The move was sudden and unexpected.  He one day fired all of his hired hands and sent her to Chicago to learn.  Her grief was an agony and only once did she try to plead.  In the city, there was no time to think of him.  She had only time to learn how to set the table, order her meals in French and dance in shoes that pinched.

She had no time to remember and then one spring a gentle touch caused her amnesia regarding the white tail, the fiery red fox, the tracks in the snow and the blanket of multi-colored leaves at her feet.  She may have remained if not for a night at home again.  Smiling at her father, speaking to him in excited tones of what goes on in Chicago.  Asleep in an instant so glad to be home and suddenly awake, the old sadness about her.

He sat on the edge of her bed, broad-shouldered, angular and silent.  If she closed her eyes and willed herself asleep, she would return to the world of whirling seasons, high towers and smiling people.  Or she could open her arms up to him.

He had stayed with her when she was alone, so opening her arms to him she felt the alarm of bitter cold for only a moment and the soft contentment of returning home again.

Photo by m wrona on Unsplash

 

Never Mind

What do I tell my children?  What do I tell my aging parents, honest in that they
Do not envy me.

How can I convey to you the heaviness of my heart?

I’m sure you’ve felt it, experienced the physical weight of sadness.

That sudden drop which suspends inside.

Lead within the quasi-weightlessness of water.

Water, wrapped in flesh, encased in a mind that cannot lift the eyes to see the horizon.

Just take the moment of temporary lightness, the mire of reality is unfair.

No one can help me, so I look to the earth for inspiration

I look to words for hope

I look to art for some sign of sympathy.

Never mind.

The earth has become paved over with concrete without thought to next week.

The words are glossed over by Freudian overtones that mankind craves.

Art has become not the object but the person who renders nothing but style.

What do I tell my children?  What do I tell my aging parents, honest in that they do not envy me?

How do I keep from mourning the family given and then taken?

The lessons have stopped and I am now atop the tiny dynasty learning faith.

And even that the world insists gets in the way.

Never mind.

Mirror, Mirror, Mother

Okay, listen, let’s get one thing straight before we go on.  I loved my father.  He loved me.  I couldn’t help his natural appetites.  My step-mother was there, yes but if he would have said ‘hey, I’m tired tonight I’ll see you in the morning,’ he may have lived longer. 

It didn’t work, my Mother was right.

She isn’t my real Mother but she’s the only one I have.  I speak to her in the mirror and no, we don’t look anything alike.

She’s beautiful, I mean really beautiful and I’m pretty.  There is a large difference.

She told me that deceit only works if you want to be rich, it never works if you want to be in love.  I thought, (and naturally so) what the hell does she know?  She seduced my father and I’m not too sure if he died of natural causes or if she helped him die of natural causes.

Okay, listen, let’s get one thing straight before we go on.  I loved my father.  He loved me.  I couldn’t help his natural appetites.  My step-mother was there, yes but if he would have said ‘hey, I’m tired tonight I’ll see you in the morning,’ he may have lived longer.  I suppose he died of what we all die of; free will.

Anyway, I was up in the attic trying to figure out the spinning wheel and thinking of a guy I just met at the well.  Now, Mom always told me not to touch the point of the spinning wheel because if I got a drop of blood on the snowy white wool I was spinning I’d fall asleep for 100 years.

I believed her because she worked like a dog for that snowy white wool.  She said that with my dark complexion, big brown eyes and rosy glow I’d look fabulous in white.

She wanted to marry me off as soon as possible.  To her credit, she was sizing up a very rich baron with lots of lands and a modern manor house with water heat.  I think of what life may have been there every once in a while.

I had other plans.  He was fair, noble, handsome and brave, the guy at the well. So I pricked my finger and dropped my own blood on the snowy white wool.  As I tumbled into that deep, deep sleep my Mother warned me about I heard her yelling my name from the basement.  Something about being an idiot.

I think if she would have just left well enough alone she wouldn’t be talking to me through the mirror.  She could have stayed in my father’s castle and lead a normal albeit rather evil life making her poison apples and scaring little kids.

“Did you have to lock your door again last night?” asked the mirror.

“Yes, and you don’t have to tell me I told you so.”

“Move up into the tower, with that game leg of his he won’t follow you up there.”

“He won’t let me cut my hair.”

“Let your hair grow.  It’s always grown fast and thick; you might be able to escape by it in a year or two.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“So is being married to that frog of a man you waited to kiss on your wedding night.”

The Driftwood Gatherer

I looked up in hope at my father. His hair was gray and his eyes a sharp sky blue. He seemed tall to me but not so tall among other men at church. Until that moment, I was not sure that I was even noticed by my father — ever.

I never said much, being the youngest and being the youngest it was best that I stay as still as possible.  There is hard labor for those of us who do not understand the art of silence.

Yes, the art of silence.  Do not hide, for when you are among siblings, out of sight does not mean out of mind, especially when an order is easily delegated.  Prepare to be busy, not look busy, this is essential to survival.  Plan your day do not hope for the best.  So among my chores, the major one being the gathering of driftwood – no matter what the weather –I became the driftwood gatherer, and my days were planned.

The weather made me I’m sure; wind blowing, cutting sleet, rain in deluges, and heat that baked the sand to almost dead white kept me in one piece.  Never once did I ever hear an anxious voice from the house as I drug the driftwood from the shore to the door.  This was my job, the others had theirs.

No one wanted driftwood gathering.

Annie, bless her heart wasn’t up too much.  She was always sickly and kept close to Mother.  Mother was harried and busied and spent most her life, it seemed to me, scolding my brothers and clucking over Annie, who stood still for Mother to wipe her tears away in a sort of rough but tender way.

I hated school but loved to read – as most readers discover.  School distracts.

I was shunned for the books I read, but I read them anyway.  I was the driftwood gatherer, I could face the disdain of any long nosed librarian.  When we went once a week to the library (my fellow classmates in purgatory), I felt at times she only pretended to put on her worst face for me.  I do not know to this day if it was my selection of books or my designation as family driftwood gatherer that sparked a look of possible admiration in her face, possible disdain.

As driftwood gatherer I felt it incumbent upon myself to be observant.  There were several old Bibles in the library – thus and so Bible donated by Captain Daniel McGuire and thus and so Bible donated in the memory of Captain Joseph Benton.  On and on I could go.  After my selection of books by George Elliot, Jane Austen, or any of the Bronte sisters, I would go along the long low shelf of Bibles and touch each one.  I was the only one allowed to touch them, because in my family, I was the driftwood gatherer and in the library I was sneaky, or prized.  I touched them because for those who donated the personal or family Bible to the local library usually meant shipwreck, leaving the big lakes that took down their loved ones and frankly being sickened by the whole idea of setting sail.  I felt that I was connecting to the driftwood I found along our shores by touching those Bibles.

I was very young when I was first sent out to gather driftwood.  The shoreline to Huron was close to our house, and it was cold in the morning, any time of year. The mist was often low to the ground.

One October morning I was lost for some time, trying to find my way back with driftwood.  The driftwood was water logged and worn smooth by the roughness of the fresh water waves.  You see, so many don’t understand that fresh water has no plashy, saltwater softness to it – ever.  The ships wooden and even the new long boats take a beating within the sharp and harden waves of Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario.

My father found me first.

“Well, at last I find my daughter hard at her chore.  What has become of you?”

“Huron was in every direction,” I sniffed a little hardened in attitude due to the heaviness of my load and the ache in my shoulders.  “Even on shore Huron mists up and hides shelter.”

“Naw, not true.  Huron is only along the east here.  She sent the mist to confuse you.  She didn’t want you to leave.  There is no harm in her.”

“Why doesn’t she want me to leave?” I felt little regard for her at the moment and I felt myself struggling not to pee.

“Well, Huron loves all lovely young maidens.”

I looked up in hope at my father.  His hair was gray and his eyes a sharp sky blue.  He seemed tall to me but not so tall among other men at church.  Until that moment, I was not sure that I was even noticed by my father — ever.  I could feel a thin mucus crust along the edge of my nose and my eyes felt swollen and my shoulders ached with pulling the driftwood beside me, in what seemed to be all day.

“Now let’s see what you have here.”  My father pulled up the driftwood that I had gathered; gray and black, heavy and long.  “Yes, yes, I knew you had it in you.  This is from my ship I’m sure.  Don’t you see pretty maiden, Huron loves you and wants to keep you near, and has given you a piece of what I worked so long and hard for.”

“I think I should find Mother.”  I told him.  His fine blue eyes stared long and hard at the driftwood I had drug along behind me; he said nothing.  So I started off again, away from Huron’s shore, my shoulder’s aching and my legs dragging deep within the sand.  When I looked up again, the house was in view and I felt like weeping.

“Where have you been, you dolt, looking at rocks again?” asked my Mother.

“No,” I said, “ “looking for driftwood like you said.”

“I’ve told you not to be so long — what would your father say if he could see you?”

I thought of the Bibles in the Library and how ours remained on the shelf.  I shrugged and went into the warm kitchen.

Nearly every day, I look for driftwood and wonder which sailors clung to the edges and then let slip away and which Bibles are donated, which remain.