Fantasy 1

LJ Idol: Topic 4

“Nobody can ride your back if your back's not bent.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Being a woman is sticky sometimes, like the cotton candy residue that clings to your fingers long after the circus is over. It is both the memory of something sweet and the sadness that lingers because you know the elephants are trapped in a hot trailer somewhere behind the theater. The rancid smell of animal waist and the beauty of red lazor lights coexist somehow, mingled together to form something beautiful and terrible. Yes, some self-righteous feminist somewhere will read this and shout from the rooftops, calling for the swift revocation of my woman card, but it is true. We say we want to be equal, but somehow we all long for rescue, for salvation from our self loathing and brokenness. Any woman who says she has never wanted that is a liar.

Take infidelity for example. Ask any woman on the street what she thinks of those who participate in this unforgivable sin and you’ll get an overwhelming chorus of “off with their heads!” I can’t say I’d blame them. I’m not saying it is a virtuous act that is just misunderstood by society. It is wrong. But if I could look into the bedrooms of these same women, I bet I’d find a suspiciously large t-shirt in the hamper or a hastily scrawled love letter from someone else’s man in the bottom of her lingerie drawer. I was in that chorus once, the one that sang “I would never do that to someone” so loudly my voice grew sore with the effort.

Ryan was when I learned to never say never.

I still remember how it felt to love him, to know in the marrow of my bones that I was the one he was meant to love all along. I never started out wanting another woman’s husband in my bed. It began with a long drunken conversation sitting atop coin operated hotel washing machines. It sounds so cliche now, but he told me how she didn’t understand him and how she didn’t love what he loved. I told him things too: about how my back was bent by so many in my short twenty-two years. He held my hand, and I didn’t feel guilty. I wanted to rescue him, and I still believe he wanted to do the same for me.

I really believed he would leave her. I built a house in my head where we both would live with his daughter, making love in a bed that belonged to us at night when normal couples did it: not during stolen lunch breaks or predawn visits to my apartment. It would be complicated, sure. I was born into a family that is more of a grape vine than a tree, so I knew this more than most. But I wanted him so much it hurt. At first, I didn’t sleep with him. I held on to my virtue so tightly my knuckles turned white. But six long months of waiting and 3 AM phone calls and heavy promises pushed me to the edge, and I gave myself to him. I think when women imagine what infidelity feels like, they think it’s like giving someone a consolation prize for staying in a crumbling marriage. You’ve made it to year six of misery, have this lovely coffee mug. But it isn’t like that at all. The wrongness of it doesn’t change how skin feels on skin, hands on hips, heart on heart. It still feels like love, like something irresistible and honest, even if it is wrapped completely in deception.

It eventually erupted as affairs usually do, the molten lava of our passion filled volcano flowing down to burn us all alive. I still have scars, and I’m sure he does too. He ended it like good husbands do, and I must have called him five thousand times. I poured myself out with tears, feeling as if I’d be empty forever, knowing that she could never love him like I did. In the end, he got it all really; our friends, my secrets, the money I gave when she kicked him out for a brief three days. What did I get? A scarlet A on my breast and a bed filled to overflowing with loneliness. That still seems unfair to me somehow, as if I have the right to feel that way. What happens to equality when the floor falls out? I’d love to know.

I’m not trying to justify myself to anyone. I’m now married, and I can’t imagine the pain of that covenant destroyed. Marriage means something to me and it always has. I’m sure it meant something to Ryan too, even in the middle of all the lies to me and to his wife. I guess what I really want is for us all to stop pretending that our hands aren’t sticky and that our backs aren’t bent.

Is that too much to ask?

The Missing Stair

I stand expectantly at the top of the stairs, one eager eye pressed against the crack between the door and its frame. The sweet smell of chicken and waffles floats up to me, the kind of incense only my grandmother can burn. Yellow morning light bleeds through the lacy curtains staining the white carpet beside the bed that has always been mine, at least since Poppa Bobby died. This upstairs sanctuary will always stay the same if I have anything to say about it.

“Hello darlin’, how you doin’? It’s been a long time…”

Grandma isn’t much of a singer, but it doesn’t matter. The door is still closed and I grip the cold knob in my hand, heart beating as if it’s going to explode. Why am I so jumpy? Breakfast is just downstairs in the kitchen with Grandma and Conway.

“You’re just as lovely as you used to be…”

The old lady with the fruit covered hat smiles at me from her place on the wall next to me. She knows what’s coming and I’d wish she’d share. I never liked that painting: something about those eyes that moved with you. Grandma loved her though. She even named her Ruthie after her oldest sister. I never understood the comparison. Aunt Ruth never would’ve worn that hat.

“Briley,” Grandma calls, pulling me from my senseless revery, “why don’t you come down?”

“Ok…Coming…” I answer, feeling so close and a million miles away.

The knob becomes slippery under my fingertips and I hesitate.

“Don’t go,” Ruthie seems to whisper, “you know what’s down there.”

I refuse to listen to a painting.

I pull back the door, wondering briefly what strange dreams had haunted me the previous night. Why else would I be so jumpy? I’d bet ten bucks Ruthie was prominently featured.

Warm air and bright lights envelop me as I reach out my right foot.

Then I tumble. Ruthie laughs and the scent of incense disappears.

And I’m in my bed, my real bed in my Kentucky home.

And I cry…because the stair is always missing and I never make it down to her.
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Steel skeletons and concrete skin
span over waters cold and wide.

My two homes lie on either side,
the sins that divided them buried in the deep.

Childhood journeys in rusty cars,
my father and I together and alone.

Music fills the great divide,
our bridge between absence and truth.

Steel skeletons and concrete skin
will never let me forget.


I'm slightly concerned.

I have not been on line a lot due to real life (and that giant holiday us Christians love called Easter) so I don't have a partner for LJI.

I have to write "Bridge" and need a "straw that stirs the drink" partner.

Anyone free?

Please say you are free, lest I weep with sadness.

The Straw that Stirs the Drink

And when my task on earth is done,
When by Thy grace the victory’s won,
Even death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.
-He Leadeth Me (Hymn)

Our three voices melted together in the southern style that Grandma loved so dearly. These two talented women on either side of me had known her for twenty years and generously gave of their talents to the joyous gospel tune that would have thrilled her heart.

"When I die, I want them to sing at my funeral," Grandma had declared countless times after a rousing performance by the mother-daughter duo in a Sunday service.

"Ok, Grandma," I would always respond, knowing full well that death could never claim a woman so strong and vivacious.

I never thought two falls and a bruised brain would be enough to steal her from me. And yet, less than a month after my engagement, I found myself in a church full to bursting with those who had been touched by the vibrant woman I called Grandma. I was in awe of the impact of one life on so many and wondered who else would be in the room if she had remained on this Earth for as long as we had all hoped? Surely an extra 15 years would have allowed her to share her broad smile and biting wit with new friends. My teenage children might have been sitting on the first row, hands entangled with those of their older cousins, hearts broken at the loss of their vivacious great-grandmother.

I realized with a sudden sense of irony that there never would have been a right time for her to die. I would miss her fried chicken, tightly curled silver hair, and bell-like laugh whether she had left me last week or 15 years from now. As transient as my life had been, Grandma was the solid bridge that kept me connected to home.

As I reclaimed my seat on the stage, my mercifully dry eyes fell on my sweet mother who stood to deliver a tribute to the woman who had given her life. Their relationship had been troubled at times, but grief remembers no conflict and the loss of a parent creates a chasm that swallows harsh words. She spoke of a bond forged later in life by a shared faith and commitment to a family that struggled to keep its head above water.

It didn't take long for us all to drown.

Death unmasks the monsters long dormant in those who cannot face it. They emerge, angry and hungry, tearing family ties with their claws of bitterness and greed. Two of the three men that called my mother "sister" betrayed us with their words, accusing her of treachery and forever destroying the tenuous peace that had existed for so long. It didn't matter that she was the one who had moved in with Grandma, feeding her meals and dealing with the doctors while they retreated to safer places. Their rage at the universe for stealing their mother was satisfied by punishing my mother and fleeing with the material possessions left in the wreckage. The guilt and shame they try to hide has left our family fractured, the empty chairs at holiday meals reminding us that we have lost more than one piece of our puzzle.

I don't believe in closure anymore. By definition, that term conjures up the image of closing a door and moving forward as you were before. Loss is not like that. Grief is the process of letting a new reality absorb into your soul. As time goes on, the pain lessens, but the change is permanent. As much as I would like to forever leave them all behind me and travel on without regard for their existence, I don't believe that is possible. These turbulent times have shaped my understanding of family and how to maintain the foundation no matter the circumstance. Freedom has come from realizing that we all viewed Grandma as the glue rather than laboring to maintain relationships independent of her. This lesson has stirred within my heart a sense of urgency to protect the family I do have from the ravages of these eventual tragedies. Leaving the door open to look back and remember without bitterness is what will bring true healing and help me to grow my family with care. I am learning to wish the same for them.

I think Grandma would be proud.

**My intersection parter for this week is the lovely and talented

Bassinets and Cigaretts

Tinley sat on the front porch steps, bathing in the amethyst light of early evening, cigarette dangling lazily from her left hand. She hadn't smoked in five years, but under the circumstances, it seemed like the least destructive option. She had seriously considered dragging all of the nursery furniture to the curb for the garbage truck to collect, or starting a large bonfire in the front yard using the 60 congratulations cards they had received as kindling. In the end, she opted for pilfering a few of Carter's cigarettes from the "secret stash" he kept in his guitar case under the bed. She figured she would smoke until she passed out or felt better; which ever one came first.

She could hear Carter inside, yelling at someone (probably the lawyer) on the phone.

"We have given thousands to this girl… You said it was a done deal!… How can she do this?"

Tinley fixed her emerald eyes on her bare feet and began counting the veins she could see poking out through her tanned skin. No matter how much she smoked and counted, the vision of that tiny baby…her baby…would not retreat. It clung to her brain and forced out defiant angry tears.

The phone had rang at 4 AM that morning, pulling both of them from a fitful sleep. Tinley flew for the phone, hoping this was the call she had been awaiting for seven months…and ten years.

"Tinley," it was Eliza's desperate teenage voice on the other end, "Tinley, I'm in labor. I'm in labor…"

Tinley had tried to calm the sobbing girl while pulling on old jeans and one of Carter's faded Rolling Stones T-Shirts.

"Don't worry, we're coming…we're coming…everything is going to be ok, Eliza."

Carter was ten steps ahead of her, waving the car keys around in the air hurrying her off the phone. She smiled and hung up, filled with an overwhelming sense of joy.

As they pulled into the hospital parking lot ten minutes later, Carter paused before getting out of the car. He held his wife's hand tightly and smiled in a way she had never seen.

"Ready, Mama?" He asked, reaching for his door handle.

Without a word, she kissed him and jumped from the car, racing frantically toward the front doors and the future that was finally theirs. After years of wrestling with infertility, God had brought them Eliza, the girl who was going to let them raise her baby as their own. Tinley was initially nervous about this arrangement. There had been so many failed attempts that she didn't dare to hope this could be different. But as she entered the hospital, faithful husband by her side, she knew the little girl that was coming to them was meant to be her daughter.

Now, just 12 hours later, the dream had evaporated. Tinley was holding her little angel in her arms when Eliza announced she wanted to keep her. The rest of the morning was a blur. The one thing Tinley did recall was that a nurse had to practically wrestle the baby from her grasp.

Carter came out of the house and settled in next to her. He slipped his arm around her and she melted into him, still clutching the smoldering cigarette.

"What did he say?" She asked, even though she already knew the answer.

"We…we might have a chance. Maybe Eliza will change her mind." He ran a hand through her thick brown hair but couldn't bring himself to look at her.

She breathed in the warmth of his lie and offered him one of her own.

"I think she will…I think she will."

They sat in the empty silence watching the sun, and their hope, disappear.

A Letter

As someone who was once remarkably gifted at self sabotage, I understand you better than you'd like to believe. Time has past and we are both very different now. You have a toddler, hair that's too long, and a Quaker sensibility that seems to keep you from the bottom of a bottle. I'm almost married, have slightly more fluff around the middle than you remember, and am still hunting for my life's purpose. The chasm of four years lies between what we shared and who we have become. In my darker moments, I feel as if those are our real selves back there now buried under age and an obligation to let go. Then I remind myself that gaping wounds don't make a person more valid or relevant and thank God I heal a little every day.

Do you have to do that too?

Our's was a destructive love born out of dysfunction on both our parts. Perhaps that is why you were easier to forgive than the others; we are still the same inside, you and I. We've had to forgive ourself and those who have hurt us for a lot. True forgiveness is a salve that heals over time. It is slow and I eventually learned that it is more about setting myself free from the anger and bitterness than releasing those who have hurt me from all responsibility. It just isn't my job to punish them…or you.

You were raised in a culture of lies. Adopted into a family who used your warm body for money, deceived you about your age and origin, and left you to an institution as a teenager, I find it natural that the distortion of truth became your natural coping mechanism. I admit, when I discovered you were with three other women while you claimed I was the one and only, I dissolved. Crushed under the weight of that truth (which to this day we have never spoken openly about) I didn't ever want to let anyone put me back together.

I'm sorry I called you so much that October. Your abrupt disappearance left me lost and I held out hope I could fix you. That was who I had always been, the one who could repair the broken…everyone besides myself. Lying on my bathroom floor dialing your number over and over again seemed like a perfectly rational response to your declaration that we could no longer speak. If I showed you how much I loved you, it would all be made right. It didn't matter to me in that moment how many pills I had taken or how loud I was screaming into your voicemail that would never talk back. All that mattered was convincing you that us being together would make everything right. O, how wrong I was.

The end of us was the beginning of my healing. I dragged my bedraggled body and heart into therapy, hanging on by a strand of hope that life was worth living. I was never really angry at you. I was angry about a lot of things that have happened to me, but never you. I was hurt by your betrayal, but I understood it. Damaged people damage others. It is a harsh fact of life and I've hurt my fair share in my time.

There was never any closure with us; no long conversation where we hashed everything out and apologized through stale tears. There were only a few dramatic phone calls from you (usually incredibly drunk) and a sudden wedding announcement that arrived in the mail. As strange as it sounds, that paper crane was the closest you ever got to an apology. It was as if you said, "That man who hurt you so is dead. I'm starting over and I need your acceptance."

Some might view sending your X a wedding announcement between you and one of the women with whom you cheated on me cruel. I don't. Truthfully, I think it was brave.

I wish I was that brave.

I pray you've found your peace. I believe I've finally found mine.

I just wanted you to know.

 Michicant by Bon Iver from Bon Iver (Rating: 0)

 Michicant by Bon Iver from Bon Iver (Rating: 0)