These are the signs of geekdom in my house. What signs do you see on a regular basis?
What kind of geek are you?
“She fell and chipped her tooth.”
The kids were at Starbucks, not two hundred feet from where I was answering phones at the ballet. I send them on a regular basis, confident Caroline knows when to come get me if Sam breaks down and Sam knows I’ll throttle him if he does anything too outré. It gives them an outlet when my volunteerism has left them stuck waiting around after both their classes have ended.
I knew I’d get a call eventually. Something was bound to go wrong. But I expected it to be Sam. Nobody calls about Caroline.
The woman was still talking when I hung up on her.
“Gotta go, Caroline’s busted her face in.” I knew it was worse than “chipped her tooth”. Even with Asperger’s and sensory issues, Caroline would have sent her brother for me before she would have had a Starbucks employee call. I left someone else to collect my scattered belongings as I raced down the stairs and across the courtyard.
I didn’t see Caroline when I got to the store, as she was surrounded by concerned parents and staff. But I heard her. “It hurts! I want my mom! I want my dad! I wish I’d lost a limb instead!”
“Caroline, honey, I’m here.” The sea of worried people parted to let me through.
She has a nosebleed, and she’s shattered a front tooth.
“Who’s your dentist?”
A woman holding a phone materialized beside me as I reeled Caroline in and started to rock.
“Her tooth is broken. Who’s your dentist?”
“Doctor Hudson over on Bell Road.”
“Great. Doctor Rob is still in his office.”
“But I said…”
She was dialing before I could complete my protest, and I doubt she heard me over Caroline anyway. I pulled away from my daughter long enough to get a good look at her injury, then went back to rocking. “We need to go to the emergency room.” That’s not a nose bleed. Holy God she skinned her face.
“No! I want to go home!”
The woman with the phone was back. “Look up,” she commanded Caroline. “And open your mouth.” When Caroline complied, still howling, the woman said, “No root showing,” then, “Is it loose in the socket? Can you wiggle it, honey?” Caroline shook her head. “Not loose. Great. Any pain here?” She brushed the bridge of Caroline’s nose with her index finger.
“No! It’s all here!” Caroline indicated the hamburger that had formerly been her upper lip and nostril.
“Fantastic.” The woman hung up and turned to me. “There’s not a thing the ER can do for the tooth, and they’ll only clean the abrasion. Take her home, alternate Tylenol with ibuprofen; and get her into her regular dentist first thing in the morning.” The woman vanished. I felt like I’d been visited by the Lone Ranger.
“Ow! I want to go home!”
“OK. Home.” I stroked Caroline’s head and led her towards the door. “We’ll get you home.”
The next day, the dentist repaired the tooth and confirmed that the palate wasn’t broken, while the pediatrician provided ointment for the skinned face and double-checked the nose. Caroline clung to us all day, especially Scott, but that was fine. It felt good to hold her and reassure her, to let her know that she is still young enough that we can ride to her rescue when those calls come in, to let her know we’ll always be her parents.
But seriously. If you want to be my friend, let’s don’t go see a film together. Because I’m that gal sitting dead center in the middle row who won’t shut up. If I like the story, I cackle at every punch line, shout encouragement to the main characters, and boo the bad guys. If I hate it, I deride the director, demand explanations from an invisible producer, and whine about product placements. I pipe down every time Scott whispers, “Let other people enjoy it.” But within minutes, I’m at it again, so engaged with the screen that I have no control over my mouth.
I’ve never met anybody as obnoxious as I am at the cinema.
Last week, Caroline did a 180 on her position that movies were sensory nightmares and announced a desire to see Frozen. So I took the kids when I knew the theater would be deserted. (Actually, for 9:55 on a Sunday in the South, it was surprisingly crowded. I think I just figured out what the rest of the agnostics and atheists in town do for entertainment while their Christian brethren commune with the Lord.)
Sam sat, as he always does, transfixed by the film, except that he has started melodramatically climbing in my lap and demanding that I cover his ears while he covers his eyes during the parts he deems too scary (i.e. any time the plot gets tense or the music becomes ominous. Snow monsters are fine; treachery and treason, not so much.) But Caroline, from the moment that Princess Ana demanded “Wanna build a snowman?” of her older sister Elsa, was chatting up the screen.
“No, no, NO! Don’t climb so HIGH!” she pleaded with the young Ana. “Oh God, they’re dead,” she sympathized with the mourning sisters.
And was I, as a proper parent should do, shushing her and reminding her that it was only a movie? No. No, I was not. Or not much, anyway. In real life, I tell her thirty times a day to stop talking to her video games, to turn down her personal volume, and to generally calm down and not amp up.
But at the movies, I morph into a cross between Siskel and Ebert and the guy on MST3K myself, so I was helpless to curb my daughter’s enthusiasms. To every exclamation of Caroline’s, I had a whispered remark of my own. (And I have trained myself to keep the chatter down to a whisper; Caroline still needs to work on this.) If it was funny, we both barked laughter. If touching, we “aww” ed in unison. While Sam was demanding that I cover his ears for the umpteenth time, Caroline was begging, “No, no, no, Hans DON’T,” while I beat on her arm and hissed, “Isn’t this the best plot twist EVER? I can’t believe it! They were all right!” (Never mind that it was a twist straight out of Shakespeare.)
It was a kid-flick, so the extra vocalizations went largely unnoticed. Still, when the lights came up, I saw the glances darted in our direction. Ah. So it was them. Caroline, who has only experienced three in-cinema movies ever, didn’t recognize these people for deriders. In fact, she beamed at every pair of eyes and greeted several complete strangers with chipper joy, much as if she was Olaf the Snowman looking merrily for warm hugs and summer, completely immune to the consequences of both.
And as for the film, we loved it. There were SO many places where the story could have devolved into typical princess shit that it instead mocked exactly the trope it had been setting up for forty five minutes. There were a number of unexpected twists, and it had enough humor to balance out the sorrow. Also, the cheesy lyrics were tolerable, sometimes even enjoyable, in the context of a movie that wasn’t afraid to laugh at itself.
I only had two real complaints. First, there’s a scene where big sister Elsa, in breaking out of her good-princess role, gets all vamped out. It seemed unnecessary. I mean, I’d love for Disney to write a heroine who NEEDED to be sexy-strong. But this character went all sultry in the stereotypical “if I am strong my sexuality MUST play into it, let’s make sexual frigidity metaphors shall we?” sort of way. Second, as with Brave (which I also loved), it was the all-white-people revue. So, fine, Disney is setting it in a fictional Scandanavian-ish area. Brave was in a fictional Ireland. So black characters would be anachronistic, right? Oh, wait, SO ARE BARBIE-WAISTED MAGIC-WIELDING PRINCESSES WITH ORDINARY SIBLINGS who have modern-sounding teen dialogue. These are imaginary places. So fucking make them inclusive.
But those are my only gripes with otherwise good tales, and I only felt obliged to mutter them at the screen. And in Caroline, I think I’ve finally found someone to see movies with me. As long as we both like the film. Because if we don’t? Heaven help the ushers trying to throw us both out.
Flori and the Snakes
Flori slithered behind the ivy and climbed the back of the trellis, pleased it was both wrought iron and well anchored to the wall. At the top, she flattened herself against the roof. Here, she was exposed to anyone looking down, but there weren’t any dragons in sight. She crept along on all fours, following the magical red line that connected her to her great-grandfather. Of necessity, she used no magic of her own. To do so this close to the heart of the Yilan compound would have been to advertise her presence.
When the line stopped pulling her forward and started, instead, to tug her gently down, she had reached the other side of the roof and the inner compound proper. She smiled and climbed back out behind the ivy. She had only descended a story before she found the right window.
“I wouldn’t.” A sibilant voice interrupted Flori’s attempt to slide in through the top. She froze. “Look around you,” the voice went on. “Do you really think I cover my buildings with ivy so intruders can attack me at will? No, no.” The plants around Flori began to sway and twist together, and she suddenly found herself looking at a large number of snakes.
None of the snakes were large, but all of them gave off the faintly noxious odor that Flori had learned to associate with venom and Lady Medusa, who led the Yilan, and some said the entire continent.
“Luster invited me,” Flori said through gritted teeth.
“He invited you to come in through the gate like everyone else.” The snakes shifted and wound themselves around Flori’s wrists and torso.
“So he I could meet with him and … you? No, thank you. I was hoping to speak with him alone.” Now, they bore her quite publicly inside the window she had planned to enter in secret. She squirmed, but her living bonds only tightened.
“Let her go.” As quickly as they had captured her, the snakes turned Flori free, depositing her in an ungainly heap at Lady Medusa’s feet. Where Flori was small in stature, Aurelia Medusa of the House of Yilan was large. The Lady towered over even grown men. Her white face and chalky hair stood out against golden clothing as she glowered down at her prisoner. The last time Flori had seen Aurelia, that hair had been bound up in a crown, and she knew better than to mistake it for human locks. Aurelia’s hair was made of as many snakes as the vines that had carried Flori into the chamber.
Flori dusted her pants as she rose, trying to rid herself of the snakes’ malodor. “I don’t appreciate being ordered to your court,” she snapped.
“The Lady did not ask for your opinion,” said a new voice. Flori darted a glance to the right and saw Luster Anguis, Lady Medusa’s First in Command, stretched along a canopied sofa, his copper brown hair coiled around his neck.
“And I did not ask to be dumped…”
“Be quiet,” Luster hissed. “The Lady and I have devoted a goodly portion of our morning to your one-person invasion. I will tell you that you have exploited our weaknesses and given us new areas to cover. We could not have followed someone who was not in my family. Nonetheless, we have wasted half a day on it when The Trade demands our attention.”
The lartë trade fueled the city of Hiria’s economy. The drug was an expensive way for wizards to transform into animals. Though Flori used it herself, she steered away from the snake lartë that Lady Medusa controlled and used instead the product as it was distilled from dragon’s blood. She needed to take far less of the dragon than the snake lartë to achieve the same goals.
“Then, please, waste no more of your time on me. I won’t hold you from the snakes.”
Luster chuckled. “Sit down, Flori,” he said.
“I prefer to stand.”
“I did not ask what you preferred.” Three chairs scooted out from a table in the center of the room, and Lady Medusa and Luster Anguis took two of them, leaving the third for their unwilling guest.
After a long silence, Flori joined them. “What do you want?”
“Your company, naturally.” There was a teapot in the middle of the table. Luster poured three cups.
Though he and Lady Medusa drank, Flori left hers alone. “You did not send me a formal invitation to have me over for tea.” She pushed the cup away.
“No,” he agreed. “I did not. I asked you here because I need your company on a rather long journey.”
“No. The last time I left Hiria…”
“He wasn’t asking you.” Lady Medusa’s hair sprang to life, and the angry snakes swiveled unblinking gazes towards Flori.
“Flori, look at her,” said Luster. Was Flori imagining it, or did his voice contain a note of appeal? “The Lady is greatly changed since you last saw her.”
“Yes?” She wasn’t imagining it. Luster was entreating her to study those snakes. The last time Flori had laid eyes on Lady Medusa, those white snakes had all been golden. “Is she unfit for travel?”
“She is dying.”
“She is not.” Flori couldn’t understand why Luster’s statement produced a lurch of dismay in her own chest.
“Look at her,” Luster commanded. Flori obeyed, forcing her eyes to meet those of the unblinking snakes. “You have seen her with golden hair. But her face used to be golden as well. When her first Sentient Snake died a quarter of a century ago, she entered a long dormancy. She lay with the rest of the snakes for nearly a year before she rose again, and her face never regained its color. She was more prepared for the second Sentient Snake to die last month. She had braced herself for its severance. She did not go dormant. But she has been losing her color bit by bit ever since.
“The Sentient Snakes are like the dragons, one of the old races, and there are few left. There is only one small colony remaining, and I must cross an ocean to reach it and appeal to at least one of them to come with us. The Lady cannot be spared from The Trade for so long, even to save her own life, but the Sentient Snakes will not tolerate many of the other races. So I need a companion who can finish the job if I am unable.
“Your mother is off with her gnomes, and frankly I doubt she would be anything but a hindrance. Your uncle cannot be spared from his own family. And your cousins are both too young. That leaves me with you. I need your company on a long trip to save The Lady’s life. Think of it as a lengthy family vacation.”
“Oh yes you did. Hard enough to bruise. His Mom told me.”
“Mom, I didn’t bite him.” Arms crossed, Sam stomps. “I pinched him.”
Holy moly, cats, it’s been three weeks. The Nutcracker cracked my figurative nuts this year. But it was good, and the kids had a great time, except for the moment mentioned above. I’m finally hooking up with Trifecta again, just in time for the editors to switch things up and put Trifecta and Trifextra in alternating weeks. This is good. It isn’t like I have time for many more than 33 words this week, even with the annual cracking of the nuts behind me.
When I eat Ritz crackers with cream cheese, I think of my grandparents, of childhood winters in Florida, of the briny ocean stink as we put in the boat at Wiggins’ pass. Mummum stocked the cooler with the three necessities for any fishing excursion: water for me, beer for the adults, and sandy cracker sandwiches for everyone.
But we didn’t use Ritz, God no. They were expensive, and the generic was good enough. We didn’t shop at the chain groceries, either, where prices were higher. We went to Benson’s corner market or the scratch-and-dent food store. The very fact that they had a winter condo and a boat nearly overwhelmed my grandmother, so she made sure the condo was part of a cheap complex at the end of Wilson Street.
Nights, she and my mom sat smacking mosquitoes and talking seashells, while I swam, and my grandfather and some companion played pool in the rec room.
It was years before I understood that my grandparents weren’t paupers, that Mummum’s inherently frugal nature was fixed in childhood. She watched her father rise through the ranks of the L&N railroad while their neighbors struggled to supply their basic needs during the Great Depression. Bonita Springs was a luxury, and she appreciated every second of it.
I skipped weeks of school for those south Florida winters, and I yearn for them now, for the Sheepshead and drawbridges. When I’m old, I shall go back and live forever, make my children plan their vacations around me while I beachcomb and soak in the surf. I’ll try to re-create my grandparents’ lifestyle by catching my own fish, eating generic foods and wasting dollars in gas to save pennies on vegetables. I’ll smear thin cream cheese on round buttery crackers, and when I simply have to splurge, I’ll go out and buy the name brand.
I wrote this last week for Trifecta, but I never got it posted (go me! I’m to busy to update my own blog!) Although I don’t particularly like, much less participate in “thankful” memes – they are alllll about hypocrisy for too many people – this fits the thankful theme over at Write on Edge, where I don’t participate nearly often enough.
The picture is of my grandparents as I remember them best. It was taken at our house in Ohio by my Auntie Em (not her real name; yes that’s what I called her though).
Her husband went on shaving. “It’s driving me crazy.”
“No. You know.”
“Owen, he’s not some Dickensian waif you can pluck up like Oliver Twist. He’s your nephew. He has parents.”
“They aren’t fit! God only knows what the kid sees. Pot, sex, meth, whatever walks in that trailer door.” Owen drew an even line through the foam on his cheek and shook the razor in the sink.
“You don’t know that.”
“You mean I can’t prove it.”
“Same thing.” Clarissa let go of the dress to rub his shoulders. “Honey, we’re helpless until they fuck up. And right now, we’ve got our own family to think about. What would we do with a newborn and a baby nearly a year old?”
“We’d figure it out.” Owen started a new razor trail, but blood bloomed behind his blade. He hissed at the sting.
“Stop it. You’re bleeding. That’s going to make me sick!” Clarissa looked at the floor.
He glanced at his reflection in the mirror and went on shaving. When he shook out the razor again, he also grabbed the styptic pencil to rub on the cut.
Finally, Clarissa said, “When everybody’s downstairs at your grandma’s, I could make like I was nauseous and needed to lie down. I could go through their luggage. See what I found.”
Owen cut himself again on the third pass, and this time, he didn’t stop the blood. “And do what, then? Assuming they were dumb enough to have it with them?”
“I guess we’d have to figure that out.” She looked up and met his eyes in the mirror.
“I guess we would.” He set the razor aside and gripped the bathroom counter with both hands. They watched each other that way until the blood dripped down his chin and into the sink, a growing flow, too deep to easily staunch.
Then he, Sam and I, jump on the highway for the hour-long commute to therapy. It’s exhausting.
We’re working with a graduate student clinic in Auburn. We’re very lucky to be there. The students, completing their practicums under licensed psychologists, have access to the newest theories, the things that might help Sam. Only right now, because it’s the first six weeks, the part where they have to see for themselves that the tried and true is useless for us, we’re trapped in CDI.
Those initials stand for Child Directed Intervention or some bullshit. It amounts to them thinking that because Sam has a lot of attention seeking behaviors, he must be attention motivated. They think that we can manipulate his love of people’s focus into making him act better.
I have explained point blank that if that worked we wouldn’t be here.
But they think they have a new way to go about it. Or maybe they don’t quite exactly believe us. Or maybe they believe us but think our perceptions are necessarily biased. Ultimately they will, as have all their predecessors, actually treat my child.
In the meantime, we have to deal with baby talk. “That’s a great tower.” “I love the patience you showed with those bricks.” Like what, maybe he’ll learn patience with people when he knows damned well Legos are inanimate objects?
CDI has a team based approach, so a pair of shrinks-in-training dissect our weekly interactions. I’m pretty confident that once we get through the “getting to know you” garbage, they’ll be able to help us.
But while we wait this out, Scott and I become the psychologists’ trained seals, pattering out attaboys and hoping we’re wrong. We get on our middle class family act one morning every week and commute an hour each way to buy our son a chance to grow up human. We hold our wedding rings in the palms of our hands and wish for two generations of blessings as we ride into battle.
“Don’t be so sure, Maximus.” The old fighter creaked into a more comfortable position on his bench.
“These are your people. They will boo and cry out when I slice your flesh.” Maximus drew out the ‘boo’, as if he already heard that throng. “But make no mistake: tomorrow, I root my own flower.”
“Maybe defile it with the blood of a virgin or two,” Adi suggested.
“Or two. I like that. You’re a cocksure old mosquito, squeaking in my ear.”
“In seven decades, I have been defeated only once, and she was a merciful creature.”
“You let her win so you could double your kingdom.”
“Were she still living, Batari would cut you down for such remarks. As it is, I’ll have to do it for her.”
“In the morning, old man. Go away and let me speak to your bush.”
“I’m going,” said Adi. “But I have a few words of my own first.” He stood beside the kneeling Maximus and patted the younger man’s shoulder, at the place where his skin met his neck.
Maximus’s blood welled up under Adi’s fingers. “What did you do to me?” Maximus scrambled to cover the wound with his own hand.
“Listen to me,” Adi snarled. He spat on the ground at Maximus’s feet. “If I learned one thing from my wife in fifty years of marriage, it was this: never go unarmed into your enemy’s temple. When you write your last letter home tonight, tell your God-King to stop sending unworthy opponents to the Warriors of the Rose.”
Adi shoved lightly, and Maximus fell onto his side. “That’s poison!” Maximus’ shoulder spasmed.
Adi walked away. “Make peace with that rose. Tomorrow, your body nourishes its roots.”
“But…” now Maximus’s whole arm jerked and strained.
Adi did not turn around. “Boo,” he said, an unsympathetic crowd of one. “Booo.”
He palmed her opal earrings as the doorbell rang “Mrs. Larks! Trick or Treat!” called a querulous voice.
“She doesn’t hear you,” Richard muttered.
He found a needle and an ink pen among Sophia’s things then went to the kitchen for ice. Wasn’t this how they did it in the old days? In the bathroom, he marked his lobes carefully. “This is stupid, Sophie,” he told the mirror. But he had promised. He bore the pain of the piercing in silence, though it took too many jabs. Then the doorbell rang again, and he cursed its noise instead of his own hurts.
It was hard to get the backs on the opals and harder still to look at himself wearing a pair of women’s earrings that were not, for all his efforts, even close to the same height. “OK,” he said. “I did it. Now what?”
Sophia manifested in the mirror. “Help me out,” she said.
Richard slammed his nose against the glass. “My God, it is you, Sophie.”
“Help me out,” his wife repeated, extending a hand.
Richard braced himself against the sink and punched through. Sophia broke free in a shattering of glass. It hardly mattered that both of them were bleeding from a dozen cuts. He held her tight as her warmth returned.
Downstairs, the doorbell rang again, and another needling voice, or perhaps the same one shouted, “I said ‘Trick or Treat’!”
“Oh!” Sophia broke away from Richard. “I know it’s been a long day, but we can’t let the children down.” She hurried down the hall, living but not yet fully corporeal, her feet trailing inches above the carpet as she walked.
In addition to participating in the Trifecta prompts, I also periodically join up with the awesome folks over at Write on Edge. (Far, far too rarely these days.) Today, Write on Edge released its second annual anthology of Precipice. There are poems, short stories, and memoir pieces from some of the authors I admire the most online, and I am honored to have not one but two pieces featured between Precipice’s covers. If you have a minute, please, visit the Write on Edge page for download or paper purchase links.