Sunday, September 17, 2017

Swipe Right for Dinosaurs

It was a hot day in Laredo, already over ninety degrees in the mid-morning.  Max had been up since six riding his bike.  He had just learned how to ride without training wheels the day before.  A few hours and many cups of coffee for Dorothy later, Max showed no signs of wanting to come in for breakfast and was picking up speed with each pass between driveways on either side of their house.

“Careful, Max.  Not so fast, ok buddy?”

“Ya Mom.” But not a minute later, he misjudged a crack in the cement and wobbled like a top about to fall, his hands and knees catching him on the unforgiving cement.

Max was inconsolable as she carried him into the pharmacy, rubbing his face into her shoulder.  She had cleaned the small scrape on his knee at home but, as she was about to cover the wound, Max began to throw a fit.  Dorothy only had plain, flesh-toned Band-Aids, and those simply would not do.

“They’re. So. UGLY!” Max had bellowed.  She knew it was because he refused to stop for breakfast, his empty belly making him exaggeratingly angry.  Dorothy was becoming increasingly frustrated his fit wasn’t abating, and her reaction to the situation also reminded her she needed tampons.  This tantrum wasn’t typical of Max, a sweet little boy who loved dinosaurs and helping make dinner every night.  But regardless of the rarity of his mood swings and her time of the month, it was still difficult to deal with as a single mom.

“Ok, buddy.  What kind of Band-Aids do you want?  Race cars?  Minions?  Whatever you want!” Dorothy was scanning the shelves, the screams from her son getting louder and more embarrassing in the quiet store.

“NoooOOOoooo!  I want dinosaurs!” Dorothy sighed, the children’s section of first aid supplies was limited and there wasn’t a dinosaur in sight.  Then she saw him.

He was standing on the other end and like most of the other customers, had been unable to ignore their meltdown.  He was wearing dark jeans, a white oxford, and a camel-colored blazer.  He looked tan, Dorothy remembering he had just spent a week in Phoenix for work.  He put the box he had been holding in his basket and walked towards them.

Dorothy’s heart sunk and looked down quickly.  Maybe he didn’t recognize me.  She hadn’t showered that morning and was wearing her yoga pants with the hole in the side showing just the edge of her faded, most un-sexy underwear.  Not to mention the super-pack of tampons in her basket.  She thought about dropping it and bolting when she heard her name.

“Dorothy, hi!” He looked surprised as she watched his eyes take in the messy scene.  Max had only stopped crying for a second when this stranger approached.  However, he quickly resumed his screams with shocking volume.

“Max, shhh.  Now, that’s enough. Hi Luke, how are you?”  She reached up with her free hand to make sure that, yep, she had put her hair into the messiest bun she may have ever achieved.  She could just picture it, frizzy and piled high on top of her head, the highlights looked brassy.  She was planning to get them done before their next date – which was supposed to be tomorrow – but surely that wouldn’t happen after this encounter.

“Hi buddy, what seems to be the problem?”

“Bu, bu, band-ayyyys!  I waaaaaa ‘saurs!!!!”  He wasn’t even speaking clearly anymore, the tantrum reaching critical levels.

“He wants dinosaur Band-Aids.  He fell off his bike this morning, and it’s just a little scrape but he
also skipped breakfast so I’m pretty sure he’s just hangry.”

“Hangry?” Luke looked confused.

“You know, the only reason you’re angry is because you’re hungry?  Hangry.”  Dorothy looked down and saw a box of Trojans in his basket and looked away quickly, grinning because she wasn’t the only one caught in an awkward purchase.

They had been on two dates - Dorothy’s first since the divorce.  She was going to tell Luke about Max on their next one.  She just didn’t know how things were supposed to work, what was too much information and when to give it.  It was supposed to be casual, easy.  A quick swipe right.  But despite her feelings about the “hook up” app, she was a mom on a budget and it was free, unlike Match and eHarmony.

“Hey, Max?”  Max stopped crying hearing his name from a stranger.  “You know, I’m a dinosaur guy too.  Wanna hear something cool?” Luke grabbed a box of lizard Band-Aids covered in orange geckos and bright green iguanas.  “Dinosaurs are still around!  Have you ever been to the zoo?”

“Yes.” Max answered hesitantly between sniffles.

“Well, you saw the iguanas, right?”

“Ya but those are just lizards.” Dorothy could feel her son’s body relax, distracted while talking about his favorite thing.

“They are lizards, you’re right.  Do you have any cousins?”

“Yep.  Emily.  She’s four.  She’s annoying and doesn’t know nothing about dinosaurs.”

“Well, lizards and dinosaurs are cousins.  How cool is that?”  Luke smiled and glanced at Dorothy.

“Have you been to the zoo since they got the dragon?”

Max’s red eyes got wide, the last of the tears making them bright.  “What?  No.”

“Yep.  A Komodo dragon.  Do you think I could take you to meet her sometime?  Do you think your mom would like to come with us?”

“Maybe, she’s pretty boring.”  Dorothy and Luke laughed and Max smiled, happy in his joke.

“I don’t think she’s boring.”

“Thank you, Luke.  Come on Max, will these work?” she said taking the box from Luke.  He nodded.
“Let’s go get some lunch.  I’ll talk to you later?” she asked, hopeful but already fearing the answer.

“Well, ya! We’ve got a date to the zoo!”

Dorothy smiled and turned towards the register.  “Ok, bye!  Say ‘bye’ Max.”  He waved and grabbed the box, staring at the dinosaur-kin, “Bye!”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

First Flight




Sonora looked in her rearview mirror for what must have been the hundredth time since she and her daughter had left their house in the middle of the night.  She wanted to get there before any of the other nervous mothers.  She didn’t need to be reminded of her own fear.

They had been parked at the dam for nearly twenty minutes, the car still running, facing the path to the lake.  The sun would be rising in a little less than an hour.  Umbria was still strapped in her car seat, her legs kicking slowly and distractedly up and down, sucking her thumb, and looking out the window at the lightening sky. 

Sonora took a deep breath before opening the door to her Jeep.  When she got out, she stretched her arms above her head and unfurled her wings which had been cramped behind her for the entire four-hour drive.  As she walked around to unstrap her daughter, fighting back tears, and trying to calm her nerves, she thought to herself: I did this.  My mother did this.  Every woman I know has done this.  She will too.

Umbria had been so small when she was born, fierce and bloody when finally laid upon her mother’s chest, the two small nubs at the top of her shoulder blades, bald and featherless.  It didn’t matter then if she could fly or not.  She had years before she had to worry about that.    

            Sonora couldn’t get this image of her tiny child out of her head as she picked her up out of the car seat, her daughter’s wings beating in excitement at being taken to a new place.  But those wings.  They were so small, so frail and the feathers so sparse.  Over the past few months, when she was supposed to be exhibiting signs of flight and developing her weightlessness, her tiny form seemed magnetized to the earth.  Every time she had tried to skip around the house, she couldn’t get more than an inch or two off the ground.  Sonora smiled and cheered her little girl on with every effort, but inwardly, she panicked. 

What if she couldn’t do it?

            The dam had been built centuries ago, by men taller than trees, stacking the stones wider than houses, one on top of another, stopping the river to create the lake.  And it was here, at this sacred space where daughters proved to their mothers they could fly. They had until they turned five.  If they flew before then – they would make it, they would live, and they didn’t have to come here.  If not, like Umbria, they received one final chance to soar over the dam and across the magic water on the eve of their birthday.  But sometimes, they didn’t.  Should a girl not fly, there eventually would come a day, after falling asleep, their useless wings resting softly behind them, they would not wake.  Remaining silent, in sudden sleeping death.

            Sonora could feel the impatience in her daughter as they approached the dam.  She set Umbria down, and placed the soft, woolen blanket on the ledge to wrap her in if she failed and fell.  Umbria, however, was not afraid.  She bounced up and down as she peeked over the edge.  With each eager hop, the lights in her shoes blinked a fluorescent red.  She was just tall enough to see the lake, glassy and dark beneath the surface.

            “What’s in there, Momma?”  she asked, looking up at her.

            Sonora smiled, remembering what her own mother had told her.  She remembered fearing what lay beneath the surface.  She wanted to save herself and prove she could fly so she could return quickly to the safety of home.  Umbria, however frail, wasn’t fearful like her mother. 

“Mermen and whales.  Seaweed and sunken ships.  Entire cities made of shells and glass.”  She told her, tickling her chin.  Her daughter’s eyes got wide and then a small smile crept on her lips.

            “Nu-uh, Momma. I don’t believe you.”  However, Umbria quickly looked back at the lake, looking for a swish of a tale.

            The sun had just crested over the edge between the lake and the sky, cutting it in two.

            “Ok, my darling.”  She lifted her up to stand on the ledge.  She turned her small body and placed her hands on her face, cupping it and drawing it close so their noses almost touched.  “Are you ready to fly?”  Umbria nodded, her cheeks flushing and her thin wings trembling behind her in anticipation. 

            “Remember, push the air down, towards the earth and away from you.  Breath in as your wings come up and breath out as you rise.”  Umbria was trying to turn away from her mother, shifting impatiently, straining towards the lake.  Sonora was petrified her final words of advice would be missed and her last chance at ensuring her survival would be wasted.

            “Ok!  Can I go now?”  Umbria begged, her blinking toes stomping eagerly towards the edge.

            “Yes.  Yes, you may go.  I love you.  Remember, I’ll catch you.”  And with that, Sonora let go.  She wanted to cover her eyes, swing her hands to her face and bring the warmth of her daughter’s cheeks to her own and miss the fall she was almost certain she was about to witness.

            Umbria turned and launched herself from the ledge, her wings fanning out so much wider than Sonora had ever seen.  As quickly as her body had flung forward, it disappeared, plummeting down towards the water.  Sonora leapt to the edge, her own wings wide and ready to dive.  When she looked to the lake, searching directly beneath the space where her daughter had fallen, she didn’t see the water swallowing up her child as she had expected, but found her when she looked straight ahead at the increasingly shrinking form of Umbria, riding the air inches above the lake, gaining speed towards the place where the sun split the water and air.

           

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Day the Earth Shook




My darling girl, 364 days and 23 hours ago, I was trying desperately to go to sleep.  And as anyone who has ever stayed in the hospital for more than a day can tell you, that feat is nearly impossible.  But as the clock crept past midnight, my usual discomfort began to change and morph into something unfamiliar and more difficult.  I have never known such pain.  My body seemed to lengthen.  My mind tried to convince me that from the crown of my head to my toes, I had expanded a mile.  I never got wide, barely putting on weight with your small body.  But the pain seem too huge and too great to be held by my 66 inches, and if I we're to look down, I would not be able to see my toes, so far away with so much aching and ripping and thrashing between.

I would never have believed someone so small and so perfect and so helpless could cause so much pain and fear and anxiety and terror. But you did.  You came into this world quickly and ferociously.  Too quick for medicine and drugs and deep breaths and quiet, numb entrances.  I gnashed my teeth and screamed out at the woman next to me telling me to be quiet.  I couldn't understand her words telling me to direct my screams to my belly and push push push.  Screaming didn't help, she said.  Screaming distracts the body, she said.  I never went to a class or read a book or a website or talked to another woman who had made it out of this room alive.  I feared I wouldn't as I screamed and cried and yelled anyway in the face of the woman chiding me for my noise.

But then it was finished.  Your tiny lungs, smaller than the size of a not-yet inflated balloon let out a cry I can still hear.  And the fifteen doctors rushed around you and put a tiny hat on your head full of hair and a mask on your mouth to help those too-small lungs, setting you gently but swiftly into a plastic box you would call home for the next two and half months.  But before they took you, before they wheeled you away to make sure your brain and your eyes and your heart and your lungs were safe and sound because my body couldn't keep you anymore, they let us hold your hand.  And you reached up.  You stretched high with your translucent skin and your needle-thin fingers and you grasped ours.  You clutched my finger with your whole hand and you held tight.  You let me know that it was ok.  You let me know that you would be kept safe and to not be upset I couldn't hold you inside of me anymore.  You let me know you knew me.  You let me know you would fight and fight hard.

My darling girl, you are destined for greatness.  You have already overcome the hardest part, and beaten the toughest odds.  Every. Single. Day. You show up and give me the million reasons to do the same.  When the cards are stacked against us and things can sometimes seem really really hard, you still show up.

It's been a hell of a year.  A stranger asked me the other day how old you were.  I answered, a year next Thursday.  They congratulated me for surviving the first year.  I smiled.

We survived, baby girl.

We made it.

Tomorrow we celebrate you.

Tomorrow we remember the day the earth shook.

Tomorrow marks a year since the first time you changed everything.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Happy Birthday






It has been nearly six months since I've posted anything on this blog and it's been even longer since I've written anything creatively other than a jotted-down line or paragraph in my phone's Notes section which I hope to come back to and use later.  But I haven't.  I've simply been storing them up.

It is also interesting, to me at least, to look back and realize that a year ago, I was sitting in a hospital bed, my back aching, eyes red and sore from constant crying, and my brain fuzzy from the information and weighty news it had received approximately a week before.  The constant oceanic pulse of my daughter's swift heartbeat filling my small room, the flowers and balloons I had received for my 29th birthday already starting to wilt and deflate.

I didn't know then, that she would come so early but also so perfectly on time.  I didn't know I would be flying to what would be my future home in Pittsburgh to stand next to my best friend, my sister as she vowed to love her husband forever.  I didn't know this kid would turn out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  I didn't know how much I would be changed, how much of myself I miss but also how much of this new self I am proud of and impressed by.

I have always worked hard.  I was and am still the girl you call to pick up a shift or ask to help out with some favor or another.  But raising this tiny human has given me so much more pride in the work I have done, am doing, and will still do to be a better person, partner, mother and creator during my short time on this earth.  She makes me want to be better, work harder, eat kale, run longer, and create.  Oh god, does she make me want to create.  Now, don't get me wrong.  More than anything else, she makes me want to take a nap.  However, when it's quiet here in the house, and I've just begun the third load of laundry at 12:47am, I think to myself, if I was able to ACCIDENTALLY create such a magnificent and incredibly wonderful kid, what else am I capable of doing intentionally?  How else can I return the favor of being alive and having the joy of mothering this person than to continue to produce other things to bring the same happiness she brings me?

I got my best birthday gift, ten minutes before writing this post.  I was given the peace which comes from knowing there is so much beauty left to make and see, because I have the evidence of its existence right now, sleeping in a crib above me.

Monday, January 23, 2017

France

It’s like we were told we had to move to France.

“You’re leaving in 2 months. You are vacating the home you had built for yourselves, walls bursting with plans and dreams and paintings and pictures of the life you wanted to have for yourselves. You may never return to this house. It has been burned to the ground and swallowed up by the sea. From this point on, you will be ex-pats of this single and childless house. You will now and forever be responsible for this new house which, in turn, has new rooms. It has new paintings and windows and furniture and beds for those who will lay relative claim to it. They now have the right to come visit you in France, whenever they want. Your dialect will be your own, you may paint your house. You may paint it any color you want. But that too will change. It will fade or brighten depending on the soil in which you set it and the sun that will shine upon it. It will grow and create new rooms which you do not have access to.”

That is how it felt when we were told we were going to have a baby. We were told we were going to
have a baby nine weeks before we were going to move to another city. We were counting down the
weeks like pregnant couples count them down and up and away. We were nine weeks away. We had
begun to pack. We had made a reservation for a U-Haul (for which I received a confirmation the day I
went into labor). But. However. Although.

There were so many endings wrapped up in that beginning. So many stops to that start. So much more pressure, so much more. Still, sometimes, I cannot breathe thinking about it. Still, I shake my head and wonder if it is all some sort of elaborate joke, a prank, a story about someone else who isn’t me. But no. This is my reality. This is our life. And it will forever be something I didn’t plan on or prepare for. What am I supposed to do now? I had planned on so much. I wanted so much. I needed so many other things to happen before (instead) of this.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Life by Numbers


905.

96 92 87 88 84 77 62 83 88 94.

27 and 4.

17.

733.

1,216.

3 to 5.

14.

My life has been ruled by numbers since June.  The number of grams my daughter weighed when she was born.  The fluctuating oxygen satuaration in her small body causing my own breath to catch and alarms to ring when it dipped below 86.  The number of weeks and days when she was born.  The day she was supposed to be born.  The lifeline of social security her birthweight qualified our family for. The number of miles from here to our new home.  The number of years I was willing to give Austin.  The number of days I have left here.

I never expected to leave this city with two more people than when I came.  A dog, sure, and she's coming along too.  But a life partner and daughter?  Never.  It would have been a fool's bet.

You couldn't have told me I would be choosing another cold state after leaving this warm and sticky one.  I would have argued and smirked saying never under my breath.

We were supposed to be living in Vegas by now, you know.  That was our plan.  We were going to work hard and stack cash and reset our accounts and stroll hand in hand under the bright neon lights in the middle of the desert.  We were going to get off work at 2am, run home to change and grab the dog and then drive 5 hours through the night, trying to outrun the sun at our backs to the Pacific.

While I may not be strolling Flamingo Ave., I do see the hours before the sun now, the night and I so friendly, so familiar.  But instead of heading to California, humming along to Ryan Adams on the car radio with the windows rolled down, I am crooning the Lumineers to my newborn, my daughter, with the widest and most restless eyes I've ever known.  Hers are the color of the Atlantic, gray and dark blue and stormy.  They are pulling us east, not west, towards family and financially easier footing.

I fought it. I wanted to continue on with our plans.  I wanted to see it through and carry her along with us.  But our daughter is mighty.  She has changed our course.  And I feel now, so much more than ever before, like I have absolutely no control.  I have no say.

I do not know what to do next.  I was not prepared for this shift in the direction of my life.  And while I am in love with her, I am in awe of her, and I am forever grateful for the universe telling me and my plans to take a back seat and let it drive (because I never really had a hand on the wheel in the first place), I still grieve for the life I wanted for myself that did not include a baby.  And I accept and expect judgement from that statement.  However, I believe we are complex enough, multifaceted enough to hold two (or more!) feelings within us at once.  I can love my daughter endlessly, and still wistfully look down the other path and life that could have been.

We're leaving this town in two weeks.  There are so many memories here, good and bad.  So many experiences that have forever changed me.  I'm a Mom now.  And I have to take it minute by minute, second by second, placing one unsure foot in front of the other until the next chapter unfolds itself, presenting my humble little family with its next set of challenges and opportunities.

I accomplished the one thing I wanted in this town though, one which will allow me to leave without any regret:  I lived the last 46 months the best I could, and in such a way that allowed me to continue writing a truly interesting story.





Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pop

Blake was checking the perimeter, the sun having just sunk beneath the horizon.  When he heard the shots, he cut into the field.  Finding immediate coverage overruled his desire to go back for his gear.  Instinctually, he disappeared quickly and silently. 

The shots rang out from the west. 

Pop

Pop

Pop.

One shot every five seconds or so.  He began to run, steady and measured.  Several minutes later, he heard another round of gunfire, closer and clustered together coming from the southeast.

Pop pop pop pop pop

He stopped and sank low.  The stuttering noise of what sounded like automatic weapons caused his heart to sink.  He only had his Beretta.  However, even though he was hidden at the moment, crouching near the soft ground, a single spray of bullets would eventually find him. 

He hunched low and began walking quickly north.  Pop pop.  He had to keep moving, only hoping he was headed in a direction away from the gunfire. 

A rigid branch crunched quietly as he shouldered his way deeper into the field, soft tassels brushing his cheek.

He thought about the last time he saw Tommy; he had been coloring at their kitchen table.  When Blake placed his hand on his son’s small shoulder, he looked over and saw the picture was of the American flag.  It was messy and child-like, but there was no mistaking the reds, blues, and blank white spaces marking the familiar stars and stripes.  He could still feel the softness of the boy’s husk-colored hair, streaks of blonde brightened in the summer, just like his mother’s.

There was a sharp pain behind his right eye pulsing with his heartbeat, his vision beginning to blur.  Shaking his head and looking behind him, he saw the field went on and on with rows like black tunnels, bordering high stalks stretching high and thick.  

Boom

Boom

Boom.

He felt the explosions in his chest, rattling his ribcage.  The early July heat was fierce and unrelenting, his undershirt soaked in sweat.  The sky was now black, and the vegetation so dense and straight and unmoving in the still night air.  Suddenly, there was beam of light, quick and fleeting.  It was yellow and artificial, swinging back and forth quickly, searching.
He decided to run in the opposite direction, and after fifteen seconds, he heard their voices.  They were yelling, high with tongues rolling.  He figured they were about a hundred yards away.  Because he only had his handgun, he was able to run much faster than he would have with his rifle and full body armor.  But because of this nakedness, he needed to find somewhere to hide before the band arrived.

Blake cut in and out and between the high growth of the field, trying to avoid bending any stalks and branches which would leave a trail.  Then he heard Sara’s voice causing him to stop.

“Blake!”

This happened all the time.  He imagined hearing his wife at the worst of times, usually deep in the middle of combat. 

“Blake! Where are you!?”

It was both distracting and comforting.  He pushed it away and started running.  He couldn’t afford to be distracted, not when he was this vulnerable.

Pop.

The gunfire sounded further now and less frequent.  Feeling he was in a good position, he slowed to a walk, his shoulders hunched, his pistol raised.  Suddenly, gunfire was everywhere.  It was closer now, above and behind him, no more than fifty yards away.  He stopped, unsure which way to run.  There was a snap of a stalk broken behind him.  He spun and fired once.  Nothing.  There was only an empty row staring blankly in front of him. 

A searing pain abruptly shot behind both of his eyes followed by a wave of nausea so intense he doubled over and nearly fell to his knees.  He tasted char and red meat.  Five seconds.  Ten seconds.  He was wasting too much time.  He knew he had to keep moving, they were too close, there were too many of them.

Boom.  

Pop, pop.  

BoomBoomBoom.   

His mouth was sour with sick, his head pounding.  Every direction he ran, it seemed he was running towards a new enemy with the others right behind him.

His right eye went dark.  The pain in his head was so severe he thought he was going to pass out. He stumbled half-blind, feeling a ridge on either side of his feet.  He didn’t know whether to trust this path or try and fight his way through the thin trees on either side.

“Blake!” 

He wished his wife’s voice was real, feeling the tears stream down his face.  Something caught his foot and tripped him to the ground, his face slamming down hard.  His breath caught in his chest, and he wondered if he should just lay there, waiting for it to be over.  He was so close to giving up.

“BLAKE!” 

He flipped over, the yellow light blinding his remaining left eye, and fired.  POP


The light swayed for a moment, slightly right then left, then fell to the earth.  Blake sat up slowly, and crawled towards the body.  The flashlight was pointing at the person’s feet.  They were small and narrow, wearing red Keds.  He followed the lean tan legs to a denim skirt, then a white tank top with an American flag, blood staining and stretching out from the dark hole in the center of the chest.  He couldn’t see her face at first.  Then, it glowed red.  Pop.  Then blue. Pop.  Then green into purple, pop pop,, and with a deep and overhead boom, it glowed white.  Sara’s eyes were wide, staring up from the ground of their Iowa cornfield, the fireworks scattered in the sky.