Saturday, May 31, 2014

Secret Handshake

It is the late 1970s. We have just moved to Cleveland, and my parents have started taking me to church every Sunday. In our new home, my father is suddenly no longer an atheist, and he follows my mother back to the religion of her childhood. I’ve been in the choir of the Methodist church, and I’m confused about why we can’t join that one instead. They are nice to me there. The rituals of this new church make no sense to me, and I observe the routine with a mixture of skepticism and bewilderment.

“What are they doing?” I’m whispering, because that’s what you do when you’re a child in a big room.

“They’re making the sign of the cross.”

“Little tiny ones?” I’m really confused now.


They want me to be quiet. They want me to fit in and play along, but I don’t understand. “Why?”

A suppressed sigh. Everything is like that now. Muted, so the world won’t hear and judge. “So that God is in their thoughts, on their lips, and in their hearts.”

I want to ask what it means, but I don’t. We’re right under the priest’s nose, and I don’t want to upset him. He’s wearing a wide robe that shines with crimson and gold. I want to ask about that, too, but I don’t.

My mother has dressed me up, and the pleats of my skirt are gauzy and sharp. I gather them with my fingers, a slippery pink accordion. My mother puts a book under my nose, and the fabric falls away.

“Follow along.”

It’s a small book, white plastic and inexplicably puffy. Jesus is inside. He has children on his lap, and he’s laughing. Everyone looks relaxed and happy. I want to find the right words in the book. I want to understand what is going on up on the massive table. If I can find the words, God will put me on his lap, and we can laugh together.

I don’t find the words. I’ve kept quiet, because all of this is new. This city speaks differently. The children don’t want to play with me. My accent is weird, and they don’t like the things I imagine. “Idea” has no R at the end. I can’t have a frappe. I can’t ride the swan boats.

We played in Boston. Back in Boston, I was the Queen of All Seasons and the Captain of the Kissing Girl Team. Here, I am not. Not heard. Not seen.

It’s hard for me to understand why suddenly it is a sin to sleep in on a lazy Sunday morning. The priest tells me that I can go to hell if I don’t go to church on Sunday. No, the Sundays before don’t count. Starting now, though. My concepts of right and wrong are absolute at this age, and I can’t understand what has changed.

I’m going to be Catholic now. Hell is something I need to worry about now. I ask the priest why people believe, if they can avoid hell just by not knowing any better. He sighs.

When I’m sad, I tell my father I want to go home. All the way back, to before church, before Ohio, and even before Boston. My family is in Kansas. I want to go home. I want to understand the words and the gestures and the rules. Nothing here makes sense. I want to pet my grandfather’s dog, play with my cousins, and be far away from these mystifying people and their strange words and gestures that no one ever explains.

My father tells me that Kansas isn’t home. He tells me that if we went back, the place I want still wouldn’t be there. He tells me home doesn’t exist, so I need to be happy here.

I want to be where I belong, but I’m out of sync here. I don’t know what to say while the rosary beads slip through my fingers. I don’t understand what the other kids seem to. I stay silent.

When we all go to high school seven years later, one of the girls speaks to me. She hasn’t before, except to tease on the playground, but now she is new. I am familiar.

“Aren’t you nervous?”


“How do we figure out where to go?”

“Just follow everyone else. It’ll be fine.”

“How can you be so calm?” She’s demanding now, unsettled that the misfit is now stronger than her.

I shrug and move away. This is nothing. I can do this. It’s an even playing field because we’re all new. We’re beginning at the very start of the process rather than being thrown into the middle of the machinery like a wayward screwdriver. This time, we all have to learn these new rules.

How hard could it be? The skirts are polyester, and the pleats are sewn in like the Will of God. My imagination slips out in my words now and then, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not confused, so they like me here. I’m not the awkward girl who doesn’t understand.

I still want to go home.

College comes, and I go. It’s Pennsylvania this time, but by now, I am used to this. The school is a microcosm that I soon carve into, making my place. I have friends, and a boy who says he loves me even though my words aren’t what he wants to hear. I let my imagination out of its box a bit more, I experiment with words, and I say goodbye to the boy. Another boy loves me, and I let him.

I don’t want to go home.

I come back to Cleveland, bringing my boy with me. At first, there is the dream of the next adventure. We can go anywhere, be anything. I consider Alabama. England. Boston. Kansas. And then I look around at where I am.

I may not have understood the motions in church, the unwritten rules of Catholic school, or the ordered suburban lives of my peers back then. But now I find myself in Cleveland, and I understand. There is Playhouse Square, where I saw Yule Brenner and Beverly Sills. I learned to change the theater lights and lace up toe shoes at the Beck Center. The Cleveland Institute of Art showed me that hair is more than just one color, and Severance Hall showed me how music feels when it reverberates off your heart and into your bones. I’ve learned to sing, to paint, to dance, and to write here.

(The violin was a disaster, and I never learned to cook.)

A lot of the old places are gone, but the old places are being made new. The people here shine, and they open themselves to the idea of what a city, a neighborhood, or one old building could be. There is life here, and instead of a secret handshake, a hand is thrust out to pull you into the chaos and wonder of it all. You can be one hundred people here and live every life imaginable.

So this is home now. I came home, but I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Conversations in my Life

I recently came across a little log I was keeping of strange little exchanges I had (or overheard) throughout the course of my days. It's a couple years old, but some of them made me laugh, so I thought I'd share.

May 7, 2012

Shorty: "What does the S in 'socks' stand for?"
Me: *guzzles more coffee*

May 13, 2012

Teenager: "Mom, Shorty is messing with my room's protons."
Me: "Shorty, no messing with other people's protons without permission."

May 15, 2012

My mother: "You can't be a maverick when you're married with kids."
Me: "Watch me."

May 17, 2012

Board of Education employee (all excited): "Do you write children's books?"
Me (choking slightly): "Um... no."
Awkward pause.
Board of Education employee: "Oh."

May 27, 2012

92-year-old great aunt (and Joplin, MO, resident): "I haven't been going to church since it blew away."
Me:  "Way to get off on a technicality!"

May 29, 2012

92-year-old Great-Aunt: "I go to the beauty shop, and all the magazines have articles on how to lose weight. It makes me mad. Where are the articles on how to GAIN weight? I don't even have anything to sit on anymore!"
Me: ---

Mother's Cousin: "He got up from the dinner table to go to the bathroom, and he showed up a week later in Mexico."
Me: ---

Mother: "I miss Daddy. There's no one to say 'There's where the poop goes' when we drive past the water treatment plant."
Uncle: "I don't think Dad ever said 'poop'. He wasn't a 'poop' kind of guy."
Me: ---

Driving through area of Joplin destroyed one year ago by a tornado:
Mother: "If you think it looks bad now, you should have seen it a year ago!"
Me: *biting tongue*

June 10, 2012

Teen's friend: "I got $120 bucks for graduation!"
Teen: "So? I got a sonic screwdriver, a TARDIS USB hub, and a Minecraft t-shirt. That's WAY better."

June 14, 2012

Shorty: “Can I go to Grandma & Grandpa's?”
Me: “No, they're meeting with the President today.”
Shorty: “The President of what?”
Me: “The United States.”
Shorty: “Okay. How about tomorrow, then?”
Me: “You are a hard kid to impress, you know.”

July 2, 2012

Shorty: "What are dogs' armpits for?"
Me: ----

July 5, 2012

Me (to cat): "Aw, who's my precious girl?"
Hubs (raises hand): "ME!"
Me: ---

July 12, 2012

My Teenager: "The worst part about being in the Legions of the Undead is that you get killed quickly."
Me: "Okay, but did you do the laundry?"

July 14, 2012

Me: "I really don't want you playing violent games."
Shorty: "It's not violent. It's just guns."
Me: "Wow. I really am a crap parent."

July 15, 2012

My Mother: "We have a present for you. Your father and I had a portrait done, and we got you a framed print."
Me: "Um... okay..."
My Mother: "It's too late to bring it over tonight, but we'll get it to you as soon as we can, okay?"
Me: "No rush, really."

July 18, 2012

Teenager: "Mom, your accent is slipping again."
Me: "Damn."
Teenager: "You have a real problem with that."
Me: "Oh, shut up."

July 30, 2012

Me: "Hey, I need you to watch Shorty tomorrow for a bit. I'm going with Aunt Sydney to get a tattoo."
Teenager, without even blinking: "Okay."

August 8, 2012

Me: "Okay, quiet please, because I'm working."
Shorty: "Okay."
Shorty: "Hey, Mom - guess who the king of the beavers is!"
Me: *sigh*

August 18, 2012

Shorty: "Mom, where's my Doctor Who backpack?"
Me: "I ordered it, but it's not here yet."
Shorty: "When's it gonna get here?"
Me: "In about a month."
Shorty: "?!?!? Whyyyyyyy? That's no fair!"
Me: " 'Gee, I sure am lucky my mom will get me cool stuff from halfway across the world. I'll have to wait patiently to show my gratitude.' You are really spoiled, you know that?"
Shorty: "But Moooooom..."
Me: "Oh, go blow something up and leave me alone. Brat."

Me (to Husband): "You're such a jerk."
Hubs: "Thanks. I practice in the mirror."
Me: --- (Can't speak because I'm laughing too hard.)

August 22, 2012

Shorty: "Look what I found in my pocket today! A missile!"
Me: .......

August 27, 2012

Shorty (to his father): "Dad, do me a solid."

Hubs: "Hey, get Shorty some orange juice."
Me: "I gave him life - can't YOU give him orange juice?"

September 6, 2012

Shorty watching the last episode of Doctor Who 2005 season: "He just left Jack behind?"
Me: "Yes."
Shorty: "That was rude!"

Shorty: "Is the sun ever going to expand?"
Me: "Sure, eventually."
Shorty: "What day?"
Me: "How should I know? We'll be long gone, so it's not like it matters."
Me: ----

September 8, 2012

Teenager: "But, Mom, I can't go to bed yet! Somewhere out there, someone is being wrong on the Internet!"
Me: "Fine. Two more hours."

September 25, 2012

                Me: “No one takes themselves as seriously as the young and the rich.”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Flirting with Poetry

In recent months, I've written a handful of poems. While they may not have much merit, they're mine, so I thought I'd share them here.

We Were Green

It was green.
We were flying and the sun-dappled wonder
Became our hearts while our minds
Clasped hands to burn sunlight
The wonder so hard to reach and the blue
So far away.
But the wisps of dream colors would stay
Until the breeze carried thickening down
To the sparkling dark-diamonds of farewell.
We were young.
The warmth kept us safe
So that hearts could pound
Arms could reach
Feet could dance
Songs could soar
Until the day when they couldn’t anymore.
But I recall how it felt back then
When it was green.


I loved you so much more
When you were waxy and gray
And the whole world stood on you
While I whistled
Now you are golden and untouched
And it’s all very sad to me
The only thing that I like
Is your plinth
And only because of the word
Rolls off the tongue
And if you rolled
Your perch would be precarious
And you might say
No more rolling for you because
Even if you fell
I don’t think I’d love you anymore
But I would still enjoy saying it
Won’t you miss it, though
The bombastic abuse
And the unicorn-fiction
Of your hopes that someday
I’d stop whistling
And they’d see you
Waxy and gray and so lovely
The way you were to me
When I whistled

Boarding House Requiem

When open, the eyes do sing aloud and long and shimmer
But closing, bend the weight of care along forgetful paths
So, too, must I go before you to open, close, and fade
The garment worn when open still is shed and shreds and shatters
Your persistent face I think will stay upon my path the longest
Though mine was a shadow to you even before we met
And my garments now bear the print of your eyes
Can I walk this way without your hands having laid the very stones
Or do my works mark the measure of the steps of your own
Sight unwavering though I fail to blink and blush and stammer and hold
Because if I were to lose myself now…
Where would you go?
There is a requiem that has played since that birth
We together constructed these worlds, these hearts, these pains
The children of our hearts did sing so loudly for a time
Until clasped hands unclenched and the clock advanced
Eyes close even as the cloth wraps more tightly
My lips form the truths that I cannot speak aloud
I know you; I know you; I know you—
And that truest heart for which we both mourn is the one we created together.


I am selfish and childish
Out-of-turn, wildish
And still, here I stay at your feet

Your vanity is apparent
But my devotion is inherent
The balance clings you to me

Cruel and so brittle
Bitter and uncivil
Cold was the day we did meet

Trapped and constrained
In love have I changed
There is no will in me to be free

If you were kinder
Or if I were blinder
Two different people we’d be

So I worship your claws
You adore all my flaws
And in mutual pain we do cleave

Parisian Mime's Lament

I could hold you close, but you’re gone
I’ve lost any hope of you, and you’re gone
And I’m miles away from who you are today
I could have held you once, but you’re gone.

I could face your fears, but you’re gone
Those battles you lost, and you’re gone
And my arms reach out to soothe your doubt
I could have helped you once, but you’re gone.

I could kiss your lips, but you’re gone
I tried but missed, and you’re gone
And though I ache for you like I expected to
I could have loved you more, but you’re gone.

Regrets are like Roses

Regrets are like roses,
Their tender thorns
Do prick and wound
With beautiful scorn
And e'er the soul know discontent
The flower blooms and soon is spent.


If I asked
Would you even
Try to find
A lie
That might quiet me
Make my question
As my words so often
To you are
Refracting off
Diamond-hard conviction
That your reasons are
So much better than mine
But you still
Will not even say

My Love is Like

My love is like a red, red rose
My hate is like a garden hose
And all the spaces in between
Fertile with words I didn't mean