Friday, May 25, 2012
Friday, May 18, 2012
Before blogging, I used to write little vignettes of people to myself. They were kind of a diary, but at some point I sucked up all my nerve and asked my friend Ray to give me feedback. We were at a wine bar, and lots of things were going on, live music, friends… but Ray produced a red pen and started marking all over my tender feelings. I wasn’t allowed to talk to him, so I drank a lot of wine to make the whole process less painful.
One of the stories I let him read was about Mrs. Harbison. She lived across the street when I was growing up, and since she was blind, I read her mail to her every month. My original story was a little less than 2 pages long, but Ray wrote at least that much in red ink in the margins and across my carefully spell-checked typing. I ordered another bottle of wine. When the misery of watching Ray edit was over, he said “She sounds sweet.” What?!! If she sounded “sweet”, I had completely failed. We drank the wine and Ray explained all his red ink. I had to admit that everything he said was valid, and I studiously rewrote my story when I was sufficiently sober again. Less than 2 pages became a short story, or more accurately, a chapter for a book. Nobody was going to call Mrs. Harbison “sweet” again.
It took me a long time to realize that I had written the blind woman’s story in a completely visual way. Maybe that’s because she asked me to describe visual things to her, or how she softly touched the tips of pussy willows… Oh wait! That’s where someone can get the misconception of “sweet” when more accurate words are “crazy, nuts, certifiably insane”. I dreaded her monthly call for me to read her mail. I nearly wet myself when I knocked on her door. I sssoooooo didn’t want to be nice to her. I wanted to run and play in the sunshine, far away from the crazy lady’s mail and her creepy, creepy house.
She had every right to be nuts. She started out as a favored daughter on “Millionaire’s Row” in Cleveland, married badly, got disinherited, got abused, and her only son died . That’s the Cliff Notes, and hardly begins to tell her story. The only person who went to see her besides me was her priest, and when he moved away, I became her only visitor. I was the only one to see black gobs of cobwebs hanging off the ceiling, opera glasses on the floor, cans of food crawling with bugs on the counter, and photos of long-dead people on the walls and tables. If other people in the neighborhood saw her out in the yard, they quietly tiptoed away.
Maybe in some ways she could be sort of sweet. She tried to educate me with long, boring stories about stuff I didn’t care about, and she had enough self-awareness not to call for me when she was in a real psych state. I never thought she wanted to harm me. It’s just that there’s no way around crazy. Crazy is scary, and I got some grudging respect from the local bullies for going there. Eventually I even developed a relationship with her. She was very intelligent and determined. She was awe-inspiring in a multitude of ways, but I never stopped wishing I didn’t have to read her mail. I just learned to deal with my fate while I passionately prayed for her to have a bad month so I wouldn’t have to go over there.
Her end was as bad as everything else in her life. She heated her home with a Ben Franklin stove in the living room, but the stove went out one winter. No call. Another month, no call. Another month… Well, it wasn’t the first time she hadn’t had a good month for 3 months, but the fire department came and broke down the door with axes. It wasn’t pretty, but she finally got to quit living her miseries.
I usually try to write happy stories on this blog, and the thing is, in a way Mrs. Harbison is a happy story. She helped me develop strength and character. I learned to do things even when I don’t want to do them, and to show compassion. She gave me an example of survival, even when faced with things nobody should ever have to face. The blind woman gave me sight, and Ray helped me become a better writer.
Friday, May 11, 2012
Sometimes life is a scavenger hunt. We want grand epiphanies, but we usually spend our lives looking for kernels of truth, trying to assemble those kernels into rational order. At least some of us do. Sometimes I feel everybody else is content with “the truth as we know it” and maintaining the status quo. Doing something would require effort, so let someone else deal with it and let them make any necessary sacrifices.
Finding kernels of truth is made harder when people are intent on hiding facts. How do we really know what’s going on in the world? Conspiracy theories wouldn’t exist if there weren’t cover ups. That doesn’t mean all conspiracy theories are true, but that doesn’t mean they’re all false either. The theories exist because the government documents action plans for swamp gas instead of trusting the public with the truth.
I had sex ed in 6th grade. In the days of black and white film strips, I learned about my internal plumbing, egg, sperm, etc. Okey dokey. I wasn’t traumatized by any of it, and it didn’t make me interested in having a baby. The only interesting aspect of the lessons was that the boys were segregated to the male teacher’s room while I went with the girls to the ancient spinster’s room. Why? Were the boys getting the same information that I was getting?
When the spinster was done with us, I went back to Mr. Strnad’s class with the other girls. He passed out index cards and said that if we had any questions, we could write them down anonymously on the cards and he would answer them. Well yes, as it turned out, I did have a question because while I understood all those internal plumbing diagrams, I didn’t understand how the sperm got in there in the first place. As far as I knew, it was a closed system. The best I could figure it, the man must put the sperm in a glass and the woman must drink it, because how else could it get inside? I know Mr. Strnad read my question because I was the only one who wrote in green ink, and I saw him read it before putting it back in the pile. I was both confused and indignant. It was a good question, and I thought he should’ve answered it, so I told on him to my dad, but Dad just thought it was funny and laughed. In answer to my persistence, he said “How would I know? We just found you in the garden one day and decided to keep you.” I may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. I had younger brothers and had seen a direct correlation between Mom getting fat followed by a baby, so I complained to Sis about how the adults were trying to hide things from me…
“NO WAY!!!” Yes, Sis insisted, it really did go that way. “NO!?” Yes, really.
So, when I hear about conspiracy theories, I pause and listen. People who can lie about the birds and bees can lie about anything including Santa Claus, assassination plots, UFO’s, and extramarital affairs. Long before 9/11, I listened to someone (whom I quite honestly thought was a nut job) telling me about Bush Jr.’s plans to get us into a Middle Eastern war as a way to funnel money into Halliburton. My initial response was about as receptive as my response to the birds and bees, but as it turns out, the guy was right. All we can do is continue our scavenger hunt for kernels of truth, whether it be about world events, what happens between people when the door is closed, or maybe string theory. Alright, I have to admit it, I haven’t bought into string theory yet – but there are other mysteries out there, and we’ll only learn answers when we ask a lot of questions.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
(Here I am deleting some ranting about the husband I legally married and divorced…)
When Grandma was alive, there was one version of history – Grandma’s. It was an accurate history, but somewhat selective. I’d play with antique games and puzzles on the floor of the porch, sunlight streaming in through the fan-shaped windows, and listen to a running genealogical history of people I knew and didn’t know, but to whom I was somehow related to in clearly defined strands of matriarchal DNA. I loved listening to her rambling patter. Grandpa was a pleasant presence in his red Naugahyde wingback chair, sometimes assisting with puzzles or reading, but certainly not talking. Grandma did enough of that for both of them.
It seemed like a good marriage to me. She fed him good things and made him fat, and he was a good provider even through the Great Depression. They were married in 1930 and stayed married until her death in 1985. Second time’s the charm, right Grandma? I don’t think I want to know if their marriage was less than perfect, but maybe if I understood more of their lives, I would understand more of what I should do with mine? We don’t really learn anything from the honeymoon. We learn from the marriage.
I didn’t get a honeymoon with Mike. We just eloped like Grandma and Grandpa. I got flowers and felt loved, but we lost touch after a while, which I admit was my fault. I couldn’t bear saying goodbye when our lives took different directions. I hope if he’s married, he found a woman who deserves him.