Thursday, November 18, 2010

Samuel Brown

Written for a writing contest - Had to be 600 hundred words or less,
start with the sentence "Some people swore that the house was haunted" and end with the sentence "Nothing was ever the same again after that".
I didn't win the contest but I did get rid of a ghost.

Samuel Brown

Some people swore that the house was haunted. I lived there. I knew it
was. And I knew the ghost by name. Samuel Brown.

His eyes were still open when they wheeled his body past me. His head
turned slightly to look at me and I imagined it was to acknowledge
what we just went through together. Then he was gone. I shivered and
pulled my bathrobe up to cover my neck even though I wasn’t cold.
Sweet Jesus, I thought, I’m never going to be able to sleep with the
lights off again.

I heard the stairs creak and was happy that Lulu didn’t wake up during
any of the chaos. “What are you doing out here in your pajamas Mama?”
she asked as she crawled up onto my lap. I smelled her hair and kissed
her tangled bed head and felt the instant comfort of something that
felt ordinary. I didn’t want to scare her and tell her that Samuel had
just died so I shrugged and said “Nothing Baby, it’s just a nice
morning so I thought I would have my coffee out here.”

We sat there on the top step of the porch in silence watching the fog
start to lift off the pond. It really would have been a nice morning
had it not been for the dead guy. Lulu stretched and yawned and put
her arms around my neck.
“Is today Sunday Mama?”
“Can we have chocolate chip pancakes then?”
“Yeah Sweetie, just not here. Let’s go to the diner instead.”

It all felt so wrong. Everyone at the diner was going about his or her
morning as usual. I just held a man’s hand while he died. Shouldn’t
the flags be flying at half-staff? Shouldn’t people be weeping and
telling stories about the heroic adventures of Samuel Brown? Couldn’t
people tell by my eyes that I had just witnessed a tragedy? Samuel
shouldn’t have died naked on the bathroom floor with someone he barely
knew holding his hand, whispering that everything was going to be ok
when really I knew that one of these rattling shallow breaths was
going to be his last.

For years now the space below me where he lived has been empty. The
For Rent sign is yellow and warped around the edges. The talk around
town is that no one will live there because of the way your hair feels
like it stands on end when you walk in the bathroom and that the
lights turn on and off by themselves. I know it’s all true. I see it
happening. Sometimes I think I hear him down there humming to himself
but I don’t mind anymore that his spirit isn’t ready to leave yet. I
think I would want to stick around if I had the choice too.

I thought about dying of cancer for a long time after that. I worried
that every ache or cough was going to be my death sentence. I talked
to my therapist until she somehow found a way to blame my paranoia on
my Mother and then it stopped. I wasn’t scared anymore. I could sleep
with the lights off. But I was never the same person again that I was
that Sunday morning when I sat with Samuel Brown while he died.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Our Eyes

After my Mother and I decided that she needs eye lifting surgery more that I do she packed her car and left for Florida. Without me and my slowly sagging eyelids.

She'll only be gone for 10 days but we covered every possible scenario for disaster just in case my world fall apart while she is gone. Kind of silly considering the fact that I am 41 years old and have managed so far to keep myself alive and out of prison without the her daily guidance. BUT... just to safe, I have the key to the house, a list of contents of everything she left in the freezer and a copy of her will in the event that the natural disaster is her untimely death.

(Later in the week)...

She's been gone now for 5 days and the only disasters have been a flat tire and two snow days. Not disasters by typical means but enough of a glitch for me to spend at least an hour wishing that once in a while it would be nice if someone took care of everything for me.

She texts me first thing in the morning, sends me photos of herself on the beach, playing golf, and from inside the restaurant she's eating at so I really haven't had the chance to miss her but I'm still glad that she'll be home soon. That pot roast in the freezer won't taste nearly as good if I make it.

And really, moving on won't require me to get an eye lift. I'll be delighted if in 20 years my eyes look just like hers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Entrer s'il vous plaît

At first I thought the wind blew the door open but it was a different force of nature. My Mother. Her hands were trying to catch the contents of her spilling purse and in the midst of not catching one thing, she fell. I wasn’t startled. She has been making entrances like this for my whole life, they’re done with a little less grace now that she’s older but it is what it is, Mom is here. I didn’t hear anything break so I poured her a cup of coffee and asked if she wanted cream. I knew she would be there for a bit trying to figure out how to put the cover back on her cell phone so I set her coffee on the floor next to her and patted her on the head while I said good morning.

An entrance like that makes my sister do a "calming breath" exercise that her therapist taught her. For some reason she can’t do it without holding both hands on her head while making a growling noise in the back off her throat on the “release breath”. I'm sure her method of remaining calm and not saying something hurtful to our Mother is helpful but it also makes this family seem crazier than we really are. Mom has the best intentions. No one sets out for the day wishing to enter a room like a tornado. It just comes naturally to her.

I don't know at what point in life your parents stop being a constant source of embarrassment, I only know that I got to that point a lot faster than my sisters. Maybe it's because I need her more than they do. She brings me wine on Fridays, cheese on Wednesdays and calls my not quite yet ex husband bad names in Italian whenever she sees me cry. On this particular morning she is here at 7:30 to watch my sick little kid so that I can go to work. She can fall all over the place, leave a trail of destruction and i'll just step around her. I need her. And more coffee.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Project Geronimo

Lily attends enrichment class at school. It is a time during the day when the kids that score the highest on their state tests get together and "think outside the box". They had the same sort of thing when I was growing up, not that I ever was in it, but it existed and was called the "gifted" class. Calling the class "enrichment" is a safer name for the social structure that is found in elementary school today and doesn't alienate you from the rest of your friends who are not so gifted.

I have heard that when your baby is born it is born with 1/5 of your brain, in Lily's case she has about half of mine. She's super smart and I'd like to think that she's in the enrichment class because of that half of my brain that she took while in the womb. I'm sure this is not true at all but it makes me feel better having a reason for not being able to retain any useful information anymore.

Part of her enrichment class this year involves doing an independent project on something that is of interest to her. Lily decided to do her project on a horse named Geronimo that lives at the barn where she takes riding lessons. Great. Fun. Something she loves to do. The ideas for the project are hers, mostly, just minor Mother coaching from me. One of the things she needs to do is spend time at the barn doing and seeing all of the things required to take care of this horse. Arrangements were made for her to go to the barn this past Saturday morning to help out and start pulling this project together. She could not wait. She picked her outfit out the night before, jodhpurs, over-sized sweatshirt, riding boots. All the key components that help her to look the part of a rider and woke up excited and ready to go.

It was cold Saturday morning. Really, really cold. When we got there she learned her assignment was going to be changing out the water buckets in the horse stalls. I thought it was the right thing for her to do, starting at the bottom, learning about the fundamental things a horse needs like food and water. Perfect place to start, right? Except that the water buckets were heavy and Lily so far has been exempt from performing any physical labor in her life. She managed OK with the first two, I tried not to hover but could see her struggle with the fuller ones so I helped her carry them out and dump them. Once they were emptied, of course, they had to be filled back up. One would think that task would be a no brainer but not for the child who has never done anything with a hose except run under it with her friends to keep cool in the summer.

It was painful to watch her struggle awkwardly with the on and off valve. I tried to coach her into a more comfortable position to work the hose but she gave me that all too familiar "you don't know anything, Mom" look so I walked with her and didn't say a word as she got her hands soaking wet and looked near tears as she lost the feeling in her finger tips during the last two stalls.

All the while I could not help but think about this documentary I had watched last weekend about these children growing up in the Himalayas. They were as young as Lily and had to work all day in the the fields gathering this grassy hay mixture for their animals for the winter. They made these huge bundles of grass that they strapped onto their back and walked back to their house, climbed up this rickety ladder onto the roof and spread it out only to turn around and go back for more. I laughed at the thought of Lily doing that. She's tells me almost every day that she is so tired after school she can't carry her backpack from the car to the house and has to lay on the couch and watch a show for half an hour to relax.

There was no option not to help my Mother in the evening when I was little. There was no laying on the couch watching cartoons. Not that there were even cartoons on during the week and when we could watch tv I actually had to perform the act of movement to change the channel. That is an unimaginable task for Lily to comprehend. One day last week Lily called me in from making dinner and asked me if I knew where the remote was. She didn't even get up to look for it but called for me to do it. Now, i'm a sucker, but not a total idiot and after a minor freakout on my part she realized that not only was I not going to find the remote for her but my very real threat to disconnect cable and donate that money to the unfortunate people of Haiti struck a wave of fear that made her jump up, turn off the tv and play with the hampster that she desperately wanted and now runs on a wheel to no where waiting for someone to show it the love a caged animal deserves. Good save Lily. We still have cable.

The time at the barn ended well with Lily thrilled to watch her instructor ride a thoroughbred from the comforts of a heated tack room. She was happy again once she started to regain the feeling in her fingers and toes. For the record, I told her to dress warmer but her overwhelming desire to look like one of the girls from the Saddle Club show held strong and she looked super cool but froze her ass off. I'm hoping that she remembers that the next time she goes to the barn.

When we got home that kid was tired! And I was pretty convinced that I was failing at raising a child who will someday be able to take care of herself. I think I have instilled some good values in her. She is kind and honest and a hard working student but how could a 9 year old not know how to work a hose?

I covered her up with a blanket. I should have let her get the blanket herself but there are some things that seem Motherly that bring me joy. A few minutes later when she held her blue plastic cup up and asked me to pour her some water I said "No. The fridge is 20 feet away. Get up and pour yourself a cup of water " she could not believe it. Nor would she get up and get the water. She continued to hold the cup up and beg pllllllllease just get me some water. Simple "no" was my answer that time and the 25 more times that she asked me as she eventually wiggled her pained body onto the floor and fell asleep with her head down and the blue cup tipped over by her side.

I watched her take the first nap that she has taken since she was a toddler and have decided that I need to stop doing so much for her. Not only am I moving on to a new life for myself but now I'm taking Lily with me. I can't wait to see the look on her face when I ask her to help me carry wood in after dinner for the fire tonight.