How to turn in an assignment for your writing class

(Or, how technology has improved our lives.)

  1. Write the damn story.
  2. Revise it.
  3. Save it.
  4. Keep in mind that you can’t print your story the night before on account of you aren’t even living in your own home any more and you got rid of your printer a year ago, anyway. So…make a plan to print it at work tomorrow.
  5. To that end, try to email it to yourself the night before, then remember that you didn’t bother to get the wi-fi password for your friends’ house before they passed out for the night.
  6. The day it’s due, bring your laptop to work. Try to connect to the office wi-fi before you realize that you don’t know that password either and the IT guy is out for the day.
  7. Choose a place to eat lunch based on its wi-fi capabilities. Haul your laptop with you to use while you hork a veggie burger and a cinnamon roll.
  8. Spend most of your lunch determining that the restaurant’s wi-fi is out. At least after all that troubleshooting, you’re able to determine that it’s not you; it’s them. (Fun forshadowing: this won’t be your last time troubleshooting technology today.)
  9. Pack up and re-navigate to somewhere, anywhere with wi-fi. (Heeeey Barnes and Noble!) Try not to let the sensation of your life spiraling so far out of your control that even something simple like printing three pieces of paper has become so taxing. You have no printer, no home of your own at the moment, and no viable source of internet; you are basically a hobo with a laptop and a day job.
  10. Pay for parking. Again.
  11. Success! Wi-fi! Email that thing you wrote to yourself at work.
  12. Return to work. Check your email.
  13. Panic because the email does not appear in your inbox.
  14. Check your spam folder.
  15. (Learn how to check your spam folder.)
  16. Open the document and hit print.
  17. Freak out at the error message your computer sends you.
  18. Stomp over to the printer. Ask it what is wrong. Allow printer to reply, “Ready.” Mother. Fucker.
  19. Spend forty goddamned minutes futzing with the printer, turning it off and on, trying to troubleshoot the problem.
  20. Ask a coworker if there are any other printers in the office.
  21. No.
  22. Remember that the IT guy is out today.
  23. Look up printing services at Staples. They can have it ready by Thursday, which is only three days too late.
  24. Find out about rush services; they are exorbitantly expensive. Maybe show up and hope for the best?
  25. Email the story to yourself (at every email address you possess, because at this point, frankly, you’re a little paranoid).
  26. Drive to Staples after work. Find the self-service copy and print section in the store. Read the detailed sign to learn that it costs only 30 cents per minute to access a computer, and 49 cents a page to print the damn thing.
  27. But first, you need a special Staples card, preloaded with money. That’s cool. There should be no problem at all because technology is your best fucking friend today.
  28. Go to the special Staples card machine.
  29. Ask the machine to spit out a card.
  30. Feed the card back to the machine and load it with cash. (Why can’t you just load the card before the machine spits it out? Because fuck you, that’s why.) Anyway…two dollars ought to do it, right?
  31. Log onto the computer. Carefully review the terms and agreement, except maybe don’t because that’s a long-ass agreement and time is money. Come to think of it, just scroll to the end and mash the button for “I agree.”
  32. Fire up the internet browser. The connection feels slow; surely that’s not intentional.
  33. Click OK to ignore that pop up box telling you that your time is running low. Don’t dwell on what a wasteful distraction that is in a game where every second counts.
  34. Download the file you sent yourself and open it.
  35. “You are running low on time. Click OK to continue.” FUCK YOU!!
  36. Click Print. Try not to murder someone when yet another pop-up box informs you that your card is ten cents shy for meeting the printing charges. It has everything to do with a thoughtfully constructed system of pop-up distractors and a slow internet connection, and nothing to do with the nice lady minding her business, making copies at the machine next to you. Murder, bad.
  37. Put your session on hold to load more money on the card.
  38. Return to the card machine, but be careful not to trip over that giant cart someone parked directly behind your chair.
  39. Load more money onto the card. (Now we’re up to three dollars. That’s a dollar per page, so there’s that.) Return to the computer and log back into the system. Hit print as fast as you can.
  40. “You are running low on time. Click OK to continue.” How are these machines still here and not, say, thrown out the window onto the sidewalk where it breaks into a million tiny little pieces that are then crunched underneath the feet of future customers of the Staples Print and Copy Center?
  41. PRINT, MOTHERFUCKER, PRINT.
  42. Maybe calm down a little and check the printer. The machine whisper-printed your pages, though you’re not sure it’s happened until you hear the angels sing and you begin to well up with tears.
  43. Log off this bullshit machine and try to pick up the pieces of your life.
  44. Investigate the stapler on the big empty table in the middle of the room. (This store is so thoughtful.) Except the damn thing is out of staples. Where are we, again?
  45. Obtain spare staples.
  46. Search stapler for method of reloading. Has stapler technology really changed this much over the years? How old are we?
  47. Finally locate loading mechanism. Load new staples.
  48. Staple the shit out of those three pages.
  49. Race to your class because after all that shit, you’re running late.
  50. Turn in your assignment. Try not to refer to it as “my precious.”

Total time to write: Two or three hours

Total time to print: Two or three hours

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Grief Schizophrenia

I sit on the floor of my closet, sifting through a decade’s worth of souvenirs from my failed marriage. I sunder precious memories from the chaff as quickly and efficiently as I can, placing them carefully in a pretty wooden box. To stop is to dwell, is to sink in the swamp of sadness.

Someday, when my life isn’t blowing up around me, when I’m not so fucking fragile, I’ll open Pandora’s box of nostalgia and pain and examine each relic inside.

—Wedding vows, printed on 5×7 paper and assembled in a small binder.

—Cards from flowers Husband sent me, because it was a Wednesday and he felt like it, not because it was Valentine’s Day and he was obligated.

—The shoes I wore on one of our first dates, shoes that strolled down the street as I reached out, tucking my arm in the crook of his elbow. Everything changed on that date.

Tears well in my eyes. (Quickly, into the box with you, shoes.)

—A picture of us from that first heady year, both lighter in body and spirit, yet to be burdened or crushed under life’s weight.

—A love note, typed, printed, and signed. A note professing love so monumental and fierce that when I received it my heart swelled, pained and pushing against the cage of my chest. The culmination of the note is nothing more or less than one soaring, devastating declaration.

You are all I need.

A note now and forever sullied with the pain of hindsight. The sentiment rings through our past with its sincerity and pulses now with its falsehood. Remembering we once felt this way almost breaks me again. I’m choked by the everything and the nothing between us now.

You are all I need.

Of course this is the moment Husband walks into the bedroom, intruding on my memories. He doesn’t notice my tears, my hunched shoulders, my shaking hand holding the printed note. Instead, he talks (and talks and talks) over the details of the separate lives we are now building. True to form, he has so very many words and I shrink away from them all.

I am having a fucking moment here and he can’t shut up long enough to allow me to experience it. I push the note into the box and throb with anger and frustration. Even now, when all the dust hangs between us and there’s nothing left to settle, I can’t have this. I can’t get what I need.

You are all I need.

How strange, to have so many disparate feelings coexisting within this battered heart. I am astonished at my capacity for it all. It’s a marvel that I’m still standing amidst the conflicting feelings—all swirling, biting, attacking.

Love and loss and anger, all vying for the spotlight. I long for him and want to push him away.

I am devastated, the remnants of our love story mocking me at every turn. What fools, our past selves—beautiful fools full of passion and devotion. The sheer scale of loss overwhelms me.

I am heartbroken, I am feeble.

I am grief so profound death is its only comparison.

I am full of anger that leaves my muscles sore, anger that ignites and burns its way out of me like nuclear missiles, seeking targets for destruction. All the words and choices and slights of our marriage play over in a loop in my mind.

I’m pressing on, like a damn soldier.

I am hope—the future is a blank slate, a great adventure, wide-open and free, waiting to be explored.

I am fear—the future is an endless, unknown void. The comfort of our couplehood disintegrated in front of me, taking with it a chink of my identity.

I am strong. The power in making a decision for myself, without consulting Husband, zings through my veins.

I am scared.

I am brave.

I am all of these and I am none of these.

Emotions saturate me like a washcloth, until the fibers hold no more and everything drips, drips, drips. I am bursting, my feelings wrung out, pouring down the drain.

I’m empty, void.

Love finds me again, hesitant and bright, pouring from friends and family, felt all the more keenly in the tangle of darkness. Fierce joy wells up within me and suddenly, I’m full.

Marilyn

I step inside the Great Clips. Already, I feel uneasy, but I’m in a hurry and it’s cheap and fast.

It’s the Wild West of hair salons—a first-come, first-served circus, and the ringmaster doesn’t ask my name.

I sit, already tallying the minutes until my next engagement, the time it’ll take me to get there, and the seconds that are ticking by while I wait my turn. My eyes dart around, then look at the magazine in my lap without reading a word.

The ringmaster is barely holding the acts of this show together. I just know I’m going to fall through the cracks. How long will you stay before you give up on this shitshow? I ask myself.

An older woman sits next to me to wait. She has silver hair, a wizened face, and a strong voice that quivers only slightly as she strikes up conversation.

Her name is Marilyn. She is 82 years old.

We’re both holding magazines, but as the conversation grows in purpose and intensity, they begin to feel like props. We discuss acts of kindness, ones that ripple out, reaching far beyond the initial recipient. Like when a woman sees a girl get sick all over her cream-colored winter coat on a bus in downtown Chicago and takes her to Marshall Fields, freshening up the girl and getting the coat cleaned. This kindness radiates out through time and space, from that little girl in 1945 to the woman sitting in front of me, and out into the lives of countless others whom Marilyn touched, all the while remembering the simple lesson she learned on that bus.

As Marilyn talks, the follicles on my head start to tingle and tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention.

I tell her a similar story, of a young foreigner lost in the labyrinth of a Tokyo train station. That girl learned a similar lesson of kindness when a stranger abandoned the train home to walk her to the correct platform.

As our back-and-forth continues, my shoulders come down from their perch by my ears.

Marilyn listens when I talk, waiting until my thoughts are completed before wading in with her own. I feel brash and foolish when I interrupt her. In fact, I’m a little shocked to realize I’ve picked up the habit. With others, it sometimes feels like the only way to get a word in edgewise, but Marilyn brings her thoughts to a close, ties them in a bow, and gives me time to open her gift before responding.

Marilyn speaks slowly, deliberately. Every word is filled with meaning and intent. She’s in no hurry to shove her thoughts into my brain. Conversation is a journey, not a destination, and she’s savoring every step.

I learn that I have a shocking amount of ways to fill time with sentences that mean nothing—filler nonsense offering neither insight nor opinion, story or original thought. I choose my words more carefully, slow down my speech, bring my thoughts to a close. Marilyn is listening to it all, so it all is important; each word carries the weight of her attention.

I think of Buddhists and the practice of right speech—more complex than the “Thou shalt not lie” edict—demanding nothing more or less than speaking with intention and mindfulness. Marilyn not only practices right speech, she practices right listening, allowing for purposeful silence and asking insightful questions. Talking to her brings out the best in me as I speak thoughtfully and listen with precision.

Too soon, the ringmaster gestures to me with her pair of scissors; it’s my turn. I walk toward her, but  look back at Marilyn. Time’s finally sped up, catching the two people suspended without its usual, merciless hold.

I get the worst haircut since the eighth grade, but my shoulders remain loose. Remarkably, I feel good.

On my way out of the salon, I stop Marilyn and thank her for the chat. I feel awkward, clumsy, stilted. After all that we exchanged, I don’t know the words to express exactly what’s changed in me, how the world feels like a different place.

Maybe there’s no need for words. Maybe, for all her listening, Marilyn already understands.

Don’t Know Love

The barbecue is in full swing; hands delve into coolers for beer, fruity wine, Lime-a-Ritas. This cooler squawks as its lid is raised; the Styrofoam one makes a painful, teeth-sweat inducing squee as its lid fits tightly back in place. No one even realizes their bellies are empty as the booze loosens lips and love is passed around like a joint at a rave.

“I love you, Uncle Matt,” says my niece, full of alcohol and the kind of promise and hope that follow a graduation.

“Oh kid,” my brother slurs. “You don’t know love until you have kids.”

What did you say?” I ask. For clarification, hoping that I heard wrong.

“I said, ‘you don’t know love until you have kids.’”

Only now, after he’s said it twice, does he look sheepish.

I say nothing. I stare at my older brother, whom I thought I loved. But I’m nobody’s mother; I can’t know what love is. He begins a long, histrionic apology that fails to demonstrate any understanding of why my feelings are hurt. I know I will have the words to explain later, but now all I can do is walk away.

His words echo in my brain, repeating in a loop. You don’t know love. You don’t know love.

He said this to me, who has always held love for him and from him as a given, a solid point in a constantly shifting landscape of confusing family dynamics. All the feeling he has for me, all that I have for him—that’s not love? He said it to my niece, for whom life is just starting—an eighteen-year-old beauty who chose a college close to home because of her little brother. My niece, who just told her uncle that she loves him, doesn’t know love?

You don’t know love. The words tripped off his tongue like the truest thing he knows, telling a young woman that life isn’t complete, she isn’t complete, until she has kids. She will be bombarded with that message the rest of her life; she has countless years ahead for people to pass judgment on what she wears, how much she makes, when and whom she marries, the kids she has, and how she raises them. She’ll learn soon enough the difference between choosing what’s right for her and choosing what’s right and proper as a woman.

There will always be the voices of those saying that her choices aren’t enough, that she isn’t enough. Her life, accomplishments, generosity of spirit, feelings, and her body matter only in the context of the children she does or does not have. She doesn’t need her uncle, who’s supposed to have her back, to be one of those voices.

You don’t know love. I try to look at this sentence through the prism of my brother’s life. For him, becoming a parent was huge and transformative, an event that ushered into his life a different kind of meaning, purpose, and yes, love. Yet, his words pass judgment on love. There may be different kinds, but the only love that matters is the kind a parent has for a child. We can’t even acknowledge those other types as real love.

Other types of love, like the kind I have for my husband, my family, my friends—all people who know that I would do anything for them. With one flippant sentence, my brother has invalidated all that love, relegating every relationship in my life, and my niece’s life, to a pale, shallow imitation of what he knows.

My sister-in-law tells me not to take it personally; he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. I know he meant what he said; saying it to me was the real accident. Now I’ll always know that my brother looks down on my life as less consequential than his—my love less full, less meaningful . . . less important.

His voice has joined the chorus of judgment hailing down on me, on every woman. A hundred years after suffrage; fifty years after birth control, The Feminist Mystique, and equal pay—women’s life choices are still being prescribed for them. I’ve had years to learn the chorus’s sexist lyrics, but this might be my niece’s first verse of the outdated song. I’d hoped for her, for women of future generations, that the song would fade out and be forgotten.

Then again, what do I know? I don’t know love.

Cookie Monster

Every year, as part of my fundraising efforts for the ACS, I bribe friends and family with a box of homemade cookies to make a donation.

The cookie-making process has gotten more involved and rigorous with each passing year. I make a cool dozen or more batches of cookies and candy. The selection is varied, and the cookies are bundled in separate treat bags and assembled in boxes.

Behold, the glory.

Behold, the glory.

Last year, I made an extra box for someone who wasn’t expecting it. “Next time I see him,” I thought, “I’ll bring him the box.”

Weeks went by. Months.

Then one night, in a fit of desperation and insomnia, I pulled the box out of the freezer.

“I’ll just have one of these bags. No one will know.”

One bag turned into three, turned into ten, turned into the whole box.

There, in the darkness of my living room, illuminated only by the flickering light of the television, I beheld the carnage. The casualties? Empty cellophane bags, a spray of crumbs, and some tissue paper.

I could throw away all of that and tuck the box away with my wrapping supplies. No one would know.

Except that the empty spot on the freezer shelf was sure to rat me out. Husband knew the box was there; he kept asking about it when we jockeyed for space in the freezer. “Who is this box for? When are you going to give it to him?” He would notice the box was gone, just as sure as he’d know that I hadn’t seen its intended recipient.

I stared at the box, gauging the space it left behind in the freezer. There really was no other recourse.

Carefully, I assembled all of the cookie waste—the bags and silvery ties, the tissue paper, the crumbs—all evidence of my misdeed, inside the box and closed the lid.

I stood up from the couch, flailing a little with my full cookie belly, and waddled to the kitchen. I opened the freezer door, took one last assessment of the items inside, and placed the empty box back on the shelf.

I don’t tell you this because I want to warn against the dangers of the late-night hunger munches.

I tell this story because it’s that time of year again, with fresh boxes of cookies in my freezer, and this empty box of shame wrappers was only evacuated three months ago.

The Summer Barbecue

What I am about to say may release a mob bearing pitchforks and torches, tools that can excoriate heretics from the population and char up some meat. Nevertheless…

I hate barbecues.

Okay, I hate 95% of barbecues.

They are man’s answer to what makes a scorching hot day even better: fire. Plus, scorched meat. As a pale vegetarian whose favorite vacation involved glaciers and sleet, you can imagine how this thrills me. Somehow, the events attract a diverse cross-section of the population. For your convenience, I’ve assembled a field guide.

Population 1: The menfolk. Men tend fire. Every one of them is an expert, and half the barbecue will be spent arguing the finer points of fire-making. The other half will consist of them walking in and out of the house, trailing heat and smoke and bugs. Humans spent centuries perfecting doors as a means to keep these things outside the home, but no matter.

Conversation: Endless debates on charcoal placement, chimneys, or lighter fluid; explosions; things that can be set on fire or made to explode; sportsball (or, “dude, did you catch the game last night?”); and the tragically short film career of the great John Belushi.

Population 2: The womenfolk. Women are responsible for everything else. The majority of their time will be split between assembling salads, drinking wine, caring for tiny humans, and talking about child birth/child rearing/fluids that come out of said tiny humans.

Conversation: how to raise a tiny human to adulthood (I understand this is difficult and necessitates a support group of your peers); funny things the tiny humans say or do; the horrifying ordeal miracle of childbirth, in explicit detail; complaints about the menfolk; the price of a pound of beef.

Population 3: Tiny Humans. The children are responsible for “AAAHHHHH! Jimmy’s head is stuck in the laundry chute!” Their volume increases in direct relation to the number of children in their age-range also attending the event, an effect both staggering and exponential in nature. Remember what it was like to hear the thoughts in your head? Neither do I.

Conversation is disjointed and histrionic. In the course of five minutes you may hear: what they can do better than anyone else; what they can do better than you; “Look at this!”; noises that tiny butts make; smells that tiny butts make; and, “Did you see Jimmy’s head stuck in the laundry chute?!”

Perhaps it’s that I hate the outdoors, and therefore have no interest in sitting outside on a hot day, next to fire, debating which mind-numbing movie is funnier: Animal House or The Blues Brothers. Perhaps it’s that, even though I’m a woman, I can’t decide between puking or fainting over the casual conversations about wombs and vaginal tearing around a big bowl of pasta salad. Perhaps, after fifteen minutes trying to rediscover my childhood amongst the tiny humans, I remember that I’m glad to have left it behind.

As if this isn’t enough, a barbecue shines a large, blinking FREAK light over my vegetarian head. I’ve tried to mitigate the effect by sneaking faux meat onto the grill. You know the kind of over-processed, pre-packaged meat substitute I’m talking about. It’s not delicious and definitely doesn’t taste like meat (thank goodness), but my other option is to fill my plate with chips and mayonnaise salad. Sometimes I do this, then cut out of the party early to appease my hunger with a cheese sandwich on the way home.

Either way, everyone notices my meatless plate.

All attempts to fit in fail. Though I’m in a house or yard full of good people, I am uncomfortable and alone. Where are my people? You know the ones–those who want to talk quietly about a good book, who’d rather play a game of cards than turn on the game. I’ll tell you where they are; they’re inside, sitting around little plates of cheese and drinking wine in an air conditioned room, like civilized people.

Come to think of it, the 5% of barbecues that I find enjoyable involves these people.

At other barbecues, my inability to fit in casts me adrift, wandering from room to room. I can’t even eat to look busy and give my hands something to do.

Wait. This family has a dog. She’s not starting a fire–no opposable thumbs. And she’s almost certainly avoiding the tiny humans and their not-at-all gentle touch. Maybe she’s my people.

I’ll just be over there making friends.

In the Numbers

Dad’s breath grew erratic and ragged. He drew one last, long burst of air and pushed it out, exhausted and spent. That was it.
Dad was gone.
This gentle, wry man—the one who showed me the numbers running throughout our entire lives—was gone.
From him, I learned that numbers are everywhere, pulling order out of chaos. Say, for example, the geospatial trajectory of a BB shot through the air by a malicious brother.
Numbers were in the kitchen when I asked Dad a cooking question, like how many cups were in a gallon. “Pint’s a pound, world around,” he’d respond, matter-of-factly. Beneath those words, layers of equations and calculations would produce the answer I needed (16).
Numbers were with me even when Dad wasn’t. In gym class, I mentally graphed my deceleration as that Presidential Fitness mile wore on—an exponential curve with speed along the y-axis and time over the x-axis.
In second grade, I caught hell for using the top of my desk to track the ratio of times the teacher called on girls versus boys. Sitting at that desk over recess, scrubbing away the carefully penciled charts and graphs, remains a vivid childhood memory.
The moment after Dad took his last breath, his empty shell lying on the bed, the numbers were silent. No equation could graph our pain.
I grappled behind me for something, anything solid, and found Charles. I turned into him, buried my face on his shoulder and sobbed as he held me tightly.
My Charles. He was there with my family that whole horrible week. He took shifts like the rest of us, staying up with Dad, plying him with morphine. He ran errands, made phone calls, smoothed ruffled feathers. He stroked my back and held my hand.
In the days following Dad’s death, Charles was there. He pooled music for my dad’s wake and funeral. He brokered peace between brothers at the funeral home. He made sure my mother ate, helped hustle her out of the house when she would have lingered indeterminately, and corralled all the paperwork needed for the business of death.
On the day of the funeral, we sat in a straight line in the front pew of the church—all fixed points in a cruel equation of life balanced with loss.
Charles pulled the eulogy he wrote from the pocket of his suit jacket and walked up to the stage. Numbly, I sat, holding my mother’s hand. Charles began talking about the strong and quiet man my father was. Suddenly, we heard a catch in his voice.
Then, a sob.
Two weeks of attending to our grief, and my husband had forgotten about his own. All that time, he was anything and everything my family needed. He did it all without fanfare, blending into the background of grief. But his pent-up emotion would no longer be set aside.
Suddenly, the numbers snapped into focus. I could see a graph for how I’d loved my husband (y-axis) over time (x-axis). Far from a straight line, the points on this graph jumped around, snuck up on me, surprised me. This moment in time soared above the rest, as Charles grieved for my father and I saw my husband for the man he was—for me, for all of us.
Charles was still crying. Everyone sat, silent and waiting.
I jumped out of my seat and onto the stage. I hugged my husband, took his hand, and looked down at his notes. I began to read, “For Dad, God was in the numbers.”


               

Gym Barbie

The day of our first boot camp, the original derby wife and I approach the training room at our YMCA. The metal door has a small square window placed at eye level, like the door of a padded room. One nervous look through the window shows us that it is, indeed, a padded room. The floor’s covered in 2-inch thick exercise mats. Weights and other devices of torture line the walls.

Despite our own self-protective instincts, we walk into the room to meet our instructor. We take great care to brief her on our special needs: Wifey has short bones and a hypermobile body; I broke my tailbone playing roller derby like a boss. She can’t do certain arm exercises; I’m allergic to lunges.

Class begins with a series of exercises; remarkably, we keep up. This isn’t so bad. I can do this. Then Instructor explains that this was our warm-up. Wait. This was just the warm-up? Should I be ready to go home already?

I’m looking longingly at my water bottle when Gym Barbie enters the room. Just as I’m wondering if it means anything that already I would trade State secrets for a drink, she breezes in without a care and joins us on the mats. I drink it all in; her skinny frame, her shiny hair, her skin-tight crop pants, her halter-style sports bra. Christ, the swoosh of her Nikes matches the graceful swoop of pink ribbon on her pants. She doesn’t even bother putting up her hair before jumping in.
Class continues; I flail my parts around roughly the same way Instructor demonstrated. My body pulses with pain and exhaustion. I hear grunting. Is someone whining? Wait, that’s all me. Gym Barbie isn’t grunting. Rather than dragging deep, erratic breaths in through her mouth like a dying mummy, she’s taking controlled breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth. Her exhales are cute little bursts of air, almost a whistle.
We begin a new set of exercises with one-minute planks. I plant my palms on the mat and lift up onto my toes. In fascination, I watch as sweat rains off my face. My hands struggle to say in place; they squeak against the mat as my wet palms slide outward. I sneak a look at Gym Barbie; she looks like she could stay like this all day. Not only is she not pouring sweat all over the mat, but her hair is hanging around her head, dry as when she walked in the door.
Burn the witch.
Now Instructor wants us to do tricep dips. I wedge myself in front of a chair, palms on its seat, doing a sort of reverse pushup. I am no longer in control of the noises coming from my body. Gym Barbie is still breathing steadily. Finally, she emits a noise that hints at how hard we’re working. A tiny little grunt, followed by stacatto syllables timed perfectly with her little dips, “Woo! I…hun…ger…for…the pain!”
I can’t decide whether she represents what I hope to someday be, if her presence pushes me to perform better, or if she exists merely to taunt me with what I can never be. I do know one thing for sure.

I hate her.

Ghosts in the Bathroom

I was five years old when my mom sat my two older brothers and I down on my childhood bed. She fumbled with the words, not knowing how to begin. The telling was hard for her. Her father had died.
Died? What did that even mean? I looked to the other people on the bed for how I should react.
My mother was crying. My oldest brother looked unsurprised at the news, but terribly sad. My other brother was shocked and crying.
I felt like I should ask some questions, because I sure didn’t understand what was happening. Yet, this didn’t seem like the right time to raise my hand.
After a pause for the information to sink in, my mother continued. “You know, while this means you can’t see Granddaddy in person, he’ll always be there, watching over you.”
Always?
Puzzled, and still working out what had just happened, I walked out of the room with my brothers. I tried to feel sad like them, but I was too young to understand what it all meant.
I mulled over the words my mother said, but the more I thought about it, the less it made sense. If Granddaddy was watching over me, that meant that somehow, he was here with me. What about my brothers? My mom? My Grand Mother? He couldn’t be with all of us all the time, could he? Did this mean we all had to stay in the same place now?
What about the times when I didn’t want anyone watching? Would Granddaddy see everythingI did now? I would think about this when I lit my doll on fire playing with a lighter, when I snuck out of the house after being grounded, when I got caught hiding others’ belongings in my play kitchen. Was Granddaddy watching? I cringed to think he had seen me at my worst.
I thought about it most when we were at Grand Mother’s house.
After walking into the bathroom, as I closed the door, I would plead quietly, “Granddaddy, if you’re here, please don’t watch.”
Just in case.

Negotiations Are for Turkeys

I’m shoring up shopping plans for tomorrow. This, of course, means consulting a half dozen cookbooks and the Thanksgiving Spreadsheet. The following conversation with Husband ensues:

ME: We need to buy a turkey of 12 to 14 pounds.
HIM: What, now? I’m not wearing pants.
ME: No, tomorrow. When we’re at the store.
HIM: Hmm. Okay.
ME: Good.
HIM: Wait. I think we need a bigger turkey.
ME: No, we don’t. Remember last year?
HIM: No, it’s more than a week ago.
ME: Last year, you picked out the biggest turkey they had. Kitchen disaster ensued. And we had waaaay too much turkey.
HIM: No such thing.
ME: Yes. You even admitted as much.
HIM: That doesn’t sound like me.
ME: I don’t know what to tell you.
HIM: Shouldn’t we do some math, figure out how many pounds of turkey per person?
ME: Who’s eating POUNDS of turkey?
HIM: Me, easy.
ME: Listen, it’s like four people who will actually eat turkey, and you’re one of them. I think 14 pounds of turkey will suffice.
HIM: I don’t know…
ME: Pal, this is not a negotiation. We are getting a turkey of 12 to 14 pounds.
HIM: 14 pounds, then!