Finding Life (in obvious places): Moving Day

Moving day today. Big day. I picked Julie up with the car loaded down with my three boxes and assorted other things. She came running out to meet.

“You all ready?”

“I think so.”

She looked through the back window. “Is that all?”

“Yeah. Isn’t it enough?”

“I guess so. Well, you want to come in, say hi to Mom and Dad?”

“Not really. I want to get moving, you know.”

“Okay, but give me a second, alright?”

She ran back into the house and I shut the engine off. I looked back at my stuff and thought about her parents. How they were so proud of her and nice to me and such the perfect couple themselves. Her dad smoking a pipe and wearing slippers around the house and her mom fixing big meals and not eating anything herself. The perfect couple. I never saw anything else.

Once we made it to the house, it only took an hour or so to move all my stuff in. Still, I was tired and sat down on the floor, waiting for Julie to finish arranging.

“When are you getting furniture?”

“Soon, I guess. Probably go to auctions and stuff.”

“Be sure to get a love seat. It would go perfect next to that window, facing the television.”

“What television?”

“You are going to get a television, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. Now, curtains…”

“Why don’t you take a break?”

“Why?”

“Well, why don’t you join me?” I must have had some grin on my face, cause she came over smiling, trying to look all sexy.

“What did you have in mind?” she asked, brushing against my shoulder.

“Why don’t you lay down with me?”

“On the floor?”

“Would you rather go out in the yard?”

She laughed and started unbuttoning her blouse.

Then there was silence. A lot of it. Well, almost silence. No words. I don’t know.

+     +     +

She got up and put her blouse back on, and the rest of her clothes. I stayed there, looking at the ceiling and over at her.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting dressed.”

“Why?”

“Someone may stop by.”

“Who’s going to stop by?”

“You never know.”

“Come on, Julie.”

“What?”

“Come back here.”

“I will. Just give me a minute. Patience is a virtue, you know.”

“I’m not very virtuous.”

She went to the bathroom and brushed her hair. I lay there, looking at the ceiling. She came back with a big grin on her face.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

“Why are you smiling?”

“I’m just happy.” She lightly kissed me on the cheek.

“Well, good.  I’m glad.”

“I was thinking about…. I don’t know.”

“What?”

“About how it could be like this all the time.”

“Like what?”

“You know. Being together, all the time.”

“You mean marriage.”

“God, you make it sound like some plague or something!”

“Well, it is, sort of. Look, let’s not…”

“Let’s not what? You never want to discuss it. You know how important marriage is to me. I thought, since you got this house…”

“God damn it.”

“Nevermind. Just nevermind.”

She went into the kitchen, crying. I kept looking up at the ceiling. I noticed some brown-stained water marks that could mean a leak somewhere. After a while, I went into the kitchen. She was standing near the window, looking out.

“Julie, I’m really sorry.”

“You…”

“No, I’m really sorry. I just… well, I’m just not ready to start thinking like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like about marriage and all. I’m just not ready.”

“I know. It’s just. You don’t understand I need change too. I need something definite. Something secure. Something I can count on.”

“I know. I understand. Look, can we just wait and talk about this some other time? I mean, the house and all..”

“Okay.”

I took her home and thanked her for her help. On the way back I stopped at a used furniture store and saw this old love seat that probably would have fit in the corner, next to the window. It was too, much, though, so I bought a floor cushion instead.

Velvet Love Seat

{This is part of a larger work entitled Finding Life (in obvious places). To follow along with the story, click on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): Packing Up

I’m all packed and ready to go. I stayed in tonight to get ready. A Friday night, with nobody around and nothing on the television. All I can hear are the sounds of my childhood as scenes from my past flash through my mind, with a good bottle of wine to keep them there.

I found a picture of my father, posing next to his motorcycle, just before he ran off with it.

I found a letter from Julie, written when she was in high school, with nineteen exclamation points and seven hearts with arrows in them.

I found a book about Abraham Lincoln my grandmother gave me, with my name printed in pencil, along with “Age 9.”

I found a newspaper clipping about my uncle’s death. The headline read, “Man Shot By Jealous Husband.”

I found a library book that was three years overdue.

I found some poem I had written in high school about a soldier that died.

I found a picture of my mother in a bathing suit, with the words “To My Hubby” written across the top and “I Love You” across the bottom.

I found seven New Testaments given to me by my mother and her friends, the Gideons.

I put everything I found in one of three big boxes I’d gotten from work and poured a cup of wine as I looked at them in the corner, near the door. Now I’m sitting here, looking at the bare walls and empty shelves. Just like when I moved in. Like nothing’s happened.

I can now hear the fat lady singing along with the radio and laughing at the DJs. This wine isn’t as good as the guy said.

Those three boxes are still in the corner of the attic, after all these years. Joined by weights and broken toys and unused appliances — signs of life well spent, now tossed aside. Allison’s paintings of the children and our time together look on somewhat curiously. I haven’t been up there in years, but I wouldn’t let go of them for the world.

“Daddy’s Girls II”  Oil painting of children with father by Kathryn Morris Trotter

 from Gabriela Lima

{This is part of a larger work entitled Finding Life (in obvious places). You can follow the story by clicking on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): Telling Julie About the House

Tonight I told Julie about the house. The arrangements had been made. The owners were so eager to sell, all I had to do was sign a few papers and I could move in this weekend. Julie came over to the apartment after dinner and I told her.

“You what?”

“I bought a house. It’s great. Two stories. Old. Like my grandparents’.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I’m tired of this place. Listening to the fat lady next door and her radio that plays all night long. I’m tired of the lady that wears curlers and a house robe who borrows my paper and never brings it back. I just want a place of my own.”

“Well, that’s great. I guess.”

“You’re glad.”

“I’m happy if you’re happy.” She put her arms around my neck and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I was glad she’d come over.

“Will you help me move in?”

“Of course. When?”

“Saturday.”

“This Saturday?”

“Yeah. You busy?”

“Well, no. Saturday’s fine.”

“You think I’m acting impulsively.”

“No. It’s not that. You just. I’m just surprised. You’ve never really mentioned…”

“I know. I hadn’t really thought of it. But when I saw this place, I started thinking about being a kid at my grandparents’ place and I got real excited. A change like this is just what I need.”

“I think you’re right. It’s good you’re getting a place of your own. Like you’re starting to think of the future.”

“Yeah. I don’t know if I can afford it, though.”

“Things’ll work out.  I love you.”

“Yeah, maybe. Heating’s awful expensive.”

“Hey.” She put her hand on my cheek. “Things’ll work out.”

We watched the news and laid around talking about the house. As she left, I watched her drive away. waving through the car window, knowing I’d be watching. She’ll be great helping me move in, arranging the place. She loves arranging things.

Opening the hall closet, I get down the afghan Julie once knit for me. The bright colors have faded through the years and it is more than a bit unraveled. I don’t get it out much, but it still keeps me warm.

 {This post is part of a larger work entitled Finding Life (in obvious places) in first composed in 1985 and now am revising. To follow the story, click on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): Marriage and M&Ms

It was a usual Monday at work. Guys coming in unshaven, disheveled. Girls coming in made up, worn out underneath. Plenty of stories about how much the guys had drank and the girls had forgotten. Oh, they weren’t all like that. One guy had gotten pulled over by the cops and didn’t come in at all. Nobody made his bail.

On break, Ralph asked me how my weekend was.

“Okay.”

“You go out with that girl of yours? Julie?”

“Yeah, we went out.”

“Boy, she’s something. Bet she’s great in the sack, huh?”

I smiled and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”  He was eating peanut M&Ms and offered me some. “You know, I saw this house yesterday,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“It was for sale and I think I might just get it.”

“Are you and Julie thinking…”

Pages

“No, no. It’s not that. I’m just… tired of the apartment.  You know…”

“Yeah, it gets to you.”

“So, it’s a great two-story house in the old part of town.”

“Better be careful. Those things are rat traps. You sure…”

“No. This one’s great. I mean, heating costs’ll be out of this world, but…. well, I’ve got some put away.”

“Working in this place? Come on!”

“No, really. I’ve been saving up.”

“Listen, it’s your life. But I’m saying you’re better off in the apartment until you can find a wife that’ll work. That Julie works at the bank, doesn’t she?”

“I’m not marrying Julie!”

“Hey, sorry. It’s none of my business. I, just, well, I just don’t want you rushing into something. It’s tough enough, working at this place, without having a house to care for. By yourself.”

“Yeah. I know. I just, well… I need something.”

“Ain’t Julie taking care of that?” He laughed so hard he coughed up his last three M&Ms. I gave him the change to buy another package. He came back and offered me more.

“You know,” he said slowly, careful in thought, “marriage ain’t so bad as they say. I know I give my wife a hard time, but truth is I wouldn’t know what I’d do without her. She’s a great girl.”

“That’s nice.”

“No, I mean it. Before I got married, I was staying out late, coming to work all hungover. I’m a changed man, and I have her to thank.”

“Well, I don’t drink that much.”

“That’s not my point. Listen, I’m only saying this cause I’m your friend. You better hang on to that Julie. She’ll make a great wife someday.”

I shook my head.

“Just you wait. But not too long. You hear me?” He went off and started talking to a group about drinking beer.

I went back to work and thought about marriage. My grandparents. Constantly yelling and screaming at each other. Especially on Sundays, getting ready for church. Then Mom and Dad. Until Dad ran off and Mom was left with only me and my sister to yell at. That was marriage. A lot of yelling. Especially on Sundays.

Ralph got divorced about a year later. His wife caught him with his pants down parked in the driveway of her best friend. Ralph was never the same. He developed sugar diabetes and started blacking out and losing body parts, one at a time. His ex-wife felt sorry for him and married him again, took care of him until he died. She buried him with a package of peanut M&Ms.

{This is the third entry of a work of fiction called Life (in obvious places) I first wrote in 1985. To follow along with the story, click on the title in the tags below).

“February Seven” by The Avett Brothers in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)

July, 1989 in “The Office of Friends.”  You were on the phone with South Central Bell, debating a deposit.

A spark from your words deflected off the receiver and landed in my heart.  I was slain in the Spirit.

You won the battle with the phone company and I determined, “I need this woman on my side.”

From “Shakespeare in the Park” to shopping at the mall, losing at hangman and going dutch on dates. I crushed your spirit then blended it together with sour milk and sugar, serving it back to you as Friendship bread. Complete with nuts and blueberries.

When you wrote “I love you,” on my back in Hebrew, was it God’s Word or just something people don’t speak anymore?

I went on the search for something true
I was almost there when I found you
Sooner than my fate was wrote
A perfect blade, it slit my throat
And beads of lust released into the air
When I awoke you were standing there

I was on the mend when I fell through
The sky around was anything but blue
I found as I regained my feet, a wound across my memory
That no amount of stitches would repair
But I awoke and you were standing there

There’s no fortune at the end of the road
That has no end
There’s no returning to the spoils
Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them
There’s no falling back asleep
Once you’ve wakened from the dream
Now I’m rested and I’m ready and I’m ready to begin

I went on the search for something real
Traded what I know for how I feel
But the ceiling and the walls collapsed
Upon the darkness I was trapped
And as the last of breath was drawn from me
Light broke in and brought me to my feet

There’s no fortune at the end of the road
That has no end
There’s no returning to the spoils
Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them
There’s no falling back asleep
Once you’ve wakened from the dream
Now I’m rested and I’m ready and I’m ready to begin

I’m rested and I’m ready to begin

(“February Seven” is the seventh song on my autobiographical Spotify playlist Delight in Disorder)

The Buzz (prompted flash fiction)

om: Do you want to lift weights?

David: “Are you sure you want to do that before the game?”

Tom: “Yeah.  I’ve got energy to burn.”

Tom placed three circular 10-lb weights on either side of a barbell and began to curl.

Tom: Did you hear what Pam said to Jennifer in Algebra today?

David: What’s that?

Tom: She said she was going to break up with Tad.

David: Seriously?

Tom: Absolutely.  Now’s your big chance.

David: I don’t know.

Tom: What’s not to know? Strike while the iron is hot.

David: What does that even mean?

Tom sits down the barbell.

Tom: You got any french fries?

David: You’re not going to eat before the game, are you?

Tom: Just a snack. I’m hungry.

David:  You can check the freezer.

Tom grabs a bag of frozen fries out of the freezer, and sets the fryer knob to “high.”  He then starts galloping around the room.

David: What are you doing?

Tom:  I told you.  I have energy to burn.

David: You’re going to burn yourself out.

Tom: I can’t help it. I can’t sit still. Hey what was he lecturing on in biology today? I was busy writing a story.

David: The decomposition of the human body. What’s your story about?

Tom: Oh, I’m writing a parody of our class. It’s called, “No Biggy.”

Tom stops running.  The oil is bubbling.  He places a handful of fries in the burner. Stepping back, he tilts his head to the left.

Tom: Hey, what’s that sound?

David: What sound?

Tom:  That buzz.  Is there a bee in here?

David: I don’t hear anything.  Hey, Tom, why don’t you sit down?

Tom: I will. But where’s that damn bee?

David:  Tom!

Tom: What?

David: Sit down.

Tom: Okay.  First, where’s your salt?

David: You can check the cabinet above the stove.

Tom opens the cabinet drawer.  Spices come falling out. Tom jumps back.

Tom: What the hell?

David: Tom, let me get it.  You sit down.

Tom: You guys needs some organization.  Just give me just a second.

Tom starts to pull out the spices out of the cabinet.

David: What are you doing?

Tom: Just give me a minute. You’ll thank me later.

David:  Stop it, Tom. Sit down. Now.

Tom: Where is that damn bee!

Tom walks over near the fryer and leans over. There is a loud splash. Tom jerks his head back.

Tom: Son of a bitch!

David moves over and unplugs the fryer.  He grabs Tom by the shoulders. 

David: We’re going to the hospital.

Tom: No. It hurts. But it’s not that bad.

David: Something’s not right, Tom. You’ve got to see somebody.

Tom: I’ll be okay.  Just guide me to the sofa.

David: I don’t know.

Tom: Come on.  I’ll be fine.

David takes Tom by the arm and leads him to the sofa.  Tom takes a deep breath.

David: How you doing?

Tom: Perfect.  Couldn’t be better. Just. Could you do me one thing?

David: What’s that?

Tom: Would you kill that damn bee?

 

Honey Bee

from JLD Webfocus 

This story was sparked by a writing prompt from the IU-South Bend Creative Writing Club, with help from a random word generator from Text Fixer (serving over 37 1/2 people).

The Language of Relationships: A Blog Hop Story

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Bruce: “Here’s a nice bench.  Let’s sit here.”

Carl: “What a gorgeous November day this is.” 

Bruce: “It sure is. So peaceful.  So calm.”

Carl: “What’s for lunch today?”

Bruce: “I have pastrami on rye.”

Carl: “Ah!  With hot mustard?”

Bruce: “Mayo.”

Carl: “Mayo?  Who puts mayo on pastrami and rye?”

Bruce: “My wife does. She puts mayo on everything. It’s sort of a thing with her.”

Carl: “Why don’t you say something to her? Or make your own sandwiches?”

Bruce: “I don’t want to take that away from her.  She thinks she’s being helpful. God love her.”

Carl: “She’s a sweet lady. But you shouldn’t treat her so delicately. Let her grow up.”

Bruce: “Since when did you become a relationship expert?”

Carl: “My third wife was a marriage therapist. She taught me a lot.”

Bruce: “Hey, Dr. Phil, how about helping me move that log over for a stool?”

Carl: “Sure.”

Setting down their lunches, they roll a large log over beside the bench.

Carl: “So Alexandra, my third wife, the therapist, used to say, ‘A woman is a vowel. A man is a consonant.  A woman can stand alone, but together with a man can express more meaning.”

Bruce: “Wow.  That’s profound.  Whatever happened to Alexandra?”

Carl: “She ran off with a mime.”

Bruce: “Oh, sorry for that.”

Carl: “Yeah, it was tough for awhile.  Until I met Samantha. Sam is the long ‘e’ to go with my ‘m’.  She fits me perfectly.”

Bruce: “Boy, you could write greeting cards.  You know that?”

Carl: “Thanks. So how’s the pastrami?”

Bruce: “I’ve had better.”

Carl: “Even with mayo?”

Bruce: “No. The mayo pretty much ruins it. You want the rest?”

Carl: “No thank you. I’ll stick with my ham and swiss.”

Bruce: ”Unlike your wives.”

Carl: (laughs)  Hey, I resemble that remark.  No, I don’t see how you do it.  How long have you and Joanna been married?

Bruce: 23 years this October.

Carl: Boy.  23 years. What’s your secret?

Bruce: Avoidance, mostly.  Things are better left unsaid.

Carl:  Like the mayo?

Bruce: (laughs) Exactly.

An alarm sounds.

Carl: Well, time to head back to the spaceship.

Bruce: Yeah, we don’t want them to send out a search party.

Carl: No. Hey, whatever happened to that Lewis fellow that was always late coming in for lunch.

Bruce: They vaporized him.

Carl: Oh.

Bruce: Hey, that reminds me of your ex-wife with the mime –  a long “o” with a silent “h.”

Carl:  Ah.  That, too.

(This story is part of the Blog Hop found at Writings and Ruminations. Photo courtesy Leanne Sype)

Mental Health Monday: A New Tradition

Today I thought I’d start a new tradition – “Mental Health Monday”.  As my family could tell you many of my traditions fizzle out after just one time.  But I think this one might just catch on.  For however long it lasts, enjoy the ride.

“Mental Health Monday” will be a collection of some of the favorite posts I’ve found around the blogosphere (and perhaps some on the Web) on the general topic of Mental Health.  Here are today’s recommendations –

The Life Cycle of the Grad School Graduate’s job hunting for something in the Mental Health field”  (The Neophyte Therapist) – A realistic yet humorous perspective on the stages of getting established in a mental health career.

Relationship Issues” (Alexis Stone: Seeing in the Dark) – Alexis shares some very personal struggles impacting intimacy that are common to all, yet particularly true for those of us with mental illnesses.

“Potty Training Videos Reviewed!”  (aliceatwonderland)  Some laughter therapy from the queen of bloggers on mental health.

“Hypervigilance: Emergency Mode” (Bipolar For Life)  A very accurate and poetic depiction of one aspect of a manic phase.

“Post-ECT (or, “A Post about ECT”)” (crazyaboutbipolar) An honest assessment from someone undergoing the still-controversial treatment.

Inside My Mind” (Thoughts of a Lunatic) An epic poem (with strong visuals) from the perspective on one with a mental illness.

“Anger, violence and mental health: a response to Deborah Orr” (Lady Lazarus blogs) An insightful and thorough analysis of the mis-conceived perception of the relationship between violence and mental illness.

“Preparing for ERP Therapy” (Lights All Around)  Helpful words of advice for those considering Emotional and Response Prevention therapy.

“The Secret to Happiness” (Mrs. Bipolarity) A succinct appeal to pursue contentment rather than happiness.

“Peace” (Pride in Madness) Raises the issue of the use and abuse of psychotropic drugs.

Happy reading!

Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife: Reflections from a Young Sylvia Plath

At age 19, Sylvia Plath had gone from being an awkward, painfully shy girl to a sexually confident young woman.  As she prepares for one of her many dates, she reflects on her image and identity.

In the mirror, undressing, I look at the rather impish and mobile face that grins back at me, thinking: oh, growing to be a woman, to learn the art of subtle power!  As long as men have ideals, as long as they are vulnerable, there is the power to create a dream for them.

Plath did not rest easy in such power.  She saw the complexities of the relationship between men and women and feared what power she might lose were she to pursue marriage (the only perceived “safe” arrangement for coupling at the time).  Nonetheless, she found herself driven to men by a strong sexual urge she calls “refined hedonism”.

Victimized by sex is the human race.  Animals, the fortunate lower beasts, go into heat.  Then, they are through with the thing, while we poor lustful humans, caged by mores, chained by circumstance, writhe and agonize with the appalling and demanding fire licking always at our loins.

This creates a dilemma for Plath.  As she considers her relationship with “Dick”, a pre-med student, she ponders difficult questions.  Would she pursue her writing or become a wife?  Could she do both?

The fact remains that writing is a way of life to me… Would I be forced to give it up, cut it off?  Undoubtedly, as the wife of such a medical man as he would like to be, I would have to.  I do not believe, as he and his friends would seem to, that artistic creativity can best be indulged in masterful singleness rather than in marital cooperation.  I think that a workable union should heighten the potentialities in both individuals.

This “marital cooperation” was not to be found with Dick, who interprets Plath’s assertiveness as a desire to dominate.  She finds others and maintains hope in some “workable union” as she enjoys various romantic relationships.  The idea of being both a wife and a writer remains an ideal.

… would marriage sap my creative energy and annihilate my desire for written and pictorial expression which increases with this depth of unsatisfied emotion… or would I achieve a fuller expression in art as well as in the creation of children?  Am I strong enough to do both well?

Yet, in quieter moments, as she reflects on her passion for poetry and poetic prose, she wonders if she would ever be willing to make sacrifices necessary for marriage.

And when I read, God, when I read the taut, spare, lucid prose of Louis Untermeyer, and the distilled intensities of poet after poet, I feel stifled, weak, pallid; mealy mouthed and utterly absurd.  Some pale, hueless flicker of sensitivity is in me.  God, must I lose it in cooking scrambled eggs for a man.

Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. 

For more reflections, see –

Beauty Out of Sorrow

Ricocheting Madly In-Between

The Grimness of Atheism

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Caitlin in To Read)