Lost

How could she say no, he loved her and that’s why he gave her the pills, like he told her, if he didn’t care he wouldn’t spend his own hard earned money to buy her what she needs to get through her day. Now all she has to do is cook him and his kids, their kids’ dinner. He works so hard ya know, he was dealt a bad hand so he didn’t get a job making what he’s worth, but he found other ways to make money, and he couldn’t go to school because he wouldn’t be able to work and buy her pills. So when he came home from the bar and she questioned him about where he’d been and he lost his temper again and hit her, well it was her fault for being unfair and making him mad. That’s what she told the police anyway when they questioned her, and that’s when she turned to go to her room and ran into the edge of the door cutting her cheek.

So each day she washed his clothes, the kids clothes, cleaned the house, tried to study but after a while she knew it was unfair for her to take so much time away from his kids to study for some class he said she’d never be able to pass anyway, she wasn’t smart enough but he would take care of her…and like he said, he loved her.

There were parts of her day when she started to crash that she questioned whether or not she doing the right thing, there was a part of her that was struggling, a part somewhere inside of her that opposed him but that scared her and she kept it tucked away. That was dangerous thinking. And after a few years her relationship became one more recognizable as a caretaker than as a mother, she couldn’t play with them because she had to make them dinner, what kind of mother would deny her man and his kids dinner?

When the kids were fed and she’d washed the dishes he gave her what she needed, she swallowed them with some warm Pepsi and went off to her bedroom and sat, she waited with her eyes closed as her body began to slump and feel warmer, then her mind drifted off and she lay back on her bed and floated away to some place better. Some place where the sun shone upon her face, where the wind was sweet and she was free. Some place she could wander off to as he came in and stripped her clothes from her, used her, took advantage of her and then left her by herself afterwards to curl up in the corner and hold herself against the torment that came like a slow burning fire day after day. Night after night, and so on, and so on.

Eventually she was lost touch with the outside world, her support structure had been severed, she was manipulated and abused and her soul was in dire straits. When she saw or interacted with others it was through a sort of mask or body suit she wore that no one could see through to feel sorry for her. They didn’t know what was happening inside the dark, dangerous walls of her home, they didn’t know the rot that had infiltrated her body, her mind. Soon no one saw her and she knew it, she became lonely, not lonely like most people feel when they everyone leaves after the party but lonely like there is no one that knows how you feel, like no one understands the pain you feel, like when you find yourself inside of a nightmare and you try to scream aloud but nothing comes out, you have regressed inside of your own mind and lost your way.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon an aunt and uncle leaving the family cabin happened to pass her as she rolled up the driveway, they saw her, she looked into their eyes and smiled and they smiled back and waved as they drove on, they had someplace to be and couldn’t really stop to visit just then. They thought how she didn’t have the kids with her and she was alone but they’d get hold of her later on and check in with her then. So they continued on their way.

Three days later they called her husband because she wasn’t answering her cellphone. He told them how he was upset with her for just up and leaving her kids at home alone with no dinner, how he’d not heard from her either. They didn’t say anything then, not to him but they wondered about the cabin, maybe she finally ran away, no one in the family liked him, they all suspected that he wasn’t a good man. That was all, they were adults and could handle their own affairs.

So they drove to the cabin, there in the driveway was her car. It was cold and the keys were still in the ignition. They checked the cabin but it was empty, in fact the door was still locked from when they’d left, nothing had been disturbed, it appeared as though no one had even stepped inside. He stepped outside and called out to her, she stayed inside and made a few sandwiches, she probably went for a walk, and she’d be hungry when she came back. He began wandering around the cabin, there were a few trails off from the driveway and he thought he’d just wander a bit and see if he found any trace of her.

In a small clearing underneath a tall Poplar, he saw her from behind, she sat in the leaves, and he called to her. He stated that they’d been looking for her, that people were worried. He paused a few yards behind her because he felt sick in his stomach, he didn’t know why but he knew something was wrong. Then he saw her left hand, it lay palm up on the ground next to her hip, he didn’t need to go any further, next to her hand, in the grass, on top of some leaves was a gun. He saw the other side of her head and her hair was matted and darkened with blood.

What happens to a person when they get so lost, so lonely that there is no way out, that their lifeline cannot reach beyond the place within themselves, that dark place that becomes their only safe place? In what world does God allow a mother to go so adrift so as to go missing within themselves, to drown in such sadness that there is absolutely no other way out. And how do those around them not see her?

To my cousin, may she rest free.

The holiday

The holidays always come faster than you think

and then they are here and you almost want them to go away

it seems to be a reminder of what you’ve lost

of the memories that once were

and the people no longer with you.

Today I have a family

but it’s not my family from birth

I try and be joyful

but I am sad.

One day

maybe things will feel differently

but until then

I celebrate for being alive

when once I thought I wouldn’t see another year.

Faces

Have you ever gone an extended amount of time without seeing someone?  Maybe they live far away and all you do is talk with them on the phone, maybe they are distant relatives and you see them once or twice a year, or maybe you haven’t seen someone because you grew apart, one upset at the other; and your hurt too much by their words and actions, or maybe you both decided it is better to go your separate ways.

Yesterday I went to my dad’s shop.  I drove into the parking lot and his truck was parked in the back.  The previous three times I had gone there in the past 9 months, he wasn’t there.  His lot was empty, his shop closed, and my heart still broken.  We haven’t seen eye to eye for quite some time.  My decisions don’t exactly measure up to his plans for me.  He couldn’t understand my logic or my life’s path.  So, there was silence.  A long silence.  And a distance grew between us even though we were only 20 miles apart.  So I would take out a piece of paper, write a note on it, “Dad, I miss you. I love you. Wish you were here so I could say hi.”  I taped it to his front door, sat in my car for a few minutes, cried, and then drove away.

During those months of silence my heart ached.  It ached out of loneliness and sadness.  It ached for losing my father, for thinking I wouldn’t hear his voice again and see his face, or feel his skin on my skin.  It’s a devastating thing, to have family torn apart, ripped at the seams that once were sewn in place so  carefully.  With my little sister across the world and speaking badly about me, my older sister second guessing my decisions, and my dad upset with me, it left my mom in the middle.  By no means was she happy with my decisions, but nonetheless we tried to remain somewhat in touch, somewhat civil.  I’m sure some will ask why?  Well, because, we are family and there is love between us, and when nobody else talked to me, I tried to mend things with my mom.

I remember there were times I cried, I sobbed, I couldn’t control my emotions, and the tears just poured out of my eyes.  I couldn’t stop the pain and hurt that I felt inside and I wondered how could I go on without speaking to my parents.

But on this day, my dad’s truck was there.  Part of me was nervous, and excited, and part of me fearful.  It had been 9 months since I saw him and now was the moment I had been hoping and waiting for.  I knocked on the front door of his shop, my heart pounding.  I put my forehead onto the glass and peered in, I saw him walking towards me.  He unlocked the door and opened it.  We both smiled at each other.  Father and daughter face to face.  I looked at him, his face old, tired, thin, his hair gray, he seemed to have shrunk, I was just about as tall as he was now, his back hunched over slightly, and his belt seemed to hug his body tighter.  I was certain he had lost weight. Time doesn’t stop when you grow distant, it keeps going, people get older. Faces change and age is more easily seen. He will be 68 next month and after months of not seeing him, he is looking like an old man.

I said, it’s good to see you.  He said it’s good to see you too.  As he started to talk about his work and walk into the shop, I asked, can I give you a hug?  He paused, turned to me and we embraced.  It was short hug, he patted my back and let go, that sort of hug was not unusual for him.  But then I said, a longer hug, please.  I held on tightly to him, my arms wrapped around his body, not wanting him to go.  After a moment, he softened, and we hugged, for real.  He started to tear up, as did I.  I whispered I love you and I have missed you in his ear, and he said I love you too.  As the hug finished we stepped back from each other, I looked at him, and couldn’t believe how much time I have lost because of not seeing him.  But on this day, I was grateful for him, for the time together, and for being near him.

The Pain I can’t Turn Away

The look in her eyes turns foggy, faded, as if she were pulling away.

Her lips pursed and her complexion sallow.

I am honest with her, I tell her what I think, and I think she is an alcoholic.

The air turns thick and rancid, I take a step back and she bites, and she bites hard.

Her sharp tongue lashing out like rogue flames from a roaring fire, her tone dark and mean.

I love who she is when the waters are calm, she is kind, and she is funny, but I hate her when

she is called to defend her behavior.

Like all of us she has her days and nights, her ups and down, her peaks and valleys.

And I accept her for who she is through-out all of it, in spite of her inaccurate accusations,

her scars, her shadows and her fears.

She is my little sister, she is my niece’s mother, she is my only full blood sibling, and she is the bane of my frustration.

It hurts when I am honest and she disappears, when she claims I don’t care and turns away, returning to the shadows again.

I know how it feels to melt away, to sink back into the dark pool of shame and fear.

I know what it means to want to simply vanish, from the pain, from what hurts and from the love

you can’t allow yourself to deserve.

I wish I could show her the way, but her map is different, it has places I have crossed off on mine,

scary places and hard places, and places I have succumb to and survived, and I hope that one day she may too.

In the meanwhile it hurts, to watch and to see, to hear and to feel.

There will be days again when she wanders by a little too closely, just enough to feel a little warmth, just to know it’s still there and I will respond in kind and absorb what I can of her then, knowing it won’t last, knowing soon after she will disappear again.

$800 Worth

If I gave you $800 free and clear, what is the first thing that comes to mind, what would you think of doing with that money? You might consider paying off a bill with it, but what if that’s not a factor? Would you invest it? Would you buy a new jacket? What if I gave you some options?

Say I gave you $800 to spend on getting and purchasing senior pictures for one of your children; with that you might cover a sitting fee, a dozen shot options, in the end a hand full of wallets, maybe an 8 x 10 and possibly a couple of 5 x 7s, and of course that is only one pose mind you, but it’s difficult to see which images look best in those tiny “here are your images from the I’m so kitschy studios in an email…don’t mind the giant cross hatch over your face with the studio name across in the opposite direction, but, if you’d like you can get a conveniently bound booklet with slightly larger images of each of your shot options on poorly digitized paper (so you can’t snap a copy with your phone) for only $50.

Of course you do realize that the outfit you choose can’t be the same as the one you shot the picture for the year book which you were required to have done at the other studio for the school so you’d better make certain you have multiple dresses and other outfits that nobody has seen you wear throughout the year.

Or, how about you take that money and visit the Grand Bahia Principe le Romana in the Dominican Republic, or how about the Casa de los Cosmonauts near Havana, Cuba? Maybe you’d rather take in some sights around Montreal, Canada. For half of that you can go to Banff, AB by plane or by train for less than a third of it, and that’s round trip. You would of course have still had the $45 picture taken for the year book that’ll cost you another $56. And you might need to get creative with your graduation announcements, using pictures you’ve taken from your own summer adventures with your family and friends. It’s another option that I believe deserves consideration.

I think everyone no matter their economic class can relate to needing to strap back a little on costs throughout the year due to our fluttering economy, and maybe we have all taken a serious look at how we choose to spend our money and what resources we use, and how we use those resources. Costs aren’t’ going down across the board so it behooves us to study options when making larger purchases. And especially when considering those larger purposes is it not smart to consider also the impact that purchase may have on our daily lives, will it enhance or inhibit?

When I look at photographs, and I love pictures, I have a wall covered in images taken over just the last summer of my children playing in cool, crisp creeks up North and jumping from granite cliffs in Grand Rapids, canoeing down the Minnehaha Creek through town, playing softball and hanging out in the local lakes. When I look at these pictures I see smiling kids, laughing kids, faces lit up with joy and I remember those times because I was there. I know that the smiles mean they were enjoying themselves and those family and friends around them. And then I feel good. When I look at other peoples pictures of those same activities or even just hanging out in their backyards I know too that they enjoyed themselves because you can see it in their faces. Now take a school picture, or a graduation photo shoot picture and tell me what they were thinking about, I can’t see their selves, I can see no scars, I can see no sunburn, I can’t see their colic and there aren’t even any birthmarks or freckles…they look so photo-shopped that they appear as clean and fresh as Barbie.

What message is this giving our daughters and our sons for that matter? I think that requires and begs for some consideration.

The gods, Six Women and a Wedding

The gods pinged me again. They had no sense of decency, coming in right there on the outside steps of the Rotunda just before my son walked me down the aisle at his wedding. I turned and saw the reflection of us standing there in the glass door. I saw us clearly. I saw us from where the gods saw us from way out there somewhere. That’s me, in the long elegant black dress, hair all done up around my head, one hand holding my son’s arm and the other dangling a black shawl, like a child holds a blanket. We look alike. Both tall, both slim. Then the ping. It suddenly seemed strange that the cells of this 6’2” man spun off and popped out of my body and ended up standing next to me as a full grown man, irreversibly tied to me, no matter what.

They’ve been after me all my life, those gods. I don’t know what I did, but it must have been something big. They are determined I must go through life backwards. Maybe they thought I had it too easy. Maybe they thought I had too much life, that I saw too much good in the world. Or maybe they just thought I was shallow and needed to learn a lesson or two.

But I’m here, at this wedding and I’m smiling while this man, this man the gods forced through my body at 18 and out into the world, before either of us were ready, is saying his vows today. In spite of the gods watching us.
And I see his hands, the pigment gone white, in irregular lines, that look like drawings of continents against the darker skin. And now the nails, warping at the base. His tux is a little too big now, with the weight loss, the tiny incision holes over the kidneys hidden. But he looks fine. He is fine, still.

Even the grand matriarch on the bride’s side, the grandmother, caught me in the bathroom and said “We just love Calvin and are glad to have him come into the family.”

I said, “He’s only on loan.” She didn’t know what I meant with those words.

And they look fine, he and his radiant bride, later at the head table, smiling and laughing, so beautiful, so full of promise, so ready to do the marriage and children scene, all the way till. . . . I can’t say the word.

He found the right one. I feel a mother’s love toward that.
I said my speech. “You want so much for your children, you want things to go right, to be easier for them. And with these two, I think they are they lucky ones who have it all.” Or something like that. Tears well up in my voice and I stop. People clap for me and I sit down. I should be feeling wildly ecstatic right now, that they married their best friend and it’s going to be a good marriage, but that just makes it worse. Bastard gods! I’m mad and getting more mad by the minute.

I mean, what were the gods thinking? They dropped that boy on me before I even had a chance to get out there in the world. They stole that from me, my youth, my choices. But I got over it. And now, when I’m getting older, they’ve come to steal him back before I’m gone? I mean what the hell? What’s the point? For god’s sake, can someone please tell me what.they.were.thinking?

I must have been mouthing some pretty good swear words, in the middle of this beautiful reception because soon Mae, tall Mae with black braids and feathers at the end trailing down her back, came up to me and grabbed my arm.

“Come on Maggie,” she said and pulled me toward the door. I quietly let her lead me. As we passed tables, Janice stood up and joined us. Then Linda, and Maria and Sookie. We stepped out of the glass room, into the darkness and headed down to the amphitheater in the small lake.

All six of us, in our beautiful dresses and high-heeled shoes, wine glasses in our hands, crossed the bridge and stepped onto the circle of grass where hours before the vows were spoken. We lined up in a row. Six beautiful women, aged 36 to 56, strong women. Each of us had been pinged by the gods, as a mother or sister or wife, all of us angry at the gods at one time or other. We stood facing the lake under clouds tinged pink from the huge lights coming out of the glass building behind us.

Our heels sunk deep into the earth.

Then we gathered a strong breathe, and howled. We howled, again and again, more and more, at the top of our lungs, the sound skimming across the lake, shaking up into the trees. Six she wolves, snarling and snapping back. And as we sunk deeper into the earth, howls of women past rose up through our feet, filling our bodes and shaking our chests, their voices joining ours in our throats. And with one final voice, we pinged those gods back with a howl from every woman past, present and future.

Then we were quiet.

We waited as our howl released into the sky and out of sight and the lake became just a lake and the trees just trees.

Mae looked at me. She was talking to me without words, but I could hear her say “you all right now Maggie.”
I drop my head into one accepting nod, our cue to pulled our heels out of ground and make our way back to the glass building.

(c) Copyright Shelley Maasch, All Rights Reserved