Posts made in October, 2006

Living in the lap of luxury

Posted by on Oct 20, 2006 in Reckless youth | 0 comments

I remember the day I realized that material objects would never become important enough to me that I could not do without them. I was living in New York in a one bedroom flat with my first husband. He had a propensity for haunting the Grenwich Village streets and making friends with the many odd characters who hung out there. On this particular night the little wife (me) was sitting home, barefoot and pregnant, when he burst in the door with a card carrying communist. You have it right folks; the red scourge had walked right into my little domestic corner of the world. Everything we owned in the world was in those two rooms and had been transported from Virginia in a Ford Econoline Van. We had a bed, a dresser, two bookcases built by me, a goodwill trunk, refinished by me, a rug, a sofa, a rocking chair given to me by my Mom, a table made of a door and screw on legs, and four directors chairs. On the trunk sat a really crappy stereo and a picture my brother had framed hung over the top. The communist, who had soft brown eyes, a wild Bolshevik style beard, and a bit of an unwashed look and smell, gazed an accusatory eye around our modest flat.

“You sure have a nice place here,” he said in a neutral tone. My husband immediately began to apologize for our shameless accumulation of consumer goods and blamed me for the problem. The soft brown eyes contained a question mark as they focused kindly on my own.

“Well”, I said. “I enjoy the few things we do have and don’t think I should have to apologize for them. I will say if they were all taken away tomorrow, I would be none the poorer, because I know what is truly valuable.” He turns to John with a jabbing finger pointed toward his heart.

“She’s a hell of a lot more honest than you are. You’re full of shit.”

John sputtered for a time trying to justify his position and attempted to hop on board the same take it or leave it train with me. It was way too late and he went down in flames in front of his new buddy. I listened to them rant for a bit, then got up and made a sandwich for the thin disheveled Marxist. He accepted it gratefully.

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The House at the top of the Hill

Posted by on Oct 4, 2006 in Just for laughs | 0 comments

I certainly had a difficult time envisioning living there when we pulled into the driveway of the house on Pohite Drive. Yes, the price was great, the neighborhood was pleasant enough, reasonably affluent, suburban, and generally well kept, but at the top of the steep, weed-infested driveway a little third world country was hiding out in Middle America. My eyes and ears were immediately drawn to the rusted out hulk of a car, sitting under the back yard shade tree. With doors and wheels removed it was serving as a house for the two large snarling dogs tied to its frame. I rolled my eyes to glance at my husband and suggested we save the back yard tour for later. The realtor had tried to prepare us for what waited, but was conflicted on how much information to provide and still sell the house.

Nothing could have prepared us for the almost life sized bullfight scene on the entry foyer wall. I excused the drunken artist, because El Toro’s commanding presence served to divert attention away from the decorator’s nightmare at the top of the wrought iron stairway. The pink carpet, electric blue walls, red satin drapes, and brown velvet sectional sofa was accessorized by a large plastic tree, covered with bright yellow lemons. The dining room was equally exciting, with a large table and three china cabinets crammed into a room about 10 by 10 feet. The kitchen was almost an after thought, bright yellow with knotty pine cabinets. I have thankfully blocked out a lot of the rest of the colors in the house, except for the downstairs bathroom. It was a tiny room with no windows, and I stepped into it as I reached for the light switch. I released an audible gasp at the Chinese red ceiling, and the black, red, and gold wallpaper with a paisley design larger than my head. The realtor trailed after us, temporary bereft of all his sales skills, mouthing something that sounded like, “You don’t want to buy this, do you?”

Ben, in that happy way of 7 year olds, loved it immediately. As one of my friends once told me when her child wanted a picture of Elvis painted on black velvet, children are not born with good taste. He thought the mural cool and was thrilled by the secret passageway between the bedroom and the living room via the closet. He discovered a hidden spot under the stairs where he could store toys and outside there was a huge back yard and a wooded lot, where a city boy was free to roam. We were all delighted with the lake at the bottom of the hill and I was drawn to the promising garden spot. Determined to be wise shoppers, we went through the house testing the water pressure, and looking for level floors, tight windows, sound heating system, and good insulation, all the things we had problems with in our city house in the fan. We were delighted to find nothing wrong with any of those areas and figured we could paint over El Toro in no time. I have always heard that you don’t really know someone till you marry them, and I have learned that marriage and real estate contracts have a lot in common. I remember the terror I felt the day we both put our names on a paper that said we were obligated to pay more money than either of us could make in many years. Gradually we learned to take it one payment, and one day at a time.

We had hoped for a moving day before school started, but when problems arose in the long chain of loan agreements, we were determined that Ben would start his first day of second grade in Hanover County. That meant driving him to a babysitter in the new neighborhood each day so he could catch the bus with her children, then picking him up in the afternoon at her house. This went on for more than a month, but finally we signed, closed, rented a truck, made a big pot of chili and bought a lot of beverages, and invited all the people we knew over one Saturday morning to help tote boxes and furniture.

The realtor told us we would meet the owner at the house and he would supply the key, but no one was in sight when we arrived. We knocked on every door repeatedly, rang every bell with no luck, and even honked the horn on the big moving truck. Finally, one of our more notorious acquaintances found egress through an unlocked window. We cheerfully waited by the front door for quite some time, and finally he emerged, followed by a teenager holding a shotgun. Seems the owner’s son had decided instead of answering the door he would barricade himself in the bedroom with boxes and weapons. Fortunately, our friend had been caught in much worse situations than this in the past, and was experienced in convincing strange men that his intentions were honorable. After a call to the father’s job, we were allowed to deposit our things in the downstairs, while the son and several other children stayed upstairs in hiding. The owner came home around lunchtime, gave us the keys, and negotiated the sale of a small aluminum johnboat that was tied to a tree on the bank of the lake. We later found out he stole the boat from the local Boy Scout troop. We have some consolation in that he left a very large sombrero and an extra shotgun behind in the attic, and took his snarling dogs and their rusted out car/doghouse away with him.

When we brought Bear, our German Shepherd-St. Bernard combination dog to his new home, he acted like he had arrived in doggie heaven and lived his best years in that back yard, watching the bunny rabbits and birds eat from his food bowl. It was several months before we began to find out that our “modern” home had it’s own unique problems including aluminum wiring, an expensive heating system, and a desperate need for air conditioning. On the positive side, our location at the top of the hill meant all the leaves blew away into our neighbor’s yards, and we had wonderful drainage. Wrenn was determined that he could mow the steep slope without getting off his newly purchased riding mower. I’m quite certain he wouldn’t have told me about turning it over if I had not questioned him about the sliced up pair of shoes I found stashed in the laundry room. He hated being caught, but I don’t think he really took my advice that he should be more cautious to heart. He is always fond of saying that any landing you can walk away from is a good one, and of course, he doesn’t own an airplane.

Gradually we made the house our own. We painted and patched, wallpapered and un-wallpapered and painted again. In a few years our son Jason arrived, followed 28 months later by his sister Eva. We began to feel crunched for space, and I moved furniture every month or so in one room or another, trying to make the house bigger, but no matter how many rearrangements I made, the walls stayed in the same place. Through the hot summers I while I stood over boiling pots in the tiny kitchen, canning and freezing all the bounty from our organic garden I kept asking myself, “Why didn’t we go for the air conditioned one we saw?” Still, when it came time to move again, it was bittersweet. All of Ben’s birthday parties from second grade to high school had been held there. For Jason and Eva it was the only home they had ever known. Bear, our beloved noble canine friend, was left behind, buried under a dogwood tree in the backyard after his heart gave out suddenly one summer night. The garden plot I had carefully nourished with hundreds of truckloads of fairground straw and manure became the proud procession of another organic gardener, who probably bought the house for that spot alone. I left him my wonderful asparagus bed, the strawberries, the blueberry bushes, the apple and peach trees. I knew he would care for them tenderly, but still, they had been my joy. When the new owner’s wife complained about my choice of green carpet for the upstairs, I bite my tongue graciously as I glanced around the now tastefully coordinated and calm room. I silently wished I had just hung a curtain over El Toro so I could reveal it for her with a wicked flourish.

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Rear View Mirror

Posted by on Oct 3, 2006 in Angst, anger, anarchy, Dad, Mother, Reckless youth | 0 comments

I wish everyone could have a childhood like I imagined mine to have been. I find with time I have blurred the sharp angles of real memories with a heavy snowfall of fantasy gathered from books, movies and television. In short, I have Disneyized my own biography until everyone comes out looking like characters from a 50’s sitcom. I have to admit that I am a second generation enabler, although I’m becoming less so as each day progresses. Sometimes I wonder if anyone actually ever had a truly happy childhood. I read lots of stories to that effect, but then, I also write stories like that too. I am not denying there were joyful moments, laughter, true affection, and shared adversity that made us all strong, but a lot of the time we were no better than any other addicts, desperate, lying awake, wishing for it all to end, and terrified that wishing might make it come true.

I have become bogged down of late with writing true, and then finding I do not have the nerve to put those words out for everyone to read. The Disney version is so much more palatable, which is why I cover so many early memories with a warm blanket of nostalgia. I suppose my childhood was average overall, producing neither an ax murderer nor a saint, but like the majority of people, I grew up in a dysfunctional family. If you could squint your eyes just a bit though, the out of focus picture looked almost perfect, like the undertow in the ocean, invisible but deadly. When it was time for me to create my own family, I was determined not to use the pattern already cut for me. While feeling smug that I was wise enough to learn from their mistakes, I was at first oblivious to the fact that what I created was merely dysfunctional in different ways. It takes a lot of energy to keep up a fantasy family, making sure that everyone looks good all time to everyone outside. My mother processed that energy in abundance, and I seem to have inherited her skills, strength of will, and propensity to delude myself.

When she made her final escape to a place where there is no need for delusion, I began to see more clearly. I have a stack of poems written in that era that attest to my loss, but also to my release. After a time though, I stopped hearing a lot of the voices she had set inside my head. By the time my father left to join her, I knew the voices I could still hear were being propped up by my own inner struggle alone, and I was finally able to stop their destructive power. No one gets a clean slate to write on however. I bear the scars of every word spoken, every blow landed. I wish it were myself alone standing bowed, but defiant, from life’s repeated jabs, but to my great dismay, it is too late to erase the pain that I have passed on to my progeny. Life repeats, laughing at our slow wittedness, and I come at last to the punch line to discover I have heard the joke before, and should have known.

So what to do with this too late revelation? For my own part I will embrace the reality, but try to refrain from the telling of needless hurtful truths. The kindness of loving lies is a difficult tightrope, but one that must still be walked at times. The one person I will never knowingly lie to again is myself. I have found the price for those comfortable and easy falsehoods too high to pay.

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