The first day I met Scott’s cousin Mike and his wife Michelle, I had no idea how much we would develop in common. How we would each name our youngest sons Sam. How we would laugh about this every Thanksgiving at Michelle’s parents’ dinners. Who spends the holidays with her husband’s cousin’s wife’s family? Me. That’s who.
But I knew she was angling for a sale when she delivered her words so smoothly. She was choosing from a carefully narrowed script, tailored for my occasion. Yet I bought the sunglasses.
Guilty-souled, and knowing the real expense was in my lenses, I chose the cheapest frames, as if this balanced my frivolity. At home, I repeated her lies, and my stomach tightened every time I spoke or typed the words.
I knew what made me so squeamish. If I have to buy something expensive, it’s out of necessity or desperation. And I’ve never had the kind of disposable income that would make my regular glasses affordable, let alone a pair of sunglasses.
And I did not need new sunglasses. The doctor, another smooth dealer, had observed latticing in the back of my eye. It can be a precursor to retinal detachment but typically isn’t. It’s common in extremely nearsighted patients. He suggested I “take good care of my vision” like this was new advice. I chose to interpret it to mean I needed to protect myself from the southern sun’s glare. But it didn’t make me need a pair of four hundred dollar shades. (There. I wrote it.)
Still, I a m trying to shed some emotional detritus along with my excess weight. Part of that involves keeping only those things which I have chosen in my life. I’m tired of carrying around behaviors I acquired by accident, inherited from relatives, or developed as knee-jerk responses to a single situation. And that attitude, the one screeching, “You can’t afford it. It’s impractical. And you don’t need it,” was handed down from my depression era grandmother, to my hippie mother, to myself.
It’s a useful position. I largely keep to it. I’m a practical shopper, and I don’t spend money unnecessarily. But I don’t have to live in a state of martyred self-abnegation. And I wanted those sunglasses. That’s the real reason I bought them instead of bashing the sales woman with her tray of frames and taking my business someplace more honest. I bought the fucking glasses because I wanted them.
Now, every time I get in the car, I pop my case out of the crevice in the ceiling and swap out dark lenses for light, light for dark. It’s a small maneuver representative of a much larger shift. And it feels good. Damned good.
She sashayed past my room an hour ago with a broom, and now she’s belting one out in the can while she scrubs the toilets. I do not want to hear about her good vibrations at this moment.
Used to, Sis would plug her smartphone into those speakers, and we’d rock with something current. But Sis hasn’t been home in four weeks, and grandma doubts she’ll come back until that stick-legged boyfriend of hers sticks his third leg up some other skirt.
Grandma likes to croon The Eagles and tell me to take it easy, but only half her family has up and gone on her. She’s still got me and Uncle Jack, who lives next door. Mom, Dad, Sis, every one of them has walked out on me, now. I used to think I had to put up with Grandma’s music to make her stay, but I eventually worked out she wasn’t going to leave her own house after living in it for thirty-odd years.
Some days, I’d like to go, too, to see how I did living on the road. But my band of friends would miss me, and I don’t guess I could ever really hitchhike and drum for my supper. It’s something to think about though, on days like today, when the rain hammers on my window and Grandma sings descant above men who’ve been dead longer than I’ve been alive, when she tells me about their friends who should have died with them all those eons ago.
The quality of mercy is not strain’d
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…
Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice 4.1
Sam sat in a ceramic explosion. But as soon as he saw me, his vampire grin turned to dust “I was so angry.”
“Is this why you called me?” I scowled from the door.
“Yes.” He made fists and pounded the carpet. “I was so angry, and I smashed Pandy!”
His beloved panda bank was tonight’s victim. “There’s not much we can do but clean him up and throw him away.”
“No!” Sam leapt up bawling. “Please! I need something to remember him by.”
Sam has an innate ability to work sophisticated words and phrases into his conversations with perfect usage. His mood disorders are real, but they don’t somehow supersede the Asperger’s. It all works together in his body, and sometimes, like last night, it all works against him. He’s a smasher. An impulsive destroyer of objects. His destructive capabilities far outstrip his self-control.
But here’s the thing. So am I. I like to throw telephones. How many of our early dates did Scott spend reassembling the cordless phone I had just hurled against my parquet floor? How often did he take it on faith that my fury had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the English department?
“Maybe I can glue some parts back together,” I told my son.
Scott ferried me pieces as he found them, and I reassembled Pandy shard at a time. My fingers were superglued together before I completed the first match, and I left skin behind at every turn thereafter.
Sam stared until he got bored; then he slunk off to the living room. “Watch him,” I told Scott. We both knew the dog, a constant victim of our son’s temper, was on the new couch.
After barely five minutes, I heard. “Sam, let Chewie have his … bone.”
“That pause sounded bad.” I looked for someplace to wipe my fingers that wouldn’t leave me permanently affixed.
“Almost. How’d you see that go in, buddy?”
“It was shiny.”
“What happened?” I gave up trying to clean my hands and held them away from my body as I ran for the living room.
“Look at that.” Scott extended a battery to me. “Sam pulled it out of Chewie’s throat.”
“The hell you say.” I gave my son an all-elbows hug.
“Last week the Skittles. This week, the corrosive acid. He could have killed himself.” Scott embraced Sam, too, and I returned to the bear.
Finally, I said, “Son of a bitch,” to nobody in particular.
“Now what’s wrong?”
“I’m pretty impressed, actually. Do you know you found me every single goddamned piece?”
I brought out the bear, and Sam smiled, his eyes blessing me, answering a prayer I didn’t know I carried in my heart.
I always get nervous when I use two definitions of a Trifecta word. Note – I have #2 and #3 in there.
“Mm-hmm.” I sat across the room. In a chair.
“We have to replace it, don’t we?”
It came to me used and free in 1998 when I went to grad school. After Scott and I and four friends nearly killed ourselves getting it into our first shared apartment, Scott said, “It’s coming out kindling.”
“Baby, I’ll buy the axe.”
But it didn’t. Instead, when we rented our first house, we gave all our friends rope burn dropping the couch over the balcony. And it didn’t even crack.
When we bought our first house, local movers hefted the corner cabinet more easily than the sofa, thanks to affixed cushions and a shape that required it to be turned upside down at a three-quarter angle to get it through any door.
Coming down south, Andre the Giant picked up the corner cabinet alone and carried it down a set of slick deck stairs on his back rather than be part of the team of three jamming the couch out the front door.
In Montgomery, it endured two dogs’ toenails, two kids’ stuffing obsessions, and two parents’ indifference to the insults delivered upon it. But this March something crunched when I sat. Sam delivered a second crack in April, and Chewie got in the third in early May.
A month and a half later, we watched the couch’s insides fly out as a final set of movers maneuvered it out our front door. Granted that they dealt with heavy furniture all day, it still seemed easier for them to heave it than anybody before. We took it as a cosmic sign that the thing was ready to go. Then, we reclined the ends of our new one and started planning how to protect it from our dog and children. I’ll let you know how that works out.
If you want to come fly with us at Trifecta, you really should give it a whirl. It’s a great community of writers. Take a look at the wide variety of genres and abilities we display, and you’ll see what I mean. Odds are, whatever your focus, whatever level blogger or writer you feel yourself to be, there’s somebody else to connect with. (And it’s not like you have to join or anything – it’s a link-up.) Don’t feel intimidated by the number of people submitting, what your [typo - leaving for the sake of irony] perceive as people who are writing above you, or the creative prompts.(I count the 333 word limit as a creative prompt.) (Also, believe me. We aren’t.)
The best place to jump in is probably the weekend challenge, which is often only 33 words long. Promise, you’ll get addicted. After all, I did.
But I cannot hold onto the smells. The basement’s dankness. The musty cedar fragrance of my uncle’s old bedroom. The layers of soap in the bathrooms.
This is my deepest grief about the Louisville house. That when it is sold, I will never again close my eyes and inhale the mixture of fall leaves and motor oil that hung over the driveway or the combination of mulch and roses that exuded from Poppa’s gardens.
But then, with no one living in it these last four years, the place has fallen into disrepair. Even long after it was fixed, a refrigerator breakdown robbed two rooms of their aromas. We had to work to restore them, sitting around the dining room table telling my grandparents’ stories, raising the dead the only way we knew how until the whole house had the right odor again. But I’m sure the stale air returned with our departure.
I’ve been home two weeks. Though I know this is the right thing, to let strangers bring their own fragrances to that place, it is hard.
But some days, I am granted a moment of perfect sensory wholeness. This afternoon, when I came in from failing to mow, the kitchen was redolent with rosemary, red wine, and chicken. It was the precise bouquet that always greeted me when I walked in Mummum and Poppa’s back door, though I never knew them to them make this particular dish. I held my breath, trying not to waste those precious moments before my nose adjusted to the scent.
I wanted to breathe it in forever, because it smelled like a thing lost. It smelled like my grandfather’s kitchen. It smelled like home.
It was five years after that failure before the idea crept back into my mind. This time, it stayed. I never tried to write it again, though. Then, last Friday, a sentence lodged in my head. My writing often starts with a word-image that requires telling. And that one had the potential to be an entry point to my long-restrained story. So I typed it for the whole trip down to Florida. Bare bones outline: Fighting couple has sex instead. The end.
No, really, that’s the plot. And here’s the problem. I know what happens under the covers now, but other parts of the story don’t work. The fighting couple doesn’t spend enough time in the shift between argument and sex, so the whole thing comes off wrong. I consulted my in-house expert.
“Scott, do these two still jump in bed together too soon?”
He studied my laptop. “ “Something’s missing. I think the man needs to rationalize it more.” Click. Exactly what I needed to hear. I had been so concerned with capturing actions and dialogue that I hadn’t even considered thoughts.
I was still mulling this over while we tried to write next week’s grocery list. It seemed Scott was, too. “It needs more … look.” He took away my list. “She does this, right?” He put my hand on his cheek.
“Doesn’t that send a chill down his spine or something?”
“I hate the stereotypes.”
“OK, his face, then. What if it sends a chill across his face?”
“You need more of his physical reactions.”
We walked through several more gestures discussing actions and reactions. And we, unlike my couple, didn’t have to cover any extra ground to get to desire.
Then, Scott said, “I think we’re still technically parents.” We broke off our conversation and resumed the list before the living room and Wii lost their appeal for our kids.
A few minutes later, he asked, “What turns him on about her?”
“Her hair. It always smells like flowers.”
“OK, so he has to smell her hair. That could set off a moment where…” and by now he was behind me, reaching around to pull me close. I leaned into him automatically, then jumped away just as fast.
“Damn.” We glowered at the living room together.
“OK. Right. Rationalization; physical reactions; turn-ons. I’ll work on that and see what you think later. After the kids are in bed.”
“Definitely. After they’re in bed.”
This is a quick post to say how much FUN I had this weekend at the Trifecta Meetup. Our whole family loved getting to meet Lisa, Tara, Deana, and Lance. The Burson kiddos clicked instantly with Caroline and Sam, and Caroline kidnapped Deana for a walk down the beach collecting seashells. We had beach time, pool time, and restaurant time. I personally downed four Margaritas. Because priorities, as Tara R. explains it. Somehow, we never got around to taking a lot of pictures. Oh well. Next year, we’re hoping to do it in Portland. Scott’s sister lives in Oregon, so we could totally justify that trip. Here’s one of the few photos. Tara R. Got our server Josh to take a click of us at lunch on Saturday.
My phone rang, a Lexington number, and I prepared my, “Sorry, we moved five years ago but never changed the cells” spiel.
“Ms. Powell?” The woman’s voice was hesitating, as if she were surprised I had answered.
“Ye-ess?” I have no more professional connections in Kentucky. Friends, yes. Strangers who think my last name is Merriman and want to sell me life insurance? Yes. But people who call me by my own last name and yet somehow know better than to say “Mrs.”? None.
“This is Tessa from Central bank in …”
And I knew. The safe deposit box. We’ve tripped over those fucking keys for five years and not sent them back. Actually, that’s not true. It’s more that we’ll be cleaning out one or another of our hoarder cells and come across them. “Shit. Gotta return those,” we’ll say. And we all know which road is paved with those intentions.
So I hung up with Tessa and called Scott. “I think I know where they are,” he said.
“Thank God. Because they’re about ready to drill into the vault.”
Only he didn’t. And I woke up in a manic sweat at 2AM, frantic with the thought that we have merely misplaced something that is going to cost us a fuck-ton of money. This is the kind of thing that drives me batshit crazy. We are so damned scattered, so completely incapable of establishing even basic organizational schemes, that we lose shit all the time. Important shit. Expensive shit. Like lockbox keys.
I tore through the ‘mail center’ our quaint name for the particular disaster where we store stamps and the like. This was the most likely place to have lost it, because the mail center, being located just inside the door, collects whatever shit we’re carrying as we walk in. One trash bag and two “This is Not My Fucking Problem, Baby; You Fucking Deal With It” bags later, I still have not found the lockbox keys.
But I have located every single lost greeting card I meant to send in the last five years. And all of the kids’ missing crayons. A dozen envelopes I bet we thought we used. Stamps with denominations ranging from thirty three or four cents (with Porky Pig on them, in case you wondered) to four dollars and sixty cents (those feature Airforce One). A complete set of fingerpaints. With refills. Our car insurance policies for the last six years. (If you do your math, that means I found one from Lexington.) The lockbox keys for our current safe deposit box. Just not the thing I wanted most.
So now, I want it over. I tried to call Tessa to tell her that they would have to send me the bill. But the phone at the other end rang and rang. It seems you can’t leave messages in the wee hours at the bank.