About a day or so

ci

Someone pounded on the office door. The sign clearly says closed until 1:00pm, I thought.  I looked at my watch; it read 8:45am. I guessed it was a man with something good to share, like he just won a million dollars and would be moving out of state.  I tried to remain optimistic as the pounding continued.

“I’m coming,” I yelled and ran towards the door.

“Hi, what’s going on?” I asked, throwing the door open. This, for safety reasons, is never a good idea.

It was a man standing there, leaning on one hip. He wore a ball cap, blue pants and a collared shirt with black boots, his usual work uniform.

“Well, I can’t make our appointment this afternoon,” he said and pointed to his shirt as though the shirt explained everything.

I interpreted, “You have to work?”

I have become pretty good at interpreting non-verbal communication with age, but pointing still leaves questions as to exact meaning. For instance, while I thought he was pointing at his shirt, he could have been gesturing towards his chest indicating that he was about to have a heart attack, or he was pointing to his shirt pocket which was holding a lucky lottery ticket.

He nodded, confirming that I was on track, a few steps away from mind-reading.

“There’s something else you need to know. I’ve been smelling a very strong natural gas odor for the past day and a half.”

He turned and walked out the door, enough said as a man of few words.

I went out to investigate for myself.   As soon as I stepped into his building, a whiff of gas swirled around me and out the door I went.

Strangely enough, the other residents were unconcerned with what was obviously a gas leak.

Two women sat on a bench in front of the building, sharing a cigarette. One wore plaid pajama pants and had dark circles under her eyes.  The other had her hair pulled back into a short pony tail and wore a baggy, grey sweatshirt.

“Smells like gas in there, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I do think it smells like gas. How long has it smelled like that?”

They looked at each other, in shared reflection.

“About a day or so?” pajama pants said to the pony tail.

“Yea, about a day,” pony tail nodded her head in agreement and took a final drag from the cigarette. She threw it into the grass at her feet, oblivious to the danger of fire and gas and returned to the building that was slowly filling with noxious fumes.

Taking Flight

taking flight

“Do you have time?”

My supervisor always starts the same way. This is her lead-in to asking me for a quick chat which inevitably is neither quick nor a chat. It is more of a one-way conversation that usually builds to something disciplinary or a request for work on a new project.

Let’s cut the small talk and get to business, I mentally plead with her. I watch the long black hands of the clock over her shoulder. They continue to move forward while I am motionless other than the nodding of my head.

“Yes, I’m listening. Please continue.”

She has spotted my eyes dropping, just ever so briefly, more like an extended blink than anything. She does not appear happy by this observation. She has been talking for seven minutes now. I am still waiting for the main course of this meal to be delivered.

The main course never arrives which cannot be good. I am Gretel in the witch’s trap, she has just reached through the bars and squeezed my arm. Not fat enough yet. She will wait another few days, continue to feed me sweets and check again.

She has the time to wait. She does not know, however, that we do not share this in common. I am at the edge of wrinkle in time, straddling two worlds, and picking sides.

My hourglass is running out of sand and ready to be flipped, so let’s get moving.

Before I leave, I stop at the door with my bags over my shoulder, filled with anxiety so uncontrolled it forms it forms a feathered shape and prepares to take flight.

“Wasn’t there something you needed to discuss?”

“Oh right,” she says, “It can wait.”

Perhaps it can, but can I?

 

image: krugerparkgamereserves.com

Business Trippin’

plane

If it wasn’t for my husband, I would be a recluse. I would be a little crab curled up in my shell, only bothering to come out for food and fresh air. I might live in a treehouse, high enough to spy on the people in the area and with a specialized system for getting groceries from the ground to my treehouse kitchen, trained monkeys. The bananas would never make it up to me.

If it wasn’t for my husband nudging me out of my comfort zone and into the world (making me go to work, family reunions, Kohl’s), I would never take any risks. Lately, leaving home poses a risk. There is a shooting on every other street corner. Bodies are washing up in the river. Drugs and money are passing through grimy hands to flow through more veins than there are craters on the moon.  Without him here, I am much less inclined to go out into the world; if only it wasn’t for that nagging issue of a paycheck.

It’s a scary world to navigate with rocks hidden just under the water and pirates hoping for a crash or leak at the very least. I would avoid it all, fine with reading about it in a book. That is life experience enough for me.

If it wasn’t for my husband, I would eat more broccoli and drink less home brewed beer. I would have nine cats and drive a green Smartcar. The cats would ride unrestrained, in the passenger seat, on the dashboard and stretched out along the back window.   I would have a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus is my co-pilot” with “Cat” scrawled over the word “co-pilot”.

Things would be different, that is for certain.  Life would be lonely with only cats to share it with, albeit with 9 pairs of almond shaped eyes and a Smartcar.

Perhaps I would be more reckless with less to lose? I have the world by its toe when we are together. Pirates and hidden rocks be damned. Two more nights until flies back home to this madhouse and the woman who loves him.

Professional Help

“You need to see the shoe doctor,” the man said in a constricted voice.  “Have you been to see the shoe doctor? You need to go,” he insisted.

“I heard you, Chris.   I have not been to the shoe doctor, but thanks for your concern.”

He shook his head in disapproval and clenched his jaw.  This conversation, like so many others, was upsetting to him.

I looked down at the scuffed brown loafers on my feet; the penny slots were void of their currency, not worth the metal.   The shoes have solid rubber soles attached in all areas, free of holes and unpleasant smells.  Good shoes in all respects aside from their esthetic value in which they were sorely lacking.

He was right.  As much as I hated to admit it, maybe it was time for some professional help.

Somehow, my style sense had retrograded into a full blown social services look.  Ankle length khaki pants, sensible shoes, a variety of shirts and sweaters salvaged from consignment stores or the Goodwill are what I regularly modeled down the “runway” (hallway with dirty, stained carpet and bright fluorescent lights that flicker and illuminate the water damage overhead) of the non-profit where I work.  True to its classification, it is a place of much work and no profit.

Perhaps a contributing factor to the wardrobe crisis of 2016?

It is a sacrifice that I gladly make as the work gives so much more; the work gives me meaning and purpose at the cost of style, travel, and fancy furniture; the work gives me the opportunity to do something that matters and only asks for all of my time, energy and earning potential in return.

Gladly, I say with all seriousness to myself.

I write out a sticky note, “Take shoes to doctor.”

I show Chris who nods and leaves with a reverse threat.

“You won’t be sorry.”

Again, I think he’s right.

Check, please.

check

Dopeman, he’s a real guy who hangs out close to where I work.   Although I have never laid eyes on the man, I know as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West that he is real. There is a rich image of him in my mind, he wears a hoodie with baggie jeans and has tear drop tattoo on his face. Like the Boogie Man and Santa, my imagination has gone wild with who and what he is, with the difference being that he’s real; a man of flesh and blood with dreams and fears and a very real occupation.

My regulars have encountered Mr. Dopeman on trips to the gas station for smokes and snacks and report back to me of his movements. They know who he is and what he wants and for some reason, they continue to interact with Dopeman. I have done my best to teach them the basics of Stranger Danger. Just because you know his name and he seems friendly does not make him a friend; it’s a message that does not sink into their reality, but rather floats on top like oil on water.

He sounds like a warm fella, full of generosity and beneficence. Word has it that Dopeman offers his wares for free along with advice and networking for additional opportunities of all other sorts. Dopeman’s dark side is that there is a price of everything, whether it’s now or later.

Dopeman is just one moving part of the underground machine, invisible to those who don’t help to shift its gears or provide fuel, unknown to those who don’t provide repairs or new parts. Dangerous to all, regardless.

“So when Dopeman comes back and needs a favor, you better do it,” I was advised in the event that I ever made the mistake of accepting anything from him. Everything has a price, it’s the rule of the streets, I was told.

It makes sense but it’s not just a rule of the streets, it’s a rule of life.  You can’t get something for nothing.  If you do, you just haven’t gotten the check, yet.

Resolutions

treadmill 2

At the gym, a wizened little woman with white hair pounded the treadmill in front of me. She jogged while leafing through a magazine and leisurely looking around the facility. It was easy for her. The band continued to move. All she had to do was pick one foot up and then the other, like walking, but easier. There was no getting lost on a treadmill or being too far from the bathroom to make it in time.

The conveniences of modern society should amaze a woman of her age, surviving the dinosaurs and both world wars. Yet, it didn’t. She didn’t owe the world one single thing. As though reading my mind, she stepped off of the machine as nimbly as any gym-elf might and sized me up. Her mouth was smeared with bright red lipstick and her eyes glowed with blue eye shadow.

Fierce. Fearless. Ageless, sort of. She had my admiration. I lowered my eyes and gave her a nod of respect. Then, she was gone, escorted out by her caretaker or young lover like royalty. The woman was an enigma, a mystery, an unknown, like so many other sweaty, strange people at the gym.

A modern melting pot, bringing together all those who care about fitting into their jeans after the holidays, lowering their blood pressure, and can afford the monthly fee.

Long live the mystery of the people at the gym. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Fly Right

bird

When I was in kindergarten, my class took trips to the zoo and other places for young minds to learn. It was a privilege and opportunity for a country girl to get out and explore Indiana within a sixty mile radius or so. Sadly, the little brown stone building that I attended for my early education is closing this year with not enough hillbilly kids to keep it filled.

While I was there, I started to understand that there are two types of people in the world, those who follow the rules and those who do not. The realization came upon me like a slow sunrise, starting with a little light along the horizon quickly filling the sky with the big, hot ball of truth. Perhaps it burned hottest for me because it was not a fellow classmate or teacher illustrating this lesson, but rather my mother.

My class was preparing to go on a trip to some exciting town like Wabash or Andrews for an event which has now escaped my memory. We were each asked to bring in $5 and a signed permission slip. As a dutiful rule follower, I brought home the letter to parents and reiterated the request.

To my delight, there was no fight or complaint. My mother read the letter and signed with a smile.

“Let me get you a check,” she said still smiling. How could I have known her coy plan, as though a plan was needed for such a simple request?

She dug through her grungy purse and pulled out her worn checkbook. Through my childhood, I remember her thoughtfully staring at it, chewing on the end of a pencil, as she tried to balance the numbers. She never said anything about it, but I bet it never came out right. Somehow her motto, “Close enough,” ended up working out just about every time.

I carried the check and white permission slip in my little book-bag back to the school the next day. My teacher, an older woman with grey hair who wore skirts and loafers on the daily, collected the money and paperwork in the morning. She straightened the stack and retired behind her desk. We were left to a coloring project which I was in the middle of when she returned to my work area.

She squatted down, knees together and off to the side in the most lady-like-kindergarten-teacher-style and asked with the most serious face, “Is there something wrong with your mother?”

I set my crayon down and considered the question, “No, I don’t believe so.”

“She has been signing all of your paperwork with different names, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Jackie O, Barbara Streisand…. I have a list here of the alias’ she has used.” She waved a sticky note from the end of her finger to prove her point, like I had the capability to doubt a teacher at that time.

“We just need her to sign her real name or you can’t go on the trip to x,y,z place. It’s a liability for the school.”

Liability, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Streisand, this was all foreign, I shook my head. My teacher handed me a check, it was the same one that I had turned in that morning.

“And this, we can’t accept. It’s signed Dolly Parton.”

It was at that moment, I knew my mother needed fixing. She needed to be normal, to follow the rules; the easy, black and white ones as well as those living in the various shades of gray. Then another realization, the truth was out, it wasn’t at all what she needed, it was what I needed.

I needed her to fly right, something a bird with a broken wing can never do.

Suffer the Fools

yellow

The presenter wobbled across the room on tiny, child sized feet. Her ankles tipped towards the ground. With each step, she fell clumsily forward. A man wheeled in a chair into the middle of the circle. The woman gave a grateful nod and dropped onto the seat. Her legs dangled above the ground with her tiny feet swinging back and forth. Yet, she still continued with her presentation.

Her courage, confidence, and humility were inspirational. Public speaking makes my palms sweat just to think about it. My heart raced as I recalled my last experience with it, I forgot to breathe and passed out. It was the second time, after which, I stopped being asked to do the dreaded presentations. The presenter showed no signs of nervousness or fear, her wobbling was not about to slow her down or change her direction. She was in complete control of the situation.

The woman was as fierce and determined as the original Wobbles, a pet from childhood. I desperately wanted to share the similarity with her. Her struggles were familiar and different at the same time. Unique in being a human and similar in the struggle of a physical disability. I stopped myself from moving forward with my insight in class, opting for sharing in the virtual world.

Wobbles, an orange kitten, born just as slimy and weak as its siblings, never developed a sense of balance. He wibbled and wobbled back and forth through the grass and the garden, growing at the same rate at the other non-wobbling kittens. By the time Wobbles was fully grown, he was a beautiful, yellow Tom and his brothers and sisters had either been given away or met with an untimely demise.

The old neighbor man was over dropping off a bag of peppers from his garden and happened to watch the cat wobble up to the porch and start grooming himself. Wobbles fell over but continued his work on his side. A dirty job has to be done one way or another.

The old man shook his head, “I’ll put him out of his misery, if you like.”

What misery? I wondered in silence, it was still a time when children were to be seen and not heard.

My mother politely declined with a thanks-but-no-thanks and the old man left down the road with a backwards glance over his shoulder at the cat. Destiny would have her way with both the cat and the man, but not for years to come.

Wobbles grew into the best small rodent catcher in the area. Presents of his hunts were always left on the front porch rug: mice, rats, rabbits and an occasional mole. Sometimes he would be there proudly purring and grooming himself, but usually he was back on the prowl, wobbling down game.  He was in no misery and it was not for a stranger to decide.

Misery or happiness, fear or courage? They are all choices that start within ourselves. Do what makes you happy and walk away from those who would take your joy. Life is too short to suffer the fools.

Monday

ice

The horizon blazed warm shades of orange, yellow, and hot pink. The sun rose, a fiery ball, in the East. Yet, there was no heat from the sky. I shivered to think of my husband puttering to work in the old Hyundai with its sometime hot/sometimes not heater. Hopefully, he wore gloves, but I doubted it.

I returned my focus to the glittering road. Everything on either side of it was frozen in place. Trees were lined in white; their branches hung low with winter’s burden. Smoke curled from chimneys and hung in the air, too cold to hurry away.

The day felt brittle, as though one strike against the fabric of time and it would shatter into a million bits of ice to melt on the first warm day of spring. No one would miss it. No one would remember.

My car fishtailed as I slowed for a red light. I pumped the brakes as I scanned ahead and tried to remember if this was the very situation in which to not pump the brakes.

As the car spun around, I prayed all the prayers, promising to be good and kind, to keep New Year’s resolutions, to be a better person, in exchange for protection from what was about to happen. I closed my eyes and resigned myself to Fate.

It was a beautiful, cruel morning to start the week.

A rare day

sun 3It is a rare day that my office is quiet. I am looking around with a strange wonder at the silence. Soon, one person will come in followed by three more with paperwork to review, an emotional crisis from a jilted lover, problems with work, and so on. The list of needs is endless, as is their ability to surprise and delight, disappoint and frustrate.

Their future is limitless, unless one takes into consideration the difficulty in navigating through government benefits and broken systems. The world is their oyster, aside from the series of trauma based experiences that brought them to the point of living in transitional housing.

This work is not easy, but it is not about me. Ego must be checked at the door each day because this is not where one comes for validation or even that warm, fuzzy feeling. My supervisor described my role in terms of the tangible.

“You have to be like jello over razor blades that will cut you at some point.”

Yet, it is worth the cuts and the chaos. At the end of the day/week/month, there is always a victory, someone breaking through another barrier that was previously impossibly impassable. The quiet gives me the time and space to remember that, there is always a small victory.

Believe in each other, believe in humanity.

Humanity has to win because if it doesn’t we are no better or more evolved than our fore-monkey mothers and fathers picking fleas from the furry backs of one another.

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