Disease State


Michelle’s smooth white skin was interrupted by dark bruises as though a painter had dabbed her arms with a brush full of blue paint, using her thin bones as a guide.  She texted on her phone, punching in letters and emoticons with grubby fingers, ignoring the woman sitting across the kitchen table from her.  

Before everything changed, Michelle’s phone was merely a distraction, a way to avoid eye contact, and pass the time.  The woman across from her remembered how Michelle used to talk on her first cell phone, a big bulky device with actual buttons and an antenna; she snapped the phone shut at the end of a call and tucked it away for hours without once reaching for it.  It was a sweet time when they communicated with real interactions and conversations, before Michelle was sick.  

At the thought of it, the woman bitterly laughed to herself.  It seemed like a million years ago when health was wealth and they were rich.  Now, it was all symbols to represent words and emotions, entire sentences condensed into a frowny face next to a fire and a thermometer.  Sick again. 

The power of technology was a powerful addiction, one that had taken hold of her daughter along with the rest of the population, from toddlers to the elderly, it was yet to be formally declared as dangerous because the side effects were still accumulating and not entirely clear. 

However, the woman sitting across from Michelle was keenly aware of the addiction.  She shared the same wide blue eyes, pale complexion, and health insurance plan as her daughter and not much else now that the disease had taken root.  Planting her elbows on the table, she clasped her hands, interlocking long white fingers with well-shaped nails.

“Next month, we are going to lose our insurance because I can’t afford COBRA,” the woman said in a very matter-of-fact way. 

Her daughter looked up and connected with her mother’s eyes, “I know.  You have said the same thing every other day since you found out about the layoffs.”

“And you were listening?  All I ever see you do is twiddle and tweet on that stupid phone so excuse me for being surprised.”

“And I got a job, you’ll be happy to know. With insurance for both of us.  It’s online.”


How People Eat


The check-out lane extended into the cereal aisle, illuminated overhead by a harsh florescent light.  A couple pushed a cart filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and paper towels forward and took their place at the end of the line.  They inched forward at a pace only tolerable by those with an unlimited amount of life.  Unfortunately, it did not appear that any of the patrons in line had recently tasted of the sweet waters from the fountain of youth.  

The couple spoke in low voices, discussing meal planning and their weekly budget.  At the register, a man with a silver pinky ring and basketball shoes dropped an armload of goods onto the conveyer belt.  A can of peas rolled backwards as the cashier picked up a bundle of green bananas and swiped them across the scanner.  She wore a massive Afro picked out in every direction; her hair was loud and proud.

A woman in baggy jeans and a cat sweatshirt was next in line.  She dropped a bag of cat food onto the belt and unzipped a purple fanny pack from around her waist and started to dig around, while muttering something about coupons.   

Behind the couple, a thick woman with mascara heavy eyelashes rolled up with a cart full of breakfast foods: bacon, eggs, muffins, croissants, Poptarts, cereal and milk.  A chubby girl with her hair pulled into sections by colorful barrettes sat in the front of the cart, while an even chubbier boy stood at the end of it.  She was a distracted driver; the woman focused on a cell phone letting her cart find the way.  Meanwhile, the kids chattered back and forth in their own language, like birds on a wire.  

The boy looked around and rested his hands on his protruding stomach like a wise old man.  He was tall and nearly as wide as the cart.  Rolls held his head up, and gathered at his wrists and elbows.  The extra weight prematurely aged him as much as his surrounding environment, punishing and unfair to someone so young.

An elderly woman in large, round glasses and neatly bobbed grey hair, who looked like an elementary school teacher in a not-so-distant, pre-retirement life joined the line with her cart and stood behind the family.  She saw the boy looking so worldly, so bold and bright in that moment, she couldn’t stop herself from striking up a conversation.  

“Oh, hello there, you’re a big boy.  I bet you’re in…” the woman paused thoughtfully considering his age, “third grade,” she said triumphantly.

“Yup,” the boy agreed, nodding his head.

“Sure am.”

“K, you stop it.  You know you a kindergartener,” his mother said.

Without looking up from her phone, she took a few steps forward with her cart, not seeing her son’s crestfallen face and or his apologetic shrug towards the elderly woman.  The boy knew shame in that moment and pushed it down, deep into himself where it would stay with so many other hurts long after he became a man. 

The older woman looked at the boy through her thick lenses with love and appreciation.  She sought out his sad eyes and winked, bringing a quick smile to his face. 

This is how people eat.    

Serve the People

shot glass

Ray worked every night at a grungy dive bar that clung desperately to its place at the edge of town.  The bar straddled the past and the present, unable to fully commit to one or the other.  It was a depressingly dark establishment with an ancient cigarette machine outside of the single bathroom, brown water stains on the ceiling tiles and a glowing touch screen juke box was mounted on the wall.  A flat screen tv played a college basketball game over shelves of dusty liquor bottles and entertained the few customers seated around the bar. 

Ray inspected a glass for lipstick and nicks around the edges before wiping it down and stacking it on shelf under the counter.  A man with an American flag bandana wrapped around his grey hair sat at the far end and stared into a glass that he considered very much half empty.  Next to him, a skinny man with large, dark square glasses watched the basketball game and made comments between plays and during commercial breaks.  He sucked down the rest of a bottle of Bud Light; he rattled it on the counter and cleared his throat to get Ray’s attention.

The customer was foiled in his attempt when another man with a wrinkled t-shirt, messy hair and bleary eyes walked in a side door and swaggered towards the bar.  

“Hey pal, you need another fire ball?” Ray chose his words carefully and reached for another glass to wipe down.  There was a definite difference between want and need in his business. 

The man gave Ray a sloppy smile, “You are good, man.  How do you remember every time what I want?” He swayed to the left and then slowly to the right like a tree in the wind, somehow, his trunk stayed planted.  

There was no rush to take the man’s money or to refill his glass with the liquid that would continue to destabilize him.  Ray could take his time with this man, he had him right where he wanted him without concern that he would quickly leave or cause trouble with the other patrons.  He had a sense about his customers, like who would leave a tip and who would tip over.  He prided himself on his professionalism, his ability to be present without prying, to engage without judgement. 

He was there to serve the people and he had no qualms about over-serving those who asked for it.  

Balloons at a Shower


The room dripped in signs of love or affluence, both of which were certain to register with the expected guests.  Pink and blue balloons hung in the corners of the room, gathered together with curls of long silver ribbons.  Vases of fresh flowers were spaced every three seats, tastefully arranged by the best florist in town.

Two tables covered in light pink and baby blue cloths formed an L shape against adjoining walls with a massive bouquet of flowers adorning each table center.  One table held a sheet cake outlined in delicate pink sugar flowers and candy gem centers with a scrolling “congratulations” across the middle; bowls of nuts and mints were nearby a plate of fresh-out-of-the-oven croissants, a dish of neatly cubed fruit and a white, fluffy dip.  A crystal bowl of pink punch with a matching ladle and punch glasses completed the spread. 

The remaining table was only clear of its contents temporarily as with each guest a new package or container would be placed until it was full, like the collection plate by the end of a church service.  Offerings for the future bought peace of mind for the present by the givers.  Beautiful wrapping paper and ribbons would soon be torn open and tossed aside to reveal yet another onesie or pack of diapers and wipes.  

Yet, the chairs with their white linen covers were still empty, the punch melted, the croissants deflated and the flowers wilted.  

When the warning sirens sounded and there was suddenly no time to celebrate or to refrigerate the perishables.  There was no chance to return the gifts or recycle the cards, already marked with personalized messages of luck and advice for the future.  The same future that once seemed so unlimited was now on a drastically shortened timeline with the news of a missile, expected to strike within the city limits.   

Still the pink and blue balloons floated in the corners, bravely announcing the joy of new life during a time of utter confusion and darkness.

Art of Giving

red leaf

Tap, tap, tap.

It was still early in the morning when there was a soft knock on the glass patio door.

“Don’t answer, you know who it is,” Jan said without looking up from buttering her toast.

She stood at the kitchen counter in a long nightgown and slippers, while her husband sat at the table holding a steaming mug of coffee. He perused the headlines of the news, rattling the paper as he turned the pages.

Across the table, old newspapers were haphazardly spread and stacked with colorful advertisements and junk mail randomly shuffled into the mix. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of birds were in the middle next to a plastic napkin holder with plain white paper napkins. Her husband, Dennis, reached over and gathered the papers into a messy pile to clear a space for his wife.

“Come sit down.”

He looked over the top of his glasses, unsurprised that the seat remained empty. Jan was still standing at the counter shaking cinnamon from a spice container with an aluminum head onto the buttered toast. She risked a peek out the door and then quickly looked away, reasoning that without eye contact there was nothing to stop their visitor from leaving.

Tap, tap, tap.

She felt a secret thrill, he wasn’t leaving. The hint of a smile played out on her face as she turned to her husband for another peek out the door over his shoulder.

She feigned surprise, “Oh Denny, it’s him again. What should we do?”

He laughed and the skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather, “We?” he asked.

“Don’t you mean what should you do?” he clarified with an emphasis on the word, you.

They had to play this game, their roles and the rules were both well-defined and rehearsed. He gave his wife a knowing look that was a mixture of amusement and annoyance and sipped his coffee.

“In that case, I better give him what he wants,” Jan said coyly.

She reached for the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and pulled out another slice of bread from the breadbox. Humming to herself, she quickly slathered the bread with a thin layer and cut it into triangles, just the way she used to do.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Oh, hold on,” she said with in pretend irritation as she balanced the triangles flat on the palm of her smooth, white palm and made her way towards the door.

Sliding the door open with one hand, she knelt down with surprising flexibility for her age. She tucked her nightgown around her legs to hold it in place as she balanced on the balls of her slippered feet.

“Well, hello there,” she greeted a fat brown squirrel with shiny, black eyes.

The squirrel twitched its nose in recognition.  It chattered with excitement and held its claws out for breakfast. Jan extended her hand towards the creature. It sniffed her fingers and looked up at the woman; they locked eyes for a brief moment of connection before the squirrel grabbed a triangle and took off for the edge of the patio, still chattering as it disappeared up a tree.

Jan straightened out her legs and back as she stood, and noticed at her feet a unusual, bright red leaf carefully brought in from an ornamental tree of a far off yard.  It was left not as a payment, but as a present.  Jan left the rest of the triangles with a smile now fully fixed on her face and took the leaf, grateful for the gifts of the day.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

Cheap Band-Aid


His eyes welled with tears that refused to fall.  Men don’t cry.  Yet, there they were, tears. 

Real, big, and wet splashy drops.

There was something about his light hair and emerging pain that reminded me of someone else.  I wanted to wrap him in my arms and whisper, “It’s going to be ok,” knowing that the words would be a lie.

And it was wrong to lie, except when…

I paused to consider the times for which this rule was meant to be broken and was only able to summon instances that were superficial, meant to save face and limit discomfort, short-term fixes to things that required permanent solutions, like a cheap band-aid to hold together a gaping wound.    

So, I told him the truth and watched his tears fall.


Biological Warfare


Signs were posted everywhere with big red, bold letters.  It was flu season and germs were not welcome.  The usually bustling office restricted visitors and required anyone with the chills or body aches to wear a disposable mask and latex gloves, yet the flu was still spreading.  

More handwashing stations went up, while the news streamed stories about the rising death toll of flu related deaths.  Strangers and friends alike started to eye one another as potential disease vectors and withdrew from conversations at the slightest hint of a sneeze or a sniffle, slowly backing up so as not to startle the germs into action. 

Things were breaking down quickly and not much work was getting done until the genius management put their oversized egg heads together and came up with a three-part solution to the problem.

More signs, they decided, because the first batch was so effective.  Then, they gave the front desk staff unlimited authority to stop and interrogate all visitors and employees.  Lastly, they tightened up on attendance policy so that employees were afraid to use their time off and instead reported for duty, bleary eyed and feverishly punctual.  

It was a perfect plan, seemingly infallible, and still the flu raged on.

Unaware of this change in the flu fighting approach, I walked in from the bitter cold and practically collapsed at the front desk, unable to proceed toward my office.  A red, velvet rope partitioned off the hallways and forced all entrants to pass through a narrow channel monitored by a large woman with heavy braids and long, colorful nails depicting ten tropical island scenes.  She pointed to a sign on the counter with a chubby finger and looked expectantly at me.

My glasses had developed a fog from the sudden change in temperature and my hands shook as they started the painful process of de-thawing after the long walk from the public parking lot.  

I took my glasses off and squinted at the woman, “Good morning. What’s going on?”

Irritated she sighed, “Need to see your id badge, we’re only letting employees in today.”

“Would I be here if I didn’t have to be?” I joked, seeking common ground.

“Don’t know and don’t care, I have to see your id if you’re going in.  Visitors have been impersonating employees to get into the office.”

My hands stopped shaking by this time and I put my glasses back on, catching her bad attitude faster than the rampant virus that was shutting down the city.  I tried all of the positive affirmations I knew to reset my frame of mind, but it was too late.  

“And what does that have to do with the flu?” I asked flatly.

“Visitors are bringing it in,” she said as a matter-of-fact. 

Shaking my head, I dug through my purse, pushing aside my wallet, a pack of gum and a ring of keys; delving deeper into the bottomless pit, I found a hot pink pen with origins unknown, a folded cardboard book mark and a sticky, partially unwrapped cough-drop before latching onto my id badge.

“Aha!” I declared in victory and considered the course of the day that was already off to such a great start.  Was it too late to go home, I wondered for a second before remembering the attendance policy. 

I pulled the id badge out and flashed it at the woman with a frown that I tried to turn upside down, resulting in a weird smirk that was as close to a smile as I could muster.  Meanwhile, another employee had come in behind me, hacking a dry cough with red rimmed eyes and overheard our conversation.  

“I would complain about the cold, but I’ve been feeling so hot this morning,” she explained as she extracted her id badge from her coat pocket with a still-gloved hand.

“Anyways, you know, if anyone is bringing in the flu, its going to be an employee,” she coughed again and shuffled off towards the heart of the building.  She said over her shoulder, “Just trying to be helpful.”     

And still the flu raged on, baffling the eggheads.

Poor birdie



What do shivering birds in winter, a wet, bedraggled cat after a bath and my new coworker huddled over his desk all have in common?  The apparent desire to be far, far away from their current situation. 

Joe has successfully stayed off of the radar since he started and with 87 days left to go, he still has a very long orientation period.  Our supervisor suggested bringing him into our office with a tiny, temporary desk to hang out, hear our discussions and naturally integrate into the flow of things.  A good idea that was quickly shot down with any hope that Joe would learn to love the work or the team.

We were a schizophrenic group.  We wanted a man on our team, but we didn’t want a man in our office. We wanted an experienced co-worker, but didn’t want to train him, but wanted him around to give him exposure and opportunities to learn.  It was a unanimous decision that our boss struggled to understand. 

I tried to explain it in the lamest way possible, “He’ll be bored in here.” 

Then, driven by guilt, I went off to be more inclusive.

I peeked into Joe’s office and startled him, he was busy texting and avoiding conversation.  There was a blank screen of blue on his computer monitor and a mostly blank pad of paper on his desk with a few scribbles and a doodle along the edge of the paper.  He pushed his heavy, black rimmed glasses up on his nose and discreetly slid his phone under his leg without saying anything.

“Hey there, how are things going?” I asked.

He blinked at me with the eyes of a sensitive little bat, just brought out into the light.  He did not appreciate this intrusion into whatever it was that he was working on, likely an epic game of Tetris.  It was a strange situation, like a cat after a bath, this was an uncomfortable and disagreeable interaction for him, and like a bird in winter, his feathers still weren’t thick enough to protect him from the cold of group dynamics. 


A Better Way to Joy Ride

junk yard

Rosa was on the phone when I quietly knocked at the door and walked into the room.  The lights were low and the blinds were down.  It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness in the middle of the day.  The place was wrecked, shoes were haphazardly kicked off in a pile by the door and clothes were crumpled on the floor.  A box of fried chicken was on the table next to a Big Gulp drink with napkins and ketchup packets mixed in with a stack of mail. 

Rosa sat straight up, stiff as a board, in an old brown reclining chair.  She wore a nubby bathrobe and her short, dark hair stuck out in every direction like she was just seriously electrocuted and should be on the way to the hospital instead of sitting in a chair furiously scribbling away at a notebook.    

As I approached, it was clear that she deep into something messy.

“I’ll come back later,” I whispered, not one to interrupt unless it was absolutely necessary, and started to retreat towards the door.  Rosa held up a pudgy finger, indicating for me to wait one minute. 

“Ok, I’ll call back tomorrow and speak with the officer,” she growled into the phone.    

Angrily shaking her head, she looked up at me with one eye to ensure that I hadn’t snuck out as she made final arrangements for her appointment tomorrow.  

Ending the call, she dropped the phone onto the notebook on her lap with a disgusted sigh.

“Sounds like I don’t have a car anymore.” 

She waited with a dramatic pause, gauging my interest.

Unable to resist the bait, I took the hook, line and sinker, and casually asked for clarification.  

“What in the world happened, Rosa?  I didn’t even know that you had a car.”

“First, do you think I can drive right now with my legs like this?”

I scanned her face, she was serious, and then dropped my eyes to her painfully swollen feet and legs poking out from underneath of her long bathroom.   

“No, I don’t.  Shouldn’t those be propped up?”

She ignored the question and continued.

“Well, I didn’t think so either, but I just learned that my car was traveling the wrong way on a one way street back in my home town, crashed into a few parked cars and was then abandoned on a side street and the police wanted to know if it was me.”

“So, you did have a car?”

“You’re really hung up on that, yes, I had a car back home. I left the keys with my roommate for emergencies only and now he is missing and my car is in the junk yard.” 

Her dark eyes flashed with anger, “Excuse, I need to make some more phone calls.”

The next day, her door was open as I passed by in the hallway.  Light streamed in from the windows and the clutter was gone.  Her shoes were lined up, her clothes were put away and there was no trash to be seen.  Her hair was pulled neatly back with a wide headband displaying a pair of very dainty, unpierced ears.  She scrolled through images on her phone and laughed to herself.  Noticing my shadow darkening her door, she waved.

“Hey girl, come on in.  What’s going on today?”

I wanted to ask the same thing of her regarding the grand theft auto situation but held my tongue.

“Wondering about my car?” she asked.

Feigning shock at her mind reading ability, I confirmed her suspicions with a nod and again took the bait.

“What happened?”

She threw her hands up with a smile, “We worked it out.  He knows what he did was wrong, but there’s no use fighting over it or staying mad.  I can’t afford to waste my energy like that, if I didn’t forgive him hate would build up and stay right here,” she lightly pounded at her chest with her fist.

“Right here,” she emphasized.

“It would make me sick when I am in here trying to get better, to be better.”

Unable to stop myself, I gushed with partially informed questions.

“But if you drop it, how will you get him to pay you?  Will insurance cover the damages?  What did you tell the police?  What did he tell you?  How will you get around?”

In the midst of this flurry of questions, there were two questions that I didn’t ask but most wondered about the answers, how and why did you forgive him?

She held her hand up to stop the questions, “I’ll figure that stuff out.  Its going to be ok.”

Reassuringly, she nodded and patted my hand.

“Really, its going to be ok.”

Suddenly, I was left with a sad emptiness where a surrogate anger had rushed out, like water from a broken cup.  There is another way to get better, to be better, and it starts with deciding to put the sword away.  


The Family Photo


The family photo holiday card was adorable. 

The kids were lined up in matching flannel outfits, miraculously all facing the camera, with the dog flopped out in front on all fours looking miserable.  Tinsel and ivy lined the mantle and the stockings were hung with care above the fireplace.  Just at the edge of the shot, a perfect Christmas tree with twinkling white lights stood over a pile of brightly wrapped gifts.  

Yet, something was off that even my weak and computer strained eyes noticed.  There was a new and mysterious baby in the mix.  Wearing a clever camouflage of a black and red onesie, he blended into the identical suits of his siblings. 

I stared at the card in confusion, holding it close and then as far out as my arms would reach.  Closing one eye and then the other, the image did not change and I confirmed that I was not seeing double.  Still not satisfied with the information being fed to my brain, I did one last vision test.  I took off my glasses and wiped them clean, expecting the world to make sense again when I replaced them on the bridge of my nose.   

Still three children, one dog, one Christmas tree and one stack of presents. 

Did they adopt?  Unlikely, adoption was expensive and took time.  Did they steal or kidnap that little chubby cheeked babe?  Also, an unlikely possibility, as his parents were not criminally inclined and the baby looked just like his brother.  So many questions met with but one answer that didn’t make any sense caused no small amount of distress to my confused mind.  

Where did this third kid come from and when did he arrive?  Somehow this child had not only been born, but also made it to the Christmas card without a single sign of his expected entrance into the world via Facebook, voicemail, text, email, smoke signal or carrier pigeon.  With so many ways to communicate and so many words to use, why not share in a more intimate way than a mass mailing?   

Reflecting on the card, I lamented and felt like I was missing a piece of life.  The card represented all of the babies born and new jobs and big moves of which I wasn’t aware because I was overly reliant on technology, mistaking time spent on social media as socializing.  Social media gave me a confidence in my friends and their lives, a sense of active connection, that obviously wasn’t as alive as I might have thought before receiving the card.  I forgot that the faces on Facebook only represent a snapshot of one moment in time for the people behind the profiles.  

And still I blogged and perused my newsfeed, rather than picking up the phone and calling an old friend to check in only to discover that her life has moved on in great leaps and bounds.  I continued to beat myself up in this way until I remembered one more important thing, the phone works both ways and that smoke signals and texts had gone unanswered after being sent out in her direction until now. 

Time marches on and old friendships change and end so that new ones may begin and its ok. 

For what it’s worth, be kind to one another.  

Previous Older Entries

Blog Stats

  • 6,610 hits