Therapeutic Interaction

Every Tuesday, Scott and I put on our wedding rings like armor. It’s easier than explaining, “We don’t usually wear them; they fall off. We won’t resize them. My grandmother touched them.” We dress in slacks and button down shirts. I strap on my ten dollar gold watch and poke through my golden heart earrings. He shaves as we drive Caroline to school.

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.

In Full Bloom

pimlicoroses.jpgThe young fighter knelt before the sacred rosebush in the sanctuary. “Tomorrow, I rip it out of the ground, Adi.”

“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.”


Or Treat

“Of all the rotten goddamned days to die.” Richard Larks stared around the room, waiting for his wife to come to bed. She wouldn’t, of course. She was somewhere between Tyler Memorial and Beckman’s by now. Richard was left with a room full of her things, every object a phantom of the woman herself.

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.

Letting Go

Ray sat at the bar flirting with the girls in the lone booth and throwing back one zombie after another like shots. He had been dead seventy two hours. Sooner or later, someone would find his body and he would be forced to shuffle off his mortal habits. Until then, he was having lascivious fun calling, “Give me your number gorgeous. Your boyfriend won’t mind.”

He signaled the bartender, who asked “Another?” This man didn’t know Ray was dead any more than the misses in the corner.

“Relax. I’m taking a cab.” And that was true, he suddenly realized. Someone was clonking up the stairs in his house now. And it would be a black and yellow calling when that person entered the bathroom. “Make it quick.”

Ray hoped the money he was piling up wouldn’t evaporate with him but had an idea it might.

He wondered who was about to find him. His ex wife? Impossible. She moved to Vegas more than a year ago. The incessantly chatty next door neighbor, then? Or someone else? Something else.

A memory pierced him. When he couldn’t still his hand on the knife, he hadn’t been alone in that bathroom. A woman had joined him, an insubstantial someone wrapping her arms around his shoulders placing her hands over his on the hilt. He had looked up when they made the cut together, caught her eye for the briefest instant in the mirror, and felt, rather than saw her extraordinary beauty.

It was her then creaking down his hall, hungry for him now like he had been for her in their brief moment of contact.

Ray stood too fast, tipping the stool in his hurry as he slammed another twenty on the bar. There was a cab outside waiting, right now, but he had to hurry or he’d miss it. “Night ladies.” He tipped a finger towards the booth. “Barkeep,” he called over his shoulder, “never mind about that drink.”


Corrections, corrections, corrections

This weekend, Trifecta has asked us to provide the 33 words that follow this illustration:



Typically, I don’t include other people’s pictures on my blog. It gives me the copyright heebie-jeebies. But Trifecta swears it’s OK as long as we give a link back to and credit Poisoned Playground. Also, the whole entry makes no sense whatsoever without the context of the image. I have also taken wild liberties with the prompt. They said “Give us the 33 words that follow this illustration. What happens next?” They did not say that the following 33 words all had to be in the story’s TEXT.


“The mummy…”


“…rose and, Jared…”

“And Sophie!”

“… I’m getting there. Jared and Sophie…”

“Saw their monster!”

“For someone who can’t read, you know a lot of words in a brand new book.”


Lost in Translation


They spoke in their own languages, Matt’s English, Consuela’s Spanish, as they wound down the Pacific coast.

“I’m not going on some crazy-ass …”

“No estoy loco.”

“I didn’t say you were crazy. I said this… whatever we’re doing… it’s got to be nuts.”

“No loco.”

“Then why won’t you tell me what it is?”  He wished he spoke better Spanish or she better English. Throughout her son’s trial, they had communicated with a translator, a woman who whispered, “It’s not your fault. You did your best,” over Consuela’s sobs at the end.

But when, a week later, Consuela appeared at his office begging, “Vienes. Vienes, ahora, por favor!” Matt couldn’t fail to understand her. Though it meant cancelling a dozen appointments, he went. He only regretted his decision as she began to navigate the twisting narrows of highway 101. “Why won’t you tell me?” he repeated.

“Porque no le va a gustar.”

Matt had heard Consuela mutter, “No me gusta.” often enough during the trial.

“What won’t I like?”

Consuela pulled into a scenic overlook, currently deserted. She got out and hopped over the guard rail.

“Come back here!”

“No, tu. Vienes ver.” She flicked two fingers from her eyes over the cliff, indicating she wanted him to see something. “Confia en mi.” Trust me. How often he had said this to her in court? And how wrong had he been?

“OK,” he said. “I trust you,” though he did not. And he followed.

She lay on her stomach and scooted to the edge of the cliff. “Ya está. ¿Ven?

He finally lay down beside her and inched forward, waiting every second, for the shove that would catapult him into the rocks. At the lip, he squinted down.

“Ya está,” she repeated.

“There’s a metal box,” he said.


“What do you want…?”

In halting English, she said, “My Ramón is no murderer. That box proves it. You make the police get it, OK? Then, maybe he won’t get the needle.”


Mornings With Merrimans

Silly SamFriday was one of those mornings at our house. Caroline couldn’t find shorts, Sam wanted me to play balloon-bounce with him, the dog was in the kitchen stealing bagels every time I left the room, and Scott and I just wanted caffeine. But school needed notes about the field trip (yes, we could drive; we were both coming; we could carry three including our own; and we would buy popcorn for all seventy five or so would-be bowlers so Sam would have a snack), we had to put a cooler out for the co-op, and Caroline snacked on half the things we meant to send in her lunch.  Murder!

“Don’t you have a skort? Check the closet.”

“I did.”

“Do it again. Sam, I’m coming! I have to get your sister ready, first!”

Never!” His favorite interjection. “Dad can do that.”

“Yes, I can.”

“OK, Sam, Quick round of balloon …. Chewie get out of the kitchen. Honey would you put him out and close that door.”

Next door’s dog was barking incessantly. Normally, it doesn’t bother me, but Friday, each yap penetrated to …. That wasn’t next door’s dog, that was my dog, “Chewie get in here and shut up! Jesus, what was that all about?”

Scott failed in the laundry quest, too. “Caroline, you’re going to have to wear a dirty pair.” Typically, he can produce clean clothes from the dryer as if by magic. “The skort still looks OK.”

“It won’t help today, but see if she’s got any in my backseat. She had to change at ballet a couple of times.”

Mom come back.”

“We’re all done, Sam. I need to get Sis ready, and you have to wear shorts over the underwear. Come on, baby doll! Hair!

Somebody needs to play with me!”

Scott had achieved coffee. “Five minutes, Sam. We’ll do five minutes of Legos, then you need pants.”

“Caroline, hair! Now!”

“I need goo first.” Eczema, sweat, and awkward washing habits have rendered her left ear bloody in back.

“After hair! Take a shower tonight. Put on some deodorant for right now. Put on a LOT of deodorant. Holy God it’s 7:30 already. How did it get to be 7:30? Hair! Come on, hair! You can put on deodorant in the car.”

“Here’s your Coke, Jessie.” Blessed caffeine.

Frazzled and amped up, the kids and I piled into the car for the morning’s low flight through rush hour traffic. “Great take-off,” Scott said, waving from the door.

And it was. Nobody got bitten; there were no sobbing meltdowns; and, while one of them was a little smelly, the kids’ personal hygiene was at least on par with the other children in their classes. All of the stressors were manageable. I won’t look back fondly to this; I know myself too well. But compared to the mornings with time-outs, misunderstandings, and four way battles, Friday was awesome.

Passages and Secrets

SamHappyIt was a Paul Simon kind of morning, a rhythmic kind of morning, and everything built around a peculiar beat. The Alabama sky was dazzling blue, and Sam put on clothes without a fight for the first time in a week. Caroline lost her belt, and she nearly forgot to wear shoes, but nobody shouted getting out the door, and the Darth Maul mask didn’t have to go into time out like it has so many mornings lately.

Sam read to me last night, each word precious and halting, a hard won battle of chosen sounds. I didn’t learn like this. I was five, and I grasped it in a day. I guess I’d been working my way there for a long time, but the kindergarten teacher said, “ ‘Sun’ S-U-N. ‘Up’. U-P.”, and suddenly, the world of Buffy, Mack, and the whole crew of Sun Up was completely open to me. Caroline was a little older, but the experience was the same. One day, those collections of letters meant nothing, then the next, she came out with “context”.  Scott learned from street signs, when he was three.

Scott stayed awake until the early hours of this morning, reading in the middle of his office. When was the last time a book seized you that hard? When did you crack the cover and somehow emerge at two a.m., with a kink in your neck, and sore legs, because you’d completely forgotten to sit down? When did you travel so far?

Nobody ever told me love could mean arm-black bite-bruises delivered by a little boy who hurts that hard inside. Nobody told me it meant trying to tell him the blue sky, when all he sees are thunderheads. Nobody told me that love is standing still with your child until you don’t notice the passage of time, that it’s like learning to read a little each day, every word precious and hard won.



Under the Veil

Tamekia had no grace. None of them did. Yet even the most awkward dancers moved with an unstable kind of beauty. “No Barbie toes!” Shari, the instructor, called out. “Use the balls of your feet, Tami.” Tamekia rocked down, so her heels weren’t so high in the air.

TamekiaStoryThe class was working on the taqsim, with its gentle vertical motion. “I think I got this figure eight thing.” A woman at the end of the line herked her hips up and down.

“You’re getting there! I can tell you’ve been working on it. You’re all getting better. At the end of six weeks, you’re going to be amazing.”

Without meaning to, Tamikia let her thoughts wander away from belly dancing. She wondered what her daughter was doing right now. Had Beth gotten home from school? Did Grandma Jean remember to give her fruit instead of cookies for an afternoon snack. Would they be around this evening, if Tamikia was allowed to call?

Her psychologist told her not to worry about these things, to let the outside world take care of itself and focus inward, to take things one day at a time. She all but forced Tami to sign up for the dance class. Tami didn’t think her counselor had ever handed her only child into the custody of her ex’s mother.

“I’ll take good care of her,” Grandma Jean had said. “And when you get out, I’ll take good care of you, too, honey. But you can’t go messing around with that son of mine. He’s dangerous, unpredictable.”

Tami and her cellmate counted down to freedom every morning. Every night, Tami went to sleep with Beth’s image in her mind. “I’ll do better by you baby. For both of us,” she swore.

Shari put one hand on Tamekia’s stomach and another on her rear end, then pushed, drawing the younger woman out of her reverie. “Remember to tuck in. You want that…”

“… right. Stable core.”

Shari smiled. “Exactly.”


Where you’ll also find me

I swear I didn't pose him. He insists on sleeping shirtless, and he's always cutest at bedtime. The rabbit is called "Nobunny"

I swear I didn’t pose him. He insists on sleeping shirtless, and he’s always cutest at bedtime. The rabbit is called “Nobunny”

And this is the place

In the soul shaken darkness

Where I find my son


I went to my favorite writer’s conference last weekend. Killer Nashville was incredible, as always, and I came away with new insights, new friends, and a few things that I completely didn’t expect. I’m sure I’ll talk about those things at some point.

The day before that, I took Sam to one of the myriad of doctor’s appointments that dot his schedule and left so soul-shaken that I thought I wouldn’t be able to drive to Nashville. Again, I’m sure I’ll talk about it here at some point, but I’m not ready yet. I left that appointment at once validated and furious, certain that the evaluating team was both exactly right and exactly wrong about Sam, and that the things they had right are the ones that scare me. It’s time to face another of the hydra’s seven heads, one I’ve expected, but one I’m not ready for, not this soon.

More importantly, he’s not ready for it. No psychological therapy will be useful until we get the meds stabilized, and our efforts to implement such always end in utter travesty. I want to wait a few more months, weeks even, to see if the newest medication will put him on firm enough ground to start behavior therapy.

But I don’t think I have that kind of time any longer. The hydra wants for slaying now, so Scott and I will strap on our battle armor and get family therapy underway so we can learn some new tactics and buy Sam the time he needs.

I’ll let you know how that works out for us, but don’t hold your breath.