Friday, December 27, 2013

The Place Poem

When I was given an assignment to write a “place poem” in November, I thought it would be an easy poem to write.  It turned out to be the most difficult.  I thought about all the places I’ve visited: Rome, Berlin, Paris (sort of – which is yet another story). 

I thought too, of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, the Green Mountains in Vermont and of one of my very favorite places on earth – the Blue Ridge Mountains from where I looked down through the clouds at the breathtakingly beautiful Shenandoah Valley.  But no place seemed quite right for this assignment until I thought of the place I return to year after year.  Close to home, it is somewhere along the

Jersey Shore 


I’ve come here every summer
since I was a child
to take  in a breath of salty air
at the base of the Ninth Street bridge.

I’ve come here every summer
to salute the Ferris wheels
that stand like sentinels
against the rising tide of my life. 

I’ve come to remember the hootenannies
I sang to in ‘63, the boy I met
and might have married,
the Frisbees I tossed, but never caught.

I come to soak up the sun,
to walk the boards,
eat lunch at Chatterbox
and for yet another ornament to decorate my tree.

I come here as often as possible
to gaze upon the sea
until, at last, it diminishes me 
and all the things I come here to forget.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Little Bit of Christmas Cheer

Lately my moods have been like a yo yo at the end of a string.

Two weeks ago, I was miserable. I was bah humbugging everything. As I parked my school bus after my morning run, I realized nothing felt right. The story I was writing wasn’t working. The last one I wrote felt wrong. I was miserable about everything – even Christmas. Especially Christmas. 

A thought about Christmas shopping entered my mind but was stomped on immediately - my checking account balance too low, my credit card balance too high. I tried listening to Christmas music, but every song I heard sounded either too silly or too depressing. About an hour later, I reached for the book I was reading and realized I’d left it home. Perfect, I thought. Books have always been my salvation – my salvation and my escape and without one, I was desolate. By the time I got home that evening, all I wanted to do was skip dinner, fall into bed and hide under the covers.

Then the next day dawned and everything was perfect. That day I remembered I have never known a Christmas that wasn’t thrilling – no matter how much or how little I had in my bank account or, as a child, how much or how little I received from Santa.  That day I remembered I have never known a Christmas that didn’t come with its own magic, its own miracles.

That day as I drove my bus down Cheltenham Avenue, I was content. Behind me, four young students were talking about experiences they have had in fast food restaurants, comparing notes and disagreeing over which has the best food, which has the worst. 

Outside two birds flew alongside my bus before perching themselves on top of a street sign. A woman was walking her dog. A man was raking leaves. My book was safely tucked inside my handbag. “Mary Did You Know” was playing on the radio and I was singing along  softly. And in that moment I knew that all was right with the world and everything in it was exactly where it was supposed to be.    

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It Happened One Morning

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been taking a course in Mindfulness.  The course, based on the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn, is being taught at the Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pennsylvania.  The building we meet in is called the Orangery, which is located next door to the sixty-room Tyler mansion whose formal gardens lie between the two buildings.   
On the first day of class, one of our teachers instructed us to find an object outside as she guided us in meditation.  I had never before done a meditation with my eyes open and I doubted that this would work for me. 

It was a brisk but sunny autumn day with a breeze that was gently shaking the leaves from their trees.  A statue of a naked woman stood on the other side of the largest window in the room.  The woman was holding a jar on her shoulder through which a stream of water moved steadily. 
There was a short footpath at the base of the statue and, at the end of the path, was a solitary leaf sitting on the ground.  At first, I expected the leaf to blow away, but it never did.

The leaf was brown and brittle, about the size of my hand and it looked like the letter “C.”  For some reason, it held my interest as the instructor lead us, her voice so low she seemed to be whispering.  I continued staring at that leaf for a full ten minutes or for however long the meditation lasted until suddenly it seemed to become a part of me – a part of my consciousness. 
Hours later, when I was no longer anywhere near that leaf, I could still see it, not only with my eyes closed, but also with my eyes open.  It was an experience I had only heard about before.  The spiritual teacher, Deepak Chopra, calls it unity.  The Catholic Church calls it communion.  I call it beautiful.

Later, I realized I had experienced a feeling very similar to this one and that it had happened during a moment I write about in my memoir, Rude Awakening, when I fell into a love, which although it has swayed, dipped, spun around curves, evolved and transformed itself, has never ended.      

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving Ever

My daughter has a sign in her kitchen that reads as follows:

Hours of Operation

Tuesday...........Self Service
Wednesday......Half Day
Thursday..........Out Shopping (Shoes)
Friday...............Eating Out
Saturday...........Day Off
Sunday.............Day of Rest

This sign would be hilariously funny except that in Jessi's case, it is absolutely true.  Which is why when she called to tell me she was planning to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year, I readily volunteered to help.

"I'll come over early," I told her.  "Is Monday too early?" She told me it wasn't.

"By the way," I asked a little too late.  "How many people are you expecting?"

"Twenty-seven," she answered.  Twenty-seven? I thought, isn't that beyond the legal limit?  She assured me there was enough room for everyone and that everyone she had invited was family.

I hung up the phone wondering when our family had become so large and remembering a Thanksgiving not that many years earlier when I was home alone.  It must have been in the early 1990's when my son was living abroad and my daughters, both recently married, were spending Thanksgiving with their in-laws.  Although the thought of spending the day alone was daunting, there was something appealing about not having to spend the entire day in the kitchen.

I was waitressing at a deli that year and when I was asked to work breakfast, I agreed.  Because there were no other restaurants open in the area, the restaurant was mobbed, but the customers were generous with their tips.  While I worked, I thought about Thanksgivings past.

As a child, my father always took my mother, my four sisters and me to the fresh poultry shop on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia to select our turkey from the dozens that roamed freely throughout the store, doing their business on the sawdust-strewn floor.  Just like the Emperor Nero condemning the Christians, my father would point his finger at the biggest one.  Then bird and butcher would disappear through a swinging door through which another, usually bigger, bird would emerge gobbling hysterically. Through the plate glass window, my sisters and I could see feathers flying in every direction.

We were a large family and there was always plenty of company invited to dinner - although I can't remember ever seeing twenty-seven people at our table.

As I continued working, wondering what I was going to do with myself for the rest of the day, I suddenly remembered a television show I had watched earlier that week.

The show was either Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue.  I can't remember which, although
I am sure the word "blue" was in the title, probably because it mirrored the way I felt exactly.  I had caught only the very end of the show, but from what I did see, I could tell that the story line had been intense.  As the detectives left the precinct at the end of their shift,  they called out "Happy Thanksgiving" to one another and the room darkened.

The camera followed one of the detectives home to an empty apartment.  With the words "Happy Thanksgiving" still echoing in the background, he turned on the light in his kitchen, removed a turkey TV dinner from his freezer and popped it into the oven.  Or was it a microwave?  Did they even have microwaves in the early Nineties?  Anyway when it was done, he removed it and ate it with gusto.

I can do that, I thought as I cleaned up my station.  I can do that and maybe a little bit more.  Before I left the restaurant, I stopped at the deli counter and asked for a slice of turkey cut a quarter of an inch thick.  I also picked up a jar of gravy and a small can of cranberry sauce.  At home I added stuffing and fresh vegetables to the menu.  Then I prepared and ate it slowly.

Exhausted from a breakfast that had lasted until well after two, I picked up a book and fell onto the sofa, pulling an afghan on top of myself.  Within minutes, I fell into a deep, satisfying sleep.  By the time I woke up, it was after seven and any thoughts I had about what I should have been doing on Thanksgiving Day were dissipated and I was content.

This year I will not be home alone, however with twenty-six other people to feed, I have the feeling I may be wishing I were.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  Whether you are alone or with a crowd of people, I wish you the best Thanksgiving ever.   

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chloe and the List Poem

My five-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, came into my room last week for one of her brief, impromptu visits and to see what I was doing.  As it happened, I was channel surfing.  Chloe asked if she could watch Nick Jr, but I wanted to watch Discovery ID.  We compromised by watching Home Alone.    

We sat down together, Chloe beside me, watching the movie until the little boy in the movie, Kevin, slaps himself in the face and screams.  As soon as she saw it, Chloe started laughing.  She laughed so merrily I re-played the scene and then played it again just to hear her laughter.

A few minutes later, however, she grew bored again and ran out of the room to find and hit base with her mother. I continued watching the movie until Kevin used the lines from an old movie to scare away the burglars and the pizza delivery boy. 

It was no wonder then that when Kristina told us in poetry class that our assignment was to write a list poem, I thought of the movie I was watching the night before.  Kristina explained that a list poem is one created from a list, which could be a list of anything – groceries, things to do, or even a list of book titles.  It didn’t matter.  The point was to take the list and create a poem with it.  So, with the movie still fresh in my head, I decided to write a poem using some of the best movie lines ever written and called it -. 

If I Only Had a Brain
Words and Music not
by Toni McCloe

I have always been a sucker for old movies,
great actors, and the lines they speak -
since way back when my sisters took me
to watch Abbott kibitz with Costello.
cried when Brandon called,
“Shane, Shane, come back.”
Although I was dubious when Brando said
he “coulda been somebody,”
I got Denzel’s
"Explain it to me like I'm a two-year-old." 
And never once doubted that
Gable didn’t give a damn.

I felt the slap when Loretta Castorini told
Nick Cage to snap out of it.  
But nothing prepared me for the shivers I felt when 
Haley Joel said he saw dead people. 
I marveled when Marilyn spoke not a word
as she hung onto the side of that pool,
and how Meg needed only one word to show 
how delighted she was when Harry met Sally. 

But all this thinkin is gittin me plumb tuckered out –
That was a line in a movie once, wasn’t it?
Well, maybe not.
Anyway, that’s all folks,
but I’ll be back – after all
tomorrow is another day
and until then,
may the force be with you.    



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Autumn Leaves and Football Fever

I love weather, all kinds of weather, but my favorite seems to happen when the seasons change, one into another.  Which is just what happened last Sunday, when  all the warm weather we've been having finally got blown away and autumn arrived.  Yes, autumn, with its falling leaves, scary movies, and of course football.   

(For those of you who may not know, those x’s and o’s do not stand for kisses and hugs.)
Last Sunday was the big game around here – the one between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys and I wanted to be home to watch the opening kickoff, but first, I had to run errands.  I had asked two of my sisters to meet me so I could give them copies of my manuscript, Rude Awakening.    

In addition, my older sister had agreed to accompany me to an all-alumni open house at the elementary school I graduated from way back when.  We got there early and almost no one else had arrived.  While my sister was otherwise occupied, I noticed a group of men who seemed to be about my age and, despite lifetime aversions to initiating conversations and approaching strangers, I approached them only to discover they were not strangers after all.  Two of them had been in my class. 

We introduced ourselves – or re-introduced ourselves – and started talking.  I remembered them although they did not remember me, which didn’t matter because once we started talking, it felt as though I had known them forever.  We talked about the nuns who taught us and about the classmates we remembered - where they all went and where they are now. 

Together, the three of us looked at old black and white photos taken of May processions and First Holy Communions.  We examined the picture of all seventy-four members of our class taken early in June of 1956.  I could almost remember that day.

“There’s Silvio,” Alphonse said.  I remembered Silvio.  He was the boy with the long eyelashes and eyes you could drown in.  I used to go out of my way to go to the football games just to watch Silvio play.  “And there’s Charlie,” Alphonse said, pointing to another boy in the picture.  I remembered Charlie, too. He was the boy who was always in trouble, the boy who got me in trouble once with the nun who taught us in eighth grade, which is an event I wrote about in Rude Awakening.  

Alphonse, Francis and I talked at lot.  We laughed a lot too, at ourselves, our memories and at the clothing and hairstyles we wore in the Fifties.  For someone who had grown up too shy to initiate conversations, I was having a really good time.

I had to leave early however, since I had another sister to meet and I was already running late.  By the time I got to my youngest sister’s house, it was already after one and the football game had begun.  She graciously turned it on and I stole glances at it as I watched her cook, realizing she was cooking the way my mother used to cook – from scratch.  There were homemade meatballs simmering slowly on the stove in olive oil and garlic while she prepared the batter to make crepes for manicotti.  Like my mother, my sister makes her own pasta. 
Now if you have never tasted homemade pasta, you don’t know what you are missing - so I’ll tell you.  The difference between homemade pasta and store bought is like the difference between French pastry and a Tastykake.  Not that I don’t appreciate a good chocolate cupcake every once in a while – especially the ones the Tastykake bakers fill with cream.  I’m just saying…

I watched my sister pour the batter into a pan.  “I made those once,” I told her.  “It was back when I was living with Jessi (my youngest daughter), her husband and four kids.  I made the batter and poured tablespoons full into a frying pan, turning the pan quickly so the batter would spread evenly.  Like yours, my crepes came out as thin as loose-leaf paper.
“Then I made the filling.  To the ricotta, I added raw eggs, chopped garlic, basil, parsley, Italian seasonings, shredded mozzarella and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Then I filled each crepe and placed it, seam down, into a 9 x 12 pan, and topped each with homemade sauce and more mozzarella.  I baked the crepes in a 350 degree oven and when they were ready, I removed the pan from the oven and ate every one of them.”  My sister, from whom I had been estranged too long,  laughed and we continued talking. 

For the first cool, crisp day of autumn, it turned out to be a warm day filled with hugs and kisses after all, except for the Eagles who, like the leaves, were blown away, 17 to 3.     

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I Meant to Tell You This -

This week in poetry class, we learned about the ‘letter’ poem, of which there are several types.  One example we were given was a poem written about famous people.  It was a letter from Persephone to Demeter, written by Rachel Zucker.  

Now picture this.  It was seven o’clock in the evening.  Not late, right? But because I get up for work every day at five a.m. - three or four when I’m really feeling inspired to write, which hasn’t happened in quite a while -  I was dog-tired by the time class began.  So when Kristina gave us Zucker’s poem, it was all Greek to me. 

Kristina explained to my fatigue that some letter poems are written about famous people while others can be written about someone known to us.  “You can write about someone present in our life but currently absent.”  What?   “Pull out your cell phone,” she said, “and look at your contacts.  Find someone you haven’t talked to in awhile.  Then write about how you feel about the silence between you.”

I looked at my phone.  There were more than a half dozen people – all of them close to me, - that  I had not talked to or heard from in a while, except via Facebook, which sometimes feels like The  Idiots Guide to Communication. “Write it in the first person,” she continued, “to someone who cannot respond.”  

Kristina went back to talking about the first example.  “If you choose this one, you’ll have to do research.”  As she spoke, an idea popped into my head from nowhere and I found myself thinking about two famous people:  Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, was the memory of a letter Hepburn had written to Tracy.  I decided to do the research – but not that night.  I was too tired.  I wanted to go home, get into  bed and go to sleep. 

I went home, got into bed and remained awake.  Sentences and phrases from the poem I had yet to write kept running through my head. Sentences like “I would have died for you. (Hepburn actually said that.)  “Why did you have to leave?” (I said that.)  And even more awful sentences like “What I felt for you was unshakable, unbreakable and at times, unbearable.”

I finally managed to get some ‘shuteye’ – if not sleep – and was outside the library when it opened in the morning.   Wild horses - and out of control sandmen - could not have kept me away.  There were more than half a dozen books in the library on Hepburn and only one about Tracy, although it could probably be counted as two or three since it was just a smidgeon shy of a thousand pages.  There were however no books about the two of them together. 

Finally, I found Katharine’s own autobiography.  In it, she talks about her love for Spencer Tracy almost as a postscript.   She says, “I loved Spencer Tracy. (By the way, so did I.  I loved his passion.  Who could ever forget him in Judgment at Nuremberg or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner)? “He, his interests, and his demands were first,” Hepburn said. “That wasn’t easy for me because I was definitely a me me me person.”  (The title of her book was Me.)

In the autobiography, she wrote about meeting Tracy for the first time on the set of the picture they were about to make together.  “I’m afraid I’m a bit too tall for Mr. Tracy,” she told the director.  “Don’t worry,” he responded, “Mr. Tracy will cut you down to size.” (And cut he did.)

She wrote about the day Tracy died. “I heard you walk down the hall,” she wrote.  “I heard you go into the kitchen… there was a sound… a cup falling …then a loud clump…it was you falling to the floor...Yes - it was you.  You were – just -  dead.  Suddenly stopped.  All at once…The End.” 

Finally, I found the letter she wrote after he died.  The last two sentences broke my heart.  I closed the book.  I can’t do this, I thought.  I can’t hide behind Tracy and Hepburn.  Leave them alone, I told myself.  Let them rest.  Write your own poem.  Write from your own experiences, your own feelings. 
Ten minutes later it was done.  I wrote:
I meant to tell you this-                 
The last time I saw you.
Do you remember?
You were in that club,
The one you loved so.
I saw your car.
I had not seen you in –
How long?
I could not even remember.

I went inside.
You were sitting there
alone,  a little hunched over,
eyes fixed on the screen across the room.
What are you doing here? you asked,
when you saw me.
I smiled.  Stood too close to you,
Stayed too close to you.

I wanted to see you, I said, smiling 
and after a moment, you smiled too.  
We talked.  Caught up.  Talked a little more.
I never moved.  Stood too close to you –
stayed too close to you.
I meant to tell you
the last time I saw you.
That day.  Do you remember?
I meant to tell you -

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Perfect Place to do Research

On a whim, I decided to sign up for a poetry writing class.  Our teacher, Kristina, named the course A Perfect Place to Write a Poem – the perfect place being the free library in Abington.  Kristina thinks the library is the perfect place to write a poem because it is the perfect place to do research.

Research?  I use a computer for that!  

There was a time however, when I was young and energetic enough to take the subway or “C” bus into the city to the Free Library of Philadelphia to do research. I used to spend hours in the basement of that library doing research for papers I had to write for high school and college.  

Once, while in high school I read Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. After learning that it was based on a true story, I headed for the library where all the old newspapers were kept on rolls of microfiche in huge metal drawers in huge metal cabinets in the basement.  Now, that was the perfect place to do research!  Kind of amazing and creepy all at once.

Back in poetry class, Kristinia was telling us we were going to write “a found poem.”  A found poem is one created by taking words and/or phrases from books (thus, the research) to create a poem.  (For those interested there is an amazing example in the wikipedia - (I can't stay away from that computer!)

Since I happened to be re-reading The Great Gatsby just before class, I decided to use it and Tender is the Night, which I found at the library.  Like many, I am intrigued by Fitzgerald’s lyricism.  In Tender, I found two phrases which crept into my mind and would not leave. The phrases were “she did understand” and “she understood well.” They made me think of Zelda, Fitzgerald’s beautiful and mentally fragile wife.
The words made me wonder if Zelda knew how precarious her mental health was.  I wanted to get into her head and write about Zelda.  Talk about doing research!  Inside Zelda’s head is not the perfect place.  But once the idea came to me, it would not go away.  

    I got up early on Saturday morning and wrote my poem,  which was short and sweet and used words like rigamarole (one of Fitzgeralds's words) to describe Zelda's mind.  But leaving Zelda’s head proved much more difficult than entering it.  Fortunately, I finished the poem just minutes before I had to leave for another class - a course in Mindfulness.  

    The mindfulness class is being held on the campus of the Bucks County Community College in Newtown and, in my disarranged state of mind, I was in a hurry to get there.  The first thing I noticed when I did was its tall trees and old stone buildings.  Walking among them took me far away from Zelda's mind and back to a time when, just out of high school, I worked for an insurance company located across the street from the Art Museum in Philadelphia. 

I used to take the subway to City Hall and walk along the Ben Franklin Parkway, examining the way the sunlight fell on the leaves or the sound my feet made as they hit the pavement or the way the rain reflected the streetlights.  Over time, I spent hours on that parkway examining the world around me or the thoughts inside me.  Sometimes I would stop by the Cathedral for a minute or two to pray or I would stare at a sculpture outside the Rodin Museum.  

   Research, I've learned as I've aged, does not have to be heady or boring.  It can also be light and entertaining the way walking down a street and noticing everything is. Now that is research.  As authentic and enlightening as any.    

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Outer Banks

      We made it. My daughter, her husband, their children and I have reached the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Right now, I am sitting inside a screened-in porch, just inches from the Atlantic Ocean, listening to the surf and sipping hot coffee from a mug. 

     As you know, I have been writing a memoir, Rude Awakening, and have reached the point where I met Nathan - Nathan being the fictitious name I have given him. I have been trying for weeks now to remember the way he was when we met, back in 1964.  

     It is ironic I think that I have been trying so hard to remember Nathan because for years I have been trying to forget him. And for years I have almost succeeded. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, he will appear at some event or family function the way he did not long ago.         

     It doesn't seem to matter how old he’s gotten or how old I’ve gotten because the sight of him always propels me back to the way he was, to the way we both were during the early days, the days right after we met, right after we married. And although I’ve been propelled back with feelings, the memories themselves evade me.

     Yesterday was the perfect beginning here as I awoke to a day breaking into spectacular colors.  The sun rose up out of the ocean like a gigantic, glowing peach, reflecting itself onto the waters below. Then it slipped behind the clouds only to re-emerge as a shimmering, golden ball of light illuminating an icy blue expanse of water. In the afternoon, I watched from the beach as dolphins jumped playfully in and out of the water.

     Today there is a mist over the ocean. Sky and sea seem indivisible until I look slightly to my right where the waves crest and tumble forward, erupting and transforming themselves into tiny bubbles of joy. I look at the ocean and close my eyes to drink in the moment, acutely aware that all of this will end soon. But before it does, I want to breathe it all in deeply – into the depths of my soul where one solitary light still burns. If nothing else, I want these pages to bear witness to that light as it grows back into the fires that once lit the entire length, breadth and depth of my being. 

      Last night I was awakened suddenly at two in the morning by a storm with sudden streaks of lightning that spilt the sky in two and by loud bursts of thunder that continued unabated for more than an hour. 

      Now as I sit here staring into space, a breeze brings my attention back to the ocean where the wind gently whips the water’s surface making the waves rush in concert passed the point where my vision was lost. I notice the glistening surface of the water where it is illuminated and made vibrant by the rays of the sun. I notice the breadth of the ocean and catch my own breath knowing its depth.  

     A few feet to my right and a few feet to my left, the ocean seems to blend into the sky. But directly in front of me, there is a thin vibrant strip of light at the exact spot where they meet. I reach for the binoculars I brought along to watch the dolphins to make sure this strip of light, which is as bright as quicksilver, is real and not just a figment of my imagination and as I search the points where it begins and ends, it slowly disappears.    
And as I write, I become acutely aware that the sun and the sky have become metaphors for the things I cannot remember and for a past that exists no longer except along the outer banks of my mind.

Friday, August 30, 2013

I Read a Book Today

I read a book today.  The book was Faulkner’s As I lay Dying.  I was depressed the whole time I was reading it, or at least I was depressed until I got close to the very end.  I do get depressed.  I get depressed when something is happening that I have no control over.
I was depressed about the book until Darl set the barn on fire.  As crazy as that was, it was less crazy than what Anse was doing to Darl and his other children.  Once one of them took control, my depression lifted and I was sad.   

Sad is better.  It is better than depression.  Sad is like a coat that’s on me that I can remove myself when I am ready, but depression is like a coat that has been put upon me while I am sleeping and I cannot remove it.  I cannot control it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

     Two weeks ago, I stood in the driveway of my home waving the rest of the family off to the shore.  As soon as they left, I went back into the house and sat at the computer typing furiously for the next five hours until I decided I needed a break.  Off I went to one of my two favorite restaurants where the 6-oz steak specials look bigger every week.

      While I waited for my dinner, I sat reading a book, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, in which a woman tries to save a baby lamb who is not that much into being saved.  Against all odds, she gets the lamb to breathe, all the while knowing it will eventually end up on somebody’s table.  As I continued reading, turning the pages of my Kindle furiously, I realized I was crying.  How long has it been since the last time I cried? I wondered, So long ago, I couldn’t remember.

     Going home, I drove a little too quickly, anxious to get back to the story I‘d been writing when an unwelcome thought popped into my head:  I think I locked myself out of the house. It’s not so hard now to remember the last time I cried.

     I had lost my house key earlier in the week.  Now I searched my memory trying to remember if I had locked the door when I left.  I was sure I had.  Good Lord, I thought. Am I really going to be locked out for an entire week?
       After pulling into the driveway, I noticed the first floor bathroom window was open. The problem with that open window was there was a slanting roof beside it that would make getting through it precarious.  Too bad, I thought, determined to get into the house at any cost.  Luckily, I had worn my sneakers (instead of those ten-dollar flip-flops).  I grabbed a chair and walked up the roof sideways.

     The screen in the window lifted easily.  I grabbed hold of the windowsill and lifted the window as high as it would go.  It was a narrow opening, but I was sure I could get through it.  However, because one foot was higher than the other was, I decided I had to go through the window headfirst.   

     My head and shoulders were already inside when I noticed the toilet was a lot further away than I’d thought it would be.  I eased myself in anyway and within seconds was in up to my waist, moving too fast.  I slammed the seat down.  Too late, I noticed the distance between the sill and the seat was more than twenty-four inches.  Feeling like a plane taking a nosedive, I decided to keep going even though the toilet looked as though it were shrinking or moving further and further away from me. 

     I positioned my right elbow and forearm to use as landing gear while my left hand flapped up and down for balance.  At the last minute however, my elbow slipped off the seat and my right shoulder hit the floor followed by the rest of my body with the exception of my left leg, which was tangled around the commode. After the first startling moment, I remembered my age (Have I mentioned I’m seventy one?) and checked for broken bones.  There were none, but the bruises that appeared on my left leg the next day were large and ugly.

     Now for the good part!
     After all that brutality, I agreed readily when my daughter invited me to a massage party she was attending.  It was my first massage and the first time (despite having lived through the Sixties) I ever attended a party naked. Of the seven women attending, I was the first to volunteer for the table.

     The party was held in a friend’s back yard beside her swimming pool on one of those absolutely perfect summer days with plenty of sunshine and no humidity.  I listened intently to the soothing sounds of the Enya music playing in the background and, as the massage therapist moved her hands between my lower and upper back, I felt my body begin to relax. Then she hit the spot where my shoulder hit the ground two weeks earlier.  Every time she hit it, I felt vibrations, tiny ripples that moved from my shoulders down through my arms and out through my fingertips.

     Oh my God, I thought, am I supposed to be feeling this?  Who cares, I thought next as I continued to enjoy the sensations of having my body pushed and pulled in every direction and, as another guest said later, it hurt so good!  Certainly better, I thought, than  flying through windows headfirst.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A View From the Bus

I was approaching the high school.  I was in my bus, on my way to the elementary school.  It is my job to drive a school bus filled with autistic children and children with special needs.   It is my job to take them safely to school each day. 
Suddenly the two-way radio sprang to life and I listened as another driver told a third that a police car was coming up behind him.  Then a fourth driver, a friend of mine named Mike, reported seeing three emergency vehicles from another district rushing toward the high school. 
That particular morning was Monday, December 20, 2012 and during the previous weekend, I had spent too much time watching news reports about a twenty-year old who had invaded an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, shooting and killing twenty students and six adults before turning his weapon on himself.    
Clearly, something was happening now.
I was just passing the high school on my left, when I noticed two police cars parked in front of the school. Just then, a third car came screeching around a corner, stopping behind the others.  A policeman sprang from it and ran toward the main entrance then crouched just short of the front door.   Was that a weapon in his hand?   Oh my god, I thought, my granddaughter Tori is inside that school.
I heard sirens screaming from every direction   Two more police cars came up behind me, slammed on their brakes and parked to the right of my bus.  I passed the school but had to halt at the stop sign on the corner.  What do I do?  I wondered feeling paralyzed with fear. To reach the elementary school I had to turn right.  Out of habit, I had pulled into the right hand lane.  But I wanted to turn left. Away from the school. 
 Where do I take these children? I wondered in panic.  Where can I take them to keep them safe?  Is there some place where it will not take armed guards to protect them?  What do I do?  Where do I go?  I thought of the police station located on the other side of the school.  I had already passed it, I realized as a car horn sounded behind me, urging me to move on.  I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw a line of cars behind me.  I had to turn right.   
I was terrified for myself and for my tender charges, all of whom suspected nothing.  As I drove down the street toward the elementary school, tears rolled down my face.  I pulled in front of the school where the special education aides were waiting.  “It’s only a drill,” one of them informed me as I sat there wondering why policemen from every part of the county would respond to a drill. 
Then, as I watched the aides take the children into the school the way they did every morning, I sat there and cried.
 Later, at the bus garage, our secretary Mary, who had a daughter inside the high school, tried to calm me.  “It’s okay,” she said.  “It was just an incident caused by a student with an umbrella that looked like a rifle to an overzealous guard who sounded the alarm. 
But what if it happens again? And what if the next time it’s real and it’s happening while a driver is unloading students returning from a field trip?  If  something like this happens, will I still be wondering where to take my students or will someone set up a plan that I and other drivers can follow?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Dialogue

I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night from a dream I could not remember.  I waited a moment studying the darkness until illumination from a streetlight helped me make sense of my surroundings.  I breathed deeply, beginning to relax as a sliver - just a flash from the dream that frightened me - came back to me.    I shivered, then heard myself speak aloud, “I miss You, God.” I said into the darkness. 
A long time ago when I was a child growing up, I believed that praying meant talking to God.  Later, as I started to grow old, I began meditating, believing that meditation meant listening to God.   But on this night, I realized I’d been doing too little of either - praying or meditating.  Perhaps because I believed I could no longer find God there.  
Alone in my room that night, I realized it was neither the talking nor the listening that I missed.  It was the dialogue.  But when did I ever have that? I wondered.  I had no idea.  But I must have had it once, I reasoned, or I would not be missing it now.  
What would the voice of God sound like? I wondered as I got up on my elbows to punch the pillow and turn it around.  Would the voice of God have a loud, echoing resonance that would haunt my dreams?  Or would it have the sweet, gentle timbre of a babbling brook?  Or would it come to me cognitively, without words?
“I miss You, God,” I spoke aloud again as I returned my head to the pillow.    
“I miss you, too,” He whispered so low I almost missed it.