Lessons Learned from Grandma Pat

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I took art lessons from my late grandmother. She painted with oils and watercolors, amazing landscapes, seascape, mountainscapes… trees, and old mills and her grandchildren. She was Martha Stewart before anyone knew who that was. She could make something out of nothing. Could make anything out of nothing. Silk purses and sow’s ears? Absolutely. And dresses tailored to perfection; she never used a pattern. Could just look at a person and make them something that suited them. She made hats, little sculpted figures for dioramas, flower arrangements, jewelry, upholstered furniture, knitted cozies for anything that might get cold. She painted eggs with intricate designs, would cover anything that would sit still long enough with contact paper, wove wreathes out of tree branches and made bird feeders out of pop bottles and orange juice cans…

She couldn’t cook to save her life though. Grandad became a coupon clipper in their retirement; it was imperative that they be able to dine out.

She taught me how to harness the creativity I was born with. And she taught me to be inventive, to not waste anything, and that yeah, just maybe every single surface does need a doily. Or a cozy. Or a hat.

Also, you can never have too much ribbon.

 

 

Thank you to Linda for a great prompt. Head over to SoCS to be inspired and for the participation rules!

An Art of Connection

This was one of my very first posts on this blog. Am reposting today because, well, it’s been almost two years, and these words ring as true for me now as they did then. I am happy to say I’ve made some wonderful connections. Here’s to many more, folks. 


I spend a lot of time thinking about how people relate to one another. While I write about sex, for me, sex is a metaphor for life. The closeness and intimacy that two or more people share, while in its context may be sexual, at the root of it is simply a need for connection. It’s a need the most aloof among us has.

It’s a difficult thing, that connection. It requires time. Trust. A willingness to give oneself over to another.

Blogging is like that, as well. We reach out in the dark to one another, and hope to spark a connection with a perfect stranger. I hope my words goad you into feeling. I hope that, whether you’re reading something sweet and romantic, or something dark and forbidden, you are feeling a connection with the character I’ve created. And I hope you can slip into their skin for a moment. Live what they live. Relate to your world in a slightly different, more open way.

I hope to get to know you all through this project. Please feel free to comment and converse, and even criticize, as I am here not only to connect with you, but to improve my craft.

 

Hope

7

I had never dreamed in color before now. When I did dream, they were dreams filled with anxiety and involving colleagues, accounts due, my GP. But they ran through my unconscious mind like snippets of noir films, macros of a larger picture so terrible I was never permitted to see the whole thing.

Those dreams were in juxtaposition to what was a very comfortable, very colorful life. When I brought them up in therapy my shrink tapped his chin with his Cross pen and said, you’re very young to be having dreams that speak so loudly of mortality. And he would ask the next question.

Now I dreamed in color. Living color. Such living, screaming, swirling color the assault on my senses often woke me before anything happened inside the dream.

Sometimes when I dreamed this way I wasn’t even sleeping.

The human body – the primitive human body that is – is equipped with an auto pilot. Not the sleep walking cruise control of the non-primitive, safely civilized and socialized human. I clearly recalled instances in my previous over-wrought and over-worked existence of coming to somewhere and having no idea how I got there. Having driven my car, or taken three buses to arrive at my destination. Having even walked.

That state was one of muscle memory and luck. Had I been hunted I’d certainly have been caught and killed. We humans also go with the flow. It’s a natural herd behavior. We don’t need thought and wit to propel us within the relative safety of a group. Stop when they stop. Go when they go. We move through life in these unthinking mobs, like a school of fish or a herd of wildebeest.

Rewind… or fast forward, as the case may be… to primitive man. No one to rely on but oneself, and no learned reactions in this new world. A new evolution that hadn’t yet begun. I moved through it with a feeling of being utterly alone yet under constant scrutiny. The auto pilot here was one of waking unconsciousness. It was living in a memory while traversing bleakness. Otherwise the bleak might win.

I’d seen no other living person until coming upon Hope crouched on a crumbled curb whose once yellow paint was as colorless as everything else. I’d seen plenty of dead. And not only those caught in the path of terror. I saw a man hanging out a second story window with a bed sheet around his neck. I saw the bodies of a mother and a child, the child’s throat cut expertly and the mother’s wrists open from elbow to palm. I saw an elderly person, gender unknown, with no back to their skull and the barrel of the shotgun still resting on the bare lower gum. And I understood.

On this primitive auto pilot I moved through the landscape without seeing the desolation. The slightest sound or movement brought me back, though. Out of my waking dreams where my mind remembered a world my body didn’t mind moving through.


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So Many Seconds

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It takes a second to say love you. A second to break trust. A split second to react poorly and a lifetime to recover. A foundation laid over months and years, and that look in your eyes that can either make me run hot or cold, it’s all in the context, baby. Only a second to break it, all of it, and another second to ask for a second chance, or a second cup of coffee or a second to gather myself and my thoughts like the scattered baby ducklings they are. We built a life on seconds. We rise or fall, laugh or cry, stand up and fight or lie down and die. Choose wisely, because a second is all you get.

Give me a second here, I need to get my story straight.**

**Song lyric from We Are Young – Fun.

 

 

Thank you to Linda for a great prompt. Head over to SoCS to be inspired and for the participation rules!

Hope

6

I saw Sarah sitting with Hope outside the entrance to the backyard bunker. The thick steel door stood open, and the two of them sat with a space of dirt between them. Sarah drew something with a stick and said something to Hope I couldn’t hear.

Hope smiled at her. It wasn’t my imagination.

I watched them for a moment, watched Hope draw something and Sarah smile and nod her approval. The only color in the landscape was Hope’s yellow hair. I called Sarah over.

“Yes, sir?” Sir? They’d never been so respectful before. I was fortunate if every word I’d said back then didn’t get an eye roll and a sigh. Not now. Everything was different.

“Mom says you’ve been looking after the little ones on your own. That she’s been going out to gather.”

Sarah nodded. Her eyes were brown like mine. “Am I in trouble? Is Mom?”

I reached out and tugged her dark ponytail and smiled. “Of course not, Monkey! Why would you think that?”

She lowered her eyes and shook her head.

“Hey.” I tilted her chin up. “What is it?”

It took a moment, but she finally said, “You’re mad a lot.”

I sat down heavily on the bottom step of the deck. “But not at you, Sarah. You know that, right?”

She nodded but it was unconvincing. “I know.”

I looked out at Hope still drawing in the dirt. “You used to have that art set, with all the markers and pencils and paints. So many colors. Now you’re drawing in the dirt.”

“It’s okay, Dad.”

I smiled up at her. It felt forced. “No. It’s not. But it’s how it is.”

She smiled back. “We don’t need all that stuff. It’s not what’s important.”

I marveled at the difference in her. It was both sobering and impressive. I wondered if all children adjusted as quickly as my Sarah. “No. That we’re together is important.”

A cloud passed over her face.

“Listen. I just wanted to talk to you, make sure you’re okay taking care of the boys while we’re out. Do you feel scared? Do they listen to you?”

She dug her toe in the dirt. I heard a crow far off in the distance. It sounded like rain, but it hadn’t rained in months.

“Be honest with me, Monkey.”

“Yes. I mean, sometimes.”

“Sometimes what?”

“Sometimes it’s scary. But it’s the same when you and Mom are here.”

That crack in my chest deepened just a little.

“Eli is a brat sometimes. But Evan’s big enough to help.”

“Will you tell me if they give you trouble?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s my girl.” I pulled her into a bear hug. “You’re very brave, you know that?”

“But I’m scared all the time!”

“Me too. So is your mom. But being brave doesn’t mean we don’t feel fear.”

She sat back and looked at me like she didn’t believe me. “Then what is it?”

“It’s carrying on through the fear. Doing what we have to do.”

She appeared to swallow and digest that.

“What do you think of Hope?”

Such a strange thing, to see the lines of contemplation on a nine-year-old face. “She loves you, Dad.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. So I buried my bearded jaw into her neck until she fought and giggled and made her escape, back to Hope, back to their dirt imaginings.


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Hope

5

“It’s unnatural,” Linny said. She had changed into old sweats; I noticed the lack of color. Everywhere. Linny once loved color. Red and purple and orange, splashes of it on black. Bright and cheerful. Those sweats had once been bright. Now they blended with the grays bleeding over everything.

I didn’t agree with her but I was tired. I wasn’t looking for a fight, not tonight.

The lantern flickered on the night table. “And you’re just encouraging it.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” When was the last time we’d had sex?

“Yes you do. You love that she hangs on you all the time, and wants to go everywhere with you. That she calls you… that.”

What was wrong with it? With being the little girl’s hero? Her savior? I was, wasn’t I? I’d saved her from dying alone out there. For that matter I’d saved Linny. And Sarah, Evan, James and Eli. I was the hero in this tiny universe. My expression and body language sent her a clear, so what?

“You’re getting an ego trip off it.” She pulled the blanket over her legs. She had lovely legs. I wanted to feel them wrapped around me.

“How long has she been here now?” I asked.

She looked at me like she was trying to determine why I’d ask such a thing.

“Three weeks? A month?” I pressed.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Have you suffered? The children, have they suffered?”

“If you’re asking if you’re providing, then yes. Yes, but you’re staying out longer and bringing back less for ours.”

“That’s got nothing to do with Hope.”

She didn’t believe me. I didn’t blame her; I didn’t believe me, either.

“Linny, what was living out there is slowly dying. There are no endless reserves. I’m having to go farther to find less. That’s got nothing to do with her.”

“You should take Evan.”

“He’s too young.”

“Then take Sarah!”

I said nothing. I couldn’t describe the feeling of dread that rooted in my gut at those words.

“You used to take her and Ellen.” Her voice was quieter.

“And you want me to take your other daughter now? Expose her to that danger? I don’t understand you.”

“What danger? You said everything is dying. There’s nothing out there. All you can find to eat are rats.”

I was surprised she knew.

“Of course I know. I go out when you’re not here.”

“I told you to keep inside!”

“You don’t bring in enough, Jim. I have to help.”

“So you just leave them here?”

She studied her hands.

“Alone? Linny…”

“Don’t start. Sarah’s plenty capable.”

Goddamn it.

“Ellen wasn’t your fault.”

Ellen was entirely my fault. Our little golden girl. I turned my back on Linny, signaling the end of the conversation.

 


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On Value

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If I had a nickel… this was one of my mother’s favorite adages. If I had a nickel for every time you rolled your eyes, for every time I told you to pick up your socks, for every time I caught you daydreaming over the dishes in the sink, I would be a rich woman.

I wonder if she ever thought, what if she had one for every time I made her smile, every time I did something without being told, every time I succeeded?

If I had a nickel for every broken dream, for every missed chance, for every lost moment, I’d be a rich woman. If I had a nickel for each hug, every joke, moments of silliness and youth, I’d also be a rich woman.

If a person’s life could be measured monetarily, in silver and gold, would it then be as precious?

 

 

Thank you to Linda for a great prompt. Head over to SoCS to be inspired and for the participation rules!

Hope

4

Before Hope it had been the six of us. Sarah was our oldest and she was nine. Then there were three boys, Evan, four, and the twins, James and Eli, two. We didn’t think about Ellen. Ellen would have been seven… just about Hope’s age, I guessed.

Hope watched me empty the crude trap with large keen eyes. There was something in her face that tugged at me though I couldn’t define it. Linny had bathed her and put her in a t-shirt with Minnie mouse and her bright polka dot bow screen-printed and cracked on the front,and jeans with patched knees that I knew I’d seen before. The patches had dots like the picture of the bow; white on what was once bright pink. Her hair wasn’t dark or gray, but yellow and thick and full of curls. Sarah tried to trap in an elastic. They tried, my girls. Even when they didn’t understand.

She pointed at one of the ugly rats I’d released. “Papa.”

I smiled. “I know. S’ok, little one, that one will live another day.”

She looked at the one I held by its violently twitching tail. Then she looked at me and pointed at her shirt.

I smiled again. “No, darlin’. Minnie was a mouse. This,” I held it up. “This is just supper.” I turned my back and made quick work of it. I thought of my Harvard business degree and scotch with the guys in the lobby of the Radford. I thought of candles and lace and fucking. I thought of Anna.

When I showed the rat to Hope again, it was neatly decapitated and unrecognizeable, a small slip of shining pink and white muscle. I skewered it on my blade and held it over the stuttering flame.
Hope almost smiled. Or maybe it was my imagination.


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A Note to my fellow WordPressers…

Let me start by saying we’ve gained a lot of new followers over the past week; it seems ‘Hope’ is a big hit. I’m so grateful to each of you for taking the time to read and follow, and I welcome you to my corner of the web.

I want to tell you all that I don’t do a ‘follow for a follow’ when it comes to choosing those blogs I read. That said, when I see I have a new follower I will follow back. The purpose of that is to put you in my reader so I am sure to not miss your content the next time I have a chance to catch up. If I’m engaged by your content, the follow stays; I will usually leave a like, explore a little more, though I rarely comment. Please don’t take that personally. It’s all a matter of time management with me. Though if something hits me really hard, I will most certainly leave a comment and let you know.

However, not everything appeals to everyone, so if I’m not moved by your content, I’ll remove my follow. Again, this is nothing personal. It doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate your presence, and the effort you put into your blog. I appreciate all my readers, and keep up as best I can. It’s tough though, with over 2300 followers and only one me!

Thanks to each of you for your continued support.