Notes from the Nest, 5/13/2020

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Dear Family & Friends,

It’s me, Kristine, and I’m writing to see how you are.

(Insert your long, rambly, detailed answer here, PLEASE!)

I, remarkably, (and often begrudgingly), am still alive!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, I am appreciating colorful, bursting flowers and occasional sunny days, maybe more than ever. I am trying to take a walk up and down our street every day, usually in my pajamas. I am reading more.

Mostly, though, I am trying to keep away from the news, so that my wine-to-whine ratio stays calibrated.

This whole pandemic thing is no fun. It is scary and upsetting, massively inconvenient. Mostly, though, it leaves a vacuum in my mind’s eye where once danced lively images – talking to people here and there, seeing new faces, going fun places…

Sigh. What’s one to do?

Well, today my coping mechanism is rather ‘old-school’ – I’m writing everyone I know an actual letter!

Where shall I begin? (It’s surprisingly HARD to write a letter nowadays. Communication these days is mostly short little bursts. Memes. Texts. Emojis. How do sentences start again? A whole paragraph – ack!)

Anyway, an ‘I’m fine’ doesn’t seem adequate. Not now. Because we’re all morphing into different social creatures, in small but large ways, too. Some have altered their whole lives obediently, with nary a complaint, while others acquiesce in forced, painful bits and pieces, but no matter which way you FEEL about it, it is happening. Our long-gone days of planning, and doing, suddenly seem quaint and cherished as old photographs.

One thing that helps, for me, is reading. It more readily takes my mind out of me, more swiftly than even tv or the internet can do these days. And it slows me down, mentally (Which, pre-pandemic, felt almost uncomfortable). But now, reading somehow feels soothing. The book I just finished, ‘The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating’, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey , details the author’s long illness wherein she’s ‘gifted’ a wild snail to watch, which she does while she’s lying, bedridden, for months at a time. She talks about how intricate the snail’s life actually is, on close and thorough inspection. “The life of a snail is as full of tasty food, comfortable beds of sorts, and a mix of pleasant and not-so-pleasant adventures as that of anyone I know,” she discovers.

Indeed, snails were gliding along the earth long before we humans were. And with their silent, slippery strides they might long outlive us, too.

Time stretches in front of us now, vast and unconquerable as the shadowy world seen by the snail.

“A snail unhappy with its dining options or uncomfortable with the weather will go dormant. Its heart rate slows to just a few beats per minute, and its oxygen intake diminishes to one-fiftieth of its active use…Like Sleeping Beauty, a snail may not wake until circumstances are favorable – though, like Rip Van Winkle, it may wake into a changed world.”

We’re all ‘dormant’ now, aren’t we? And it feels alien to our species, especially at this point in history with flying transport, instant messaging, 24-hour news.

Which is why I think receiving a letter – an old-fashioned letter! – now and again, by email, would be nice. So I will try to send a short note on how I’m doing once in a while, and I hope you’ll do the same.

Please know that I am here  – kristiannakirk@hotmail.com — if you ever want to chatter or whine (I’m very good at both!), if you need to contemplate moving on or moving up (still a real estate broker, eager to help!) or if you simply want to share your ‘dormancy’ with another semi-upright creature, eager to listen to you chew.

Until then –

Kristine

Good Spirits

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P.S. I don’t usually write Post Scripts (see Bedhead) but then again, I’m not usually swept up in a global pandemic. So, here goes:

I am better. I am! Thank you all for your kind words and wishes.

But since it’s my blog, I get to be honest, and gripe a bit, too. For am I gadding about, filled with gumption and ‘in good spirits’ yet?

No, no I am not.

This is partly because I am still coughing quite a bit, which no one appreciates these days. Also my neck throbs, a feeling so persistent I fear my lungs and neck shall never be unsore again. Add to that, I now live with three bored-out-of-their-mind teenagers, which is a blog post unto itself. There are more squabbles and dishes than I ever thought possible. But mostly the reason I’m not great, yet, is because I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, medically speaking. As such, a global pandemic in name alone, paired alongside my strange sickness over these last few months, has brought my PTSD flaring to the surface, like a bad rash that’s enveloped every inch of you, even the inside of your ears and that weird, frog-like, stretchy skin connecting your thumb to its opposable digits.

Historically speaking, I’ve been ill plenty, stuck in the hospital many times, yet never, ever while I was there was I ‘in good spirits’. How any of the world’s leading news outlets can define Boris Johnson’s recent stay in the ICU, quoting that exact phrase with faux-seriousness, is beyond me. It’s as if all politicians and new outlets are resigned – nay relishing – fanciful lying now, even the BBC!

I write this because my stance is, was, and will continue to be – no one is ‘in good spirits‘ in an ICU, and rarely in the hospital proper. The two terms  – hospitalized/good spirits – cancel each other out.

As an example I offer one of my own hospital stays, wherein I was suffering from a twin pregnancy; several concurrent kidney stones; ptyalism (wherein you cannot swallow), and hyperemesis, my case debilitating enough that a PIC line was inserted through my arm so I could theoretically absorb 8 hours of intraveinous fluids at home, if at some point I made it home. I also, charmingly, lacked control over my bowels and couldn’t eat by mouth, whereby I offered the world little more than a larvael presence, lying atop the bed, drooling from both ends.

It was at this bleak moment that my care team decided I needed a ‘mental health counselor’ to rouse me to rally, hopeful to restore my mental vigor into something approaching ‘good spirits’.

An order was duly placed, and at long last a ‘professional’ appeared. She entered, adjusting her short, tight pencil skirt and white button-up blouse confidant as Ally McBeal herself. Drawing close, this twenty-something girl clutched her clipboard, trying not to visibly back away from my pungeant persona. Perched like a songbird on the very edge of the bedside chair, she raised her clipboard high enough to block the vision of thick, copious spit frothing from my mouth onto the bedsheets, at last chirping, ‘How might I help you today, Mrs. Kirk?’.

She actually did refer to me as Mrs. Kirk. As if it were the 1940’s and I but a miserly madam, laid up with a heap of lady hysteria. Well…perhaps you can picture my rage.

Or perhaps you genuinely fail to fathom why I was bothered at all, what with a lovely, young ingenue leaning over me, eager to listen and learn.

I’ll merely reiterate –  I was incensed. How dare they send in this girl, this waifling, who’d as yet stumbled only between a classroom and upscale-bar, to help me! Utilizing a hail-mary surge of strength I clutched the bed railing, rising enough to spit-growl, “Get out! Get the hell out of my room!”

When the powers that be sought a professional to counsel me in my time of need, they should have offered a Russian Babushka, damn it, the old woman waddling into my room with her lopsided, droopy breasts cradled atop her rounded stomach, still mountainous as bread after all these years. She’d have known enough to forgo the chair entirely, squatting instead to recall the birth of her own twins there in the snow, alongside three ragggedy kidney stones, barely bigger than barley seeds. Watery-eyed, she’d remember wrapping the cantankerous lot of ’em within a woolen sweater pulled from her own back, bundling the bodily-offerings deep inside a cavernous bag full of freshly dug potatoes, before trudging back to the Dacha so as to prepare the evening meal herself.

Perhaps she might have roused my spirits…a bit!

All of which is to say, being in the hospital, by definition, means you’re no longer able to just ‘grin and bear it’. You’re not capable of ‘beating this thing through willpower.’ (White mans’ bullshit, truly). And you’re certainly not in good spirits unless they’ve hooked you up to morphine, demerol, or both, and even then you’re far too miserable to appreciate it.

My mother was a nurse, back in the 1950’s and 60’s, and it’s fair to say she’s still haunted by those hospital halls and weeping walls. One night one of her patients illicitly lit a cigarette while in his hospital bed, sitting up, seemingly ‘in good spirits’, whereupon he burst into flame. Running in, Nurse Mary had to try to save him. Imagine – your patient on fire! Throwing herself on top of him to smother the flames, he died despite her heroism, there beneath her, for which she was promptly reprimanded. And that, my friends, is a bad, sad, maddening day of work, one that no amount of pay will ever shake away.

Hospitals are hellish places that function purely on the hope that you will get out of there, soon. As such, if you are a person who has been admitted into the hospital for something severe, chronic, or unexpectedly, tragically horrible, I believe you walk around the rest of your days heaving a great, big, inaudible sigh that at least you are not there. And that feeling – that dread, that knowledge, that memory – is what I call Post Traumatic Stress. I know my mother has it. I believe I do, too. And millions and millions of your fellow citizens bear it already, or will soon experience it, way worse than we do.

So let’s loosen our grip on this national, maddening mantra of ‘wellness’ and ‘fortitude’.  Those mindsets are coping mechanisms, surely, but with thousands upon thousands of people going in and hopefully coming out of hospitals these days, all who are in one way or another attempting to bear and beat this truly terrible virus, let’s not demand ‘good spirits’ on top of that, nor talk about this in terms of willpower. Sigh. 

For once, let’s call a lie a lie. If you are able to return to your home, keep your home, hell-  have a home! – after this pandemic is over, and can still shakily pour yourself a stiff tumbler of scotch, then we’ll talk about ‘good spirits’, ok? 

 

 

 

Bedhead

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  At some point the weather report for the Seattle area this week called for snow. Actual snow. In April. Yet there has been no snow. Obviously that matters not at all, given that we’re all inside. Yet the underlying issue remains – weather reports specifically tailored for this part of the country are wrong most of the time. So much so, that sometimes I take photos of the weather report to document how wrong they are, showing one and all, seeking commiseration. Yet no one cares. Not one person even blinks funny.

Which, for me, begs the question…if daily weather is this difficult to predict in one specific zone of the world, why do it? How are you being paid for a job where you are wrong approximately 80% of the time? Is there any other corporate position that you could continually keep, (besides being President of the United States, obviously) in which you were completely, factually wrong most of the time, yet people still abided by your words and touted your predictions with an air of utter seriousness?

Sigh. Well, anyways, none of it makes a whiff of difference to me personally because the weather no longer affects my daily well-being. For we’re all quarantined, suddenly picturing ourselves as Grandma Josephine in the bleak, bedridden Bucket household; poor Frida Kahlo contained within her casts; the crying Colin Craven sick outside the Secret Garden; Matisse making do with hasty marks upon the wall.

My personal quarantine began mid-January, when I first came down with a hideous flu. At that time I was knocked asunder for several days, shivering with body aches, overcome by nauseau and malaise. Yet eventually I rebounded, or so I thought, rising to redress, eager to harness not only a bra at last but a bit of good, old-fashioned brain power.  But alas, my health continually faltered, sending me right back to bed. February passed about as easily as a kidney stone. Then my 50th birthday arrived, upon which occassion I received a miserly share of Covid-19.

Of course, technically I’m unable to verify that proclamation, because lacking a high fever or celebrity status they won’t actually test you, but it’s what I believe. I suddenly had the deep, dry cough, plus my lungs felt oddly yeast-like – full of a rising, thick batter that left me breathing shallow and panicked – an unsettling sensation indeed. For nearly two weeks I languished like this, without fever yet bearing many other Covid-ish symptoms, until poof! the lymph nodes on the left side of my neck expanded like a terribly belated birthday balloon.

Best Wishes to You on Your Happy Day! my neck seemed to scream.

Funny fact: one does not appreciate one’s neck until it is no longer able to hold up the accompanying head, heavily tottering like an eight pound bag of precious flour atop its waif-like stem.

Now, somehow, it’s April. April! And snow! Still, here I lie, my wobbly head spilling it’s jumbled thoughts upon the splayed pillows like so many discarded jacks upon the floor. (Does beauty exist if no one sees it? Does the President saying it’s so actually make it so? If a tree falls in a forest…)Thankfully, the lymph nodes on my left have resumed their pre-pandemic size, only to have this week the ones on the right rise faster than Damon’s home-baked bread. All this while my pill bottle collection undertakes its own exponential growth, so vast and varied now that my regular nightstand has been upgraded to an actual table.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Damon and the three girls bounce around with nary a sniffle, eating constantly, bickering endlessly, bemoaning this slow-rising ‘boring’ life of homeliness. (Does beauty exist if no one’s there to see it?)

What’s your password, mom?” one girl after another yell up to me, day upon day, attempting to share the one laptop kindly as a used kleenex. 

“It’s Pandemonium!” I groan. “Remember?”

Alas, that is truly my password. It has been for a long time now, well before January.

It’s easy to remember, at least for me. And who cares how many people know it? We all know it. Everyone’s password is pandemonium now, in one way or another.  

So I’m keeping it, at least until my neck firms.

For me, for now, I’m hanging on, albeit horizontally.

How you doin’, my friend?  I’m happy to share my password with you, if you need it!

 

 

Jello for Gingers

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Twenty-five years ago I had a baby.

I was the first within my friend-circle to have a child, and I had had a miserable, job-losing pregnancy (Yes, that’s a real thing that happens to lots of women, not just me), and the night before my baby was born I went out into our tiny, little galley kitchen around 3 am to whip up some green jello.

But there, amid the hushy gloom, I failed to see the dishwasher door left ajar, covering nearly the entire kitchen floor. So I crashed down upon it, my hands thwacking onto the ground, my huge belly squashed tight against the linoleum, my legs straight out behind me, straddling the dishwasher door. If you happened upon the scene, you might think I was planking in some bad-ass, nine-months’ pregnant sort of way.

Yet I was not planking, I merely wanted jello. As such I lay there like a flailing fish, shouting for help, awaiting a rescue that never came.  Eventually I shimmied forward in the most inelegant of ways, somehow pulling myself to standing, deep-breathing there at the kitchen sink.  And in the silver light of dawn, as the sun made yet another optimistic go of it, I silently downed the whole bowl full of globby, gelatinous goo, blithely unaware what the new day might bring.

Eighteen hours later, there lay Jacob.

For no reason that I could ever discern my baby cried non-stop for four months straight. He peeled the skin off hot dogs before he’d eat them. He left his shoes behind at the start of a multi-state car trip, spending the remaining days and weeks barefoot in the backseat, busily drawing comics for his brother’s and sisters’ perusal, witty little tales of two overweight dragons which pepper my dreams to this day.

Jacob’s all grown up now, no longer needing me to feed him jello or worry about his shoes. He’s out and about in the world, a fine, fiery-maned man, comfortable in heels or heelies, both, devouring Sushi, singing his heart out in karaoke bars, footing his own bills. 

Yet twenty-five years ago, I myself was a mere twenty-five year old new mom. One determined that her little boy, her first baby, would see and do everything the world had to offer, exactly as the parenting books said he should and could.

But Jacob wouldn’t crawl. His first word was ‘shit’. Still, I carried forth, determined to make jello in the dark come hell or high water. Patiently and persistently I showed him the ‘correct’ way to grow and thrive, meet all those sticky standards society arbitrarily adopts then sets to stone. For many months I crawled around the wooden floors of our house there in Massachusetts, maneuvering day and night on my hands and knees so that Jacob could see just how it was done.

Friends came to visit, audibly laughing as I inched along in front of them. “What on Earth?” they’d exclaim. “What are you doing?”

“I want him to crawl. He needs to crawl. He should be crawling by now. I’m showing him how!” I’d say all this from the floor, completely unaware of my own folly.

Can you see the callouses on my knees?

Truly, I have done a strange job of mothering. I have fallen down on the job most every day, starting on that very first morning, twenty-five years ago today.

Yet somehow, miraculously, Jacob towers over me, upright and aloft despite never crawling even a scooch.

Manual, schmanual!” I say.

“Shit!” he replies, smiling. 

Here’s to you, Jacob –

and another silvery morn, another hearty go at it, whatever the day may bring! 

Happy Birthday!

Love,

Mom

 

 

 

 

Pissy

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When one of my sons was aged three or four he began waking in the night, shrieking and shaking from something we dubbed ‘night terrors’.

These seemed much more than just bad dreams. A shrill, blood-curling scream would waken me, breathless, night after night. Rushing to his bedside, I’d find my boy upright, gasping, shivering from head to toe. Often he was covered in sweat. Usually his child-sized finger jabbed the night air, pointing towards something lurking there in the darkness, some unknown horror that defied words or even shapes in the light of day.

No matter what I said to rouse him from this paralysis, my boy remained rigid, shivering, sometimes repeating one or two words, perhaps a phrase over and over. “It’s right there!” he’d shriek hysterically. When I’d press for more details he’d go cold. Never was he able to articulate what exactly he saw, nor how or why this phantom had appeared.

These night terrors happened every few nights for several years, and it was exhausting for us both.

After the first few months of the same scenario happening over and over, I discovered that if I shook my boy awake, gently, he’d eventually stop screaming. Next, he’d begin to cry. This meant he was now awake enough for me to drag him from his bed, lead him by the hand to the bathroom, force down his pajamas and instruct him to pee, after which I’d lead him sleepily back to bed.

Gradually, over time, I became sort of immune to this routine.

Until one night, maybe a year or two into these night terrors, when I led my boy to the bathroom, pulled down his long johns, and saw that even though he was still half asleep and crying, he had a stiff, little woody, so that his penis pointed straight up and out instead of down.

Not having much experience with this albeit normal phenomenon myself, I didn’t think too much about it. I certainly didn’t stand there and contemplate the what if’s. All I knew is that I didn’t want to touch it; normally I wouldn’t hesitate to put my hand down when he started to pee, to direct the urine into the toilet and not all over the seat or floor, say.

But this night I decided to leave things alone. Instead I merely instructed him sternly to pee, over top his crying and trembling. And as I waited for him to start, I leaned back against the shut door, closing my eyes. I felt comatose with exhaustion, fed up with the whole ordeal.

Then, surprisingly, I felt rainfall. Heard it, too. I opened my eyes to discover pee splattering everywhere in our tiny, L-shaped bathroom. My boys’ erect, little penis was shooting urine straight onto the back toilet wall and up overhead onto the ceiling as he wavered to and fro. The three tightly enclosed walls surrounding the toilet created a sort of ricochet chamber, so that the urine shot up, bounced sideways from one wall to the other, flew clear across to the bathroom sink, even trickled down onto my head.

“Stop! Stop!” I screamed, shoving my hand onto his penis in an effort to aim the urine stream down. No use. Pee merely catapulted straight off the backseat of the toilet, right back into my own boys’ face. Mine, too.

Now we both screamed, and my little boy, in great confusion at getting hit straight in the face with pee at 3am, turned clear around towards me, even as urine continued to spray forth from that mighty, little hose of his, arcing around our bathroom with a defiant swish not unlike a Palm Springs sprinkler head.

I find it almost incredulous how long male humans can continuously pee, and even a five-year-old is no exception. That night our tiny, little bathroom just rained urine. It was a pee-apocolypse; a whizz-blast unlike any I’ve seen before or since.

After the final liquid drop, I knelt and wordlessly removed my little boys’ soaked clothes. I neither reprimanded him nor ran away. Instead I silently fetched clean towels from the downstairs bathroom; grabbed an entire Costco-sized box of wet wipes. I scrubbed him up and down, and all around, while he stood in our carpeted hallway blubbering, swaying back and forth with true tiredness or horror, who knows?

At long last I had his hair wiped clean; his skinny little grasshopper legs tucked inside soft, warm pjs.  Silently I eased him into bed, then went to survey the damage.

I stood there, in the dark, speechless. I ripped off my nightgown. Naked, I surveyed the urine stalactites dripping from the ceiling; the floor puddled with body fluids. I stared at the walls covered in pee, studied the sink faucets sprinkled with tinkle-spray, all while imagining climbing straight into the car to drive far, far away.

Yet I did not flee that night’s terror. Instead I scrubbed the bathroom – walls, floors, sink handles and all. I shoved soaked, reeking linens into the laundry, starting my first load of the day at 4am. I showered. I may or may not have drunk a glass of wine in one, big gulp.

Then I returned to my still darkened bedroom where I ruefully, almost violently, eyed my husband, peacefully snoring, completely unaware of absolutely everything.

Gently I lowered myself down, not to sleep, but to contemplate my own lurking fiends: Could I make it even one more day without running away?

*******************************************************************

Surprise, surprise, I’ve yet to flee. I’m still here, still pissy.

Today I taught a class full of twenty boys and four girls. No matter what I said, the boys seemed bored, talkative, jumpy, combustible.

I thought about running away. I daydreamed about getting up, going to the bathroom, changing my clothes, walking out the door, never coming back.

Instead I begged those boys to quiet down, stop their screaming.

“WHO keeps on talking?” I demanded, my eyes afire with exasperation.

A boy sitting in the front desk smirked at me. “You do!” he exclaimed. “YOU keep on talking!”

And in that very moment it was as if I was five years old, being shook awake.

“Kristine, Kristine, wake up! This is all just a dream. A scary, crazy dream.”

But it’s not a dream. It’s a new day. Another dollar. Clean clothes, some wet wipes, a bit of wine, and we’ll try again tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

The White Quilt

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“The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.”  – E. E. Cummings

Often it is hard for me to set the daily minutiae of my life down into print. So very many things have already been put to paper, what can I possibly add that’s worth the weight?

(A podgy little mistress,
both maladroit and moody,
sat visibly cocooned in comfort,
there upon her booty…)

On days like today, even a first word, an initial sentence, feel impossible. My mind freezes, still and cold, mirroring the world outside.

I wander among the trees, pause beneath the gale, frozen with indecision. Is any of this important? After all, the trees bear their freshly added weight heroically, silently, why shouldn’t I?

 

Yet the animals, too, seem mute with indecision. Everything looks different on this day, for us all. Note the dog and deer here – they are completely blinded to each other’s presence. They stand impossibly near one another, naive to the mighty scene in which they roam.

As I walk our woods, snow tickles my cheeks, light as feathers. The blizzard swirls, off and on, on and off.  I wrap myself in blankets, nestled inside, molded within my pink-bottomed chair, staring out towards the trees. Curtains of icy pearls cascade from the heavens, yet when I step outside to grab one iridescent prism, feel its weight, tis nothing there, it’s gone.

Two weeks ago Damon and I went whisking into Seattle for a lunch date, visiting old friends, drinking new drinks, feeling both smiley and happy. Then Katriel called. She was ill at school, burning with fever, please come soon, she begged.

We fetched our girl and once home I went inside to tend her, bringing ice packs, ibuprofin, kleenex, gatorade.

Damon went outside to care for the barn animals. In quick order he returned, slamming the front door harshly as he came inside.

“What’s wrong?” I yelled.

I knew something was wrong. Damon never slams a door. Not ever. He shuts doors with a purposeful, painful quiet when he’s mad; an eager tug when he’s happy.

“Huck’s dead,” he called.

“What?” I ran into the hall. I looked at him and knew it was true.

Damon explained how he’d found Huck as soon as he’d opened the barn doors, bent awkwardly, painfully over the half wall, cold and strangled, his tooth still bound by the baling string it had caught on as he nibbled fresh grass over top the inside half wall.

“I’ve cut him loose and pulled him to the far end of the pasture,” Damon said. “But now I have to get in the car and leave for my gig. We’ll bury him tomorrow.”

“What about coyotes?” I wailed. “Raccoons? That mountain lion we saw down by the creek? I’m afraid animals will come and ravage him in the night!”

“They might. But I’ve put a tarp over him.” Damon pushed the hair off his forehead tiredly. He seemed shook. “That’s the circle of life, Kristine. We’re part of it. Huck is, too. There’s nothing we can do about this now. It’s getting dark and I have to go.”

So Damon drove away, to play his horn, and I went up to the bedroom, to stare out the window at my sweet Huckleberry Ben, now cold and lifeless under an ugly, plastic tarp. The sky became peerless while my mind whirled.

Then I knew.

The night before, after work, when I should have been out feeding the animals, I wasn’t. Damon was gone at yet another gig, Juliet was at Crew, Katriel was sick in bed, and I, well, I was bouncing around in my bedroom, sweating to ‘Bollywood Cardio Blast, Dance Your Way to Destiny‘. It was my first time attempting an exercise video in years and I had the volume way up, gyrating my hips while clinging imaginary finger cymbals with zeal.

But at one point during this Bollywood Blast, I heard something – shouts, muffled screams, something. I paused belly dancing long enough to call my sister, check that she and her kids were OK. Yes, she said, only the usual routine over here. I hung up and briefly listened for the sound again but heard nothing.

So back to Bollywood I went.

Now, in the icy stillness, I grasped that it had not been my sister making lots of noise far away. It had been Huckleberry Ben, strangling to death within our pink barn. 

I agonized. Why hadn’t I fed the animals, not even checked on them once? Why did it not register that one of them could be making that noise?

I thought the alpacas were fine to go one day without food – after all, the previous day we’d hosted a birthday party, wherein all the animals were fed excessively by gaggles of merry children.

Obviously Huck had been out there while I belly-danced, crying out, desperate for air, stuck with his head caught…maybe all night, perhaps longer. I ached, imagining him suffering out there while I danced like a loon, mere yards away.

“That was the first and only time I worked out this year!” I lamented angrily, pouring gin straight out of the bottle. “Why, oh why did I actually work out?”

The next morning, at dawn, Elijah appeared to shovel a grave. Our boy can dig like no other, and by afternoon he had lowered Huck gently down into his earthen bed. Once the last shovel full of dirt covered the mound, Elijah hopped back on the bus to return to college in time for his evening classes. 

I felt extremely grateful to him. Damon was gone yet again, Katriel was writhing with fever, and now Juliet was sick at home, burning up and barfing, too. None of us were in good enough shape to dig a grave in such frosted winter soil.

Saturday it began to snow. There were still left-over balloons from the birthday party the previous weekend, which the neighbor kids trailed as they marched out to visit Huck’s fresh grave. It looked like a scene straight from the 100 Acre-Woods – Pooh Bear and friends with the little orange balloon.

My tears fell like snow, coming and going, wetting my lashes, turning the whole world blue.

That weekend Katriel’s flu morphed into unabated bronchial spasms. After taking our miserable girl to urgent care, we sank into the hot tub to try to recover our morale. In the twilight, Damon appeared oddly green and pallid. I told him he, too, looked ill. Maybe we all did, after our terrible week, I joked. He shrugged and laughed, the snow melting tenderly down his face as well.

The next morning Damon awoke to tell me he was ill. Into urgent care he crept, where by nightfall they’d found a kidney stone, still lodged in his ureter tube.

That day and the next and the next, school was canceled. My girls rose from their sick beds at odd times to wander gingerly outside. Damon worked from home with his pain killers and medicine. My sister came over with her dog, Thimble, and we all milled cautiously about, wondrous with our newfound, visible fragility of health; the instantaneous freezing of daily happenings. 

Then Thimble, the happiest of all of us in so much snow, bolted away. Unceremoniously she snatched one of our chickens up into her mouth. With absolute glee this enormous Bernese Mountain/Pyrenees dog scampered over the snowfields at top speed, careening across ice patches, over logs, between trees, all while poor Bixley hung upside down in her mouth, gurgling the most sickening, bubbly sound of despair.

We humans screamed hysterically for Thimble to let Bixley go. “Drop her!” we commanded. Our shrieks only cheered Thimble onward. She leapt across our frozen pond, practically ice skating from one end to the other, Bixley gasping in her mouth, feathers flying everywhere.

At last Thimble approached the fence, thereby forcing a slow down. Now Bixley fell from Thimble’s mouth, landing head first in the deep snow. Sensationally, she flipped over onto her stomach like a hot pancake, then popped up, running straight into the chicken coop frantic and fable-ish as the still warm Gingerbread boy of lore.

I stood frozen in the snow, agape. Thimble was duly apprehended by my tearful niece, then led home in shame, while I nervously approached the coop, fearful of what I’d find.

Miraculously, Bixley was alive. A true survivor, she somehow stood, upright and breathing. Traumatized, she cowered in the farthest corner next to Pickles, the two lone chickens still alive out of the many, many we’ve had over the past three years. 

There’s no logical explanation for why a tiny chicken snatched by a dog such as Thimble should live to lay another egg, just as there’s no rationale to explain why Huck had such rotten luck with a fastened piece of baling string.

It’s simply the circle of life. The damn cruel circle of life.

Some live to see another day, and some do not.

No explanations bring solace.

No assumptions hold water.

Today, it snows.

Tomorrow, perhaps, the sun. 

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darling, till the summer comes again.” – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass 

 

 

 

“Are You Crying?”

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“Can you do it better?”
“Yeah, she’s creepy.”

“Ugh, this bitch again?”
“She scares me!”

“Mrs. Crack? Mrs. Crack?”
“Are you crying?”

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I no longer sleep for more than three or four hours at a time. My hands swell, my palms turn blue. I’ve gone off bananas.

(I used to love bananas)

My hips throb, the skin beneath my underwear looks cross-hatched and puckered like a honey-baked ham bursting beneath it’s netted bondage. “I need bigger underwear.” I scold myself silently. “Granny-Pants, methinks.”

Sigh.

My hair has grayed. My chin’s been hacked, tampered with, duplicated in some twisted, Russian nesting doll scheme. My vision blurs while tears pool in my eyes.

“Are you crying, Mrs. Crack?” the littlest students wonder aloud.

“No, I’m dying.” I think ruefully.

Instead I reassure them. “I’m only smiling!”

Oh, how my teeth ache.

“Your last wisdom tooth here on the upper left is coming through!” the dentist states. I shrug. “It’s trying to.” I’ve had wisdom teeth brewing and bursting for the past twenty-three years.

(None of which I want pulled out, thank you very much)

Naturally I want to keep all the wisdom that’s due me.

I trudge to work each morning early, early, there in the frosty stillness, my bra pinching my shoulders, my too-tight underwear buffeted with pee-pads.

I enter each school repeating my mantra, “Smile, Smile!”

Yet the students sigh as I walk through the door. I am not their teacher, merely a teacher. Disappointment rebounds off their smooth, tender faces. It slides right off, down to my feet.

“Wrinkles are simply crevices where our disappointments dwell!”

I want to cackle this thought in a crazed, falsetto voice, like Meryl Streep in Into the Woods. Because it’s true, isn’t it? And levity becomes necessary when one’s presence is disquieting.

Regardless, I don’t say or sing anything at all, because here my inside voice is not sought. I use my teacher voice, instead.

One afternoon I find myself reading aloud to a group of sixth grade students. Their class novel is an intricate, twelve-person murder mystery that I am wholly unfamiliar with. Nonetheless, I enjoy reading, so I commence, liking the sound of my voice, the feel of the old-fashioned paper, the weight of the words wafting down onto all those blooming brains like so many strewn dandelion seeds.

Suddenly a boy raises his hand urgently, grunting, as if he needs the loo.

“Yes?” I pause to peer at him politely over the rim of my readers.

“Uh, I know you’re just a sub…” he begins, “but can you do it better?”

The question stumps me.

“Read better?” I ask, incredulous.

“Yes. Ms. Arlington reads the characters with their actual voices and stuff. So if Turtle’s talking, it sounds like Turtle. I mean, you’re reading and everyone just sounds the same…”

“Can you do it better?”  

“Well, Riott,” I remove my glasses to fix upon him a death stare accompanied by an enormous fake smile. “The truth is I actually cannot do it better. I am, as you noted, a substitute teacher which means, if I could do it better, I would be a full-time teacher. One with health benefits, a retirement plan, paid leave. So, No, Riott, Mrs. Crack cannot read better.

And with that I begin to read aloud again. With just one voice.

My own.

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Meanwhile, far from me, down by the sea, Mr. Rafnel’s voice is disappearing.

A wise, old man, he can now rarely, barely find the words he so longs to say.

Or rather, his brain can’t.

Mr. Rafnel is my mother’s partner, and he suffers from Alzheimer’s. Bill can no longer dress himself,  prepare any food, find a chair without help. Thoughts and words circle about his mind as if ensnared within a great, thick fog, which only lifts now and again for a few moments at a time.

A former navy chaplain, at one time Bill Rafnel sailed all over the world comforting the wounded; he was a baptist preacher who grew up listening to his own father preach, a little boy secretly launching paper airplanes down from the choir loft mid-sermon. Mr.  Rafnel was a renowned weaver, his colorful art featured in magazines and showcased within the Weaver’s Barn at the Antique Gas and Steam Museum in Fallbrook, a repository of American craftsmanship which he himself began. An overwhelmingly friendly and patient guy, Bill Rafnel had a formidable intellect and a constantly curious spirit, and as such his hands were rarely idle…he was known to stretch leather to make his own spirit drums, or whittle pan flutes which he then lovingly played to his dogs.Bill4

Now here I am –  in town to visit and help, and on this day, Bill sits, unaware who his own parents are, even though he’s staring directly at their portraits. Bill3He has no recollection that the beautiful tapestries gracing the walls are his. “I’ve forgotten everything I once knew,” he says quietly – a moment of painful clarity.

Just then my mother passes by in front of him.

“I know her,” he says, pointing.

Then he looks at me. “I don’t know …”

He has no idea who I am. Nor do I anymore, if truth be told. Lately it’s as if I’m a whole new person. Someone with gray hair who rises at 5am and abhors bananas.

“I’m Kristy,” I say. “Mary’s daughter. Mark’s sister. I’m here to visit.”

“Hello,” he says, as if we’re suddenly meeting for the first time. “I’m Silly Billy.”

He waves hello to me then – grinning wildly, laughing like a little kid.

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A man from Hospice arrives early Monday morning to help Bill shower.

Bill wants no part of it.

“Never!” he shouts, clearly agitated. “President!” he rages, as if he is one and we should all back away.

Mark, my mother, the hospice worker labor to get Bill into the shower. They lather shampoo on his chest, over the top of his head.

But Bill shouts again, bolts out the door, flees, naked, down the hall.

“Please, Bill, we need to rinse you off!” my mother begs. Drama ensues in which several grown people try to get an old, sudsy man back into the shower, frantically rinse soap from his eyes.

Bill wobbles and yells, surprisingly strong but unnervingly unsteady on his feet. Angrily he shakes, muttering incoherent pronouncements.

Somehow, amidst this chaos, Bill is cajoled back into the shower, washed and dried, plunged into fresh clothes, till finally led to a comfortable spot on the couch.

Now he sits, stiff-backed and shivering, obviously agitated.

The scene is heartbreaking. My mother and brother are overwhelmed by the sheer physicality of caring for him. Daily they are left grief-stricken by his loss of ability, agility, agreeableness. And here I am, with no idea how to help this once bright, bold man, now seeming so scared and confused.

I go to the piano, open the hymnal, begin to play. Hymn after hymn I sight read, plowing my way through the liturgy.

After a bit, Bill begins to hum along. He knows most of these hymns by heart. Or he did. A preacher’s son, a clergyman by trade. I keep playing.

My blue hands now sore and stiff, I pause at the end of a hymn, holding the notes with just the foot pedal. As if on cue, a booming voice calls out, clear and loud, “And now, I’d like to say a few words…”

From his spot on the couch Bill begins to preach. “In the beginning…and then…and….”

These are the only words he’s able to find, yet he stares bright-eyed and smiling at his imaginary congregation. Quickly I begin to play again.

But it’s enough.

More than enough, actually, to lighten our load, ease the mind, soothe the soul. The purpose of a sermon, in a nutshell.

Bill and I sing a few more hymns together, both of us transported through time. I go back to that quiet, quiet girl of long ago; the one who loved reading but hadn’t yet found her voice; a mere dragon of a child, all scales and scorn, not yet realizing she might actually breathe fire. He travels to a small church in Iowa, to sit in the pew where a young boy sings with his most treasured possession – his voice! – so confident, so carefree – until running to bob his toy sailboat atop the waters of his father’s sacred baptismal font.

There in the living room on a warm Autumn day the two of us let our inner voices come out to play.

Loud and proud.

Riotous – nay rebellious, indeed.

Fully alive.

Not yet extinguished. Bill2

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“Can you do it better? 
No, he’s forgotten
Ugh, where am I again?
This scares me
Silly Billy? Silly Billy?
Are you crying?”

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Dear Phil,

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Dear Phil, 

You’re hot!

Maybe a bit older and more formal than I expected…yet, fun!

 

Of course, I’m no photographer, but I can sure picture the two of us together…

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Seriously, though,

You were not my first choice, Phil.

(Nor my second, if truth be told).

I yearned for opulence, romance, waves…

An attractive accent, for a start.

Something nicer than a schlepped sandwich, for pity sake.

But somehow, LOVE, you won me over.IMG_8495

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Dear John, 

I can’t believe I don’t know your real name.

I really wish I did.

It would make talking about you behind your back so much easier. 

You may be the finest white male I’ve ever encountered on a park bench. I can’t get you out of my mind. To shout out the way you did, “Hello! Hello!” over top all that moaning and yelling, your unhesitating “Ladies!” offered like a lifesaver, there outside a stinky park crapper.

“Would you like me to take him in, help him go to the bathroom?”

Oh, John! To offer such services to a severely disabled man you’d never met…

Talk about brotherly love!IMG_8869

If a heavenly, bearded, man-deity truly hovers overhead, following our every move like an avian gangster, (remember, it’s lawful to believe anything you want here!), certainly the skies should have parted, raining golden confetti down upon your head, there outside the fly-infested loo on Kelly Drive.

I can’t believe I didn’t tell you how I felt right then and there.

You had me at, “Hello!”, John!

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Dear Ben,

You’re electrifying!

Seriously, you’ve made me look twice!

Let’s all hang together, shall we?

(But Poor Richard! Surely he can hang separately?)

I feel you watching me, Ben. I catch your twinkling eye everywhere.IMG_7580Clearly you’re a charmer! Chatting up the ladies, (obviously), but a few fine gentlemen, too.

I’ll admit I lingered where you once did dwell, Ben… (for a few months, sporadically, in between European bouts that featured plenty of lady routs). Your home seems well-to-do, based on the four reconstructed beams. And how delightful it was, to look down your privy!IMG_8856

Would you indulge in a drink or two (or thirteen) some night?IMG_7951

Please, Ben, send me a note, post haste!IMG_7957

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Dear Gus,

Your admiration for the human form leaves me speechless…But -!IMG_7118

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve never been willing to enter the Gates of Hell for anyone before you!IMG_7075

I feel you really know me, Gus, inside and out.

Still, I’m worried. There’s so many of us damned women fawning over your every nook and cranny.

I do love how you’ve encouraged us all to draw…to sit and linger near your body of work.

I just don’t know how to separate from you, Gus, we’re so completely entwined!

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Dear Tom,

I’ll never believe that all men are equally as capable as you! I mean – look at your handwriting! IMG_8540

I’m actually embarrassed to say too much, now, after you’ve spelled it all out for me like this. 

I’m just afraid I might crack under the pressure, Tom!IMG_8542

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Dear Phil,

I keep coming back to you.IMG_7377

You welcomed me like family.

You offered me food and drink.

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“Make that a double, ,Sir!”

You were fun and friendly, fancy, too…

 

All while displaying your NO BULLSHIT policy clearly at everyone’s feet.

Certainly, you had me viewing the past, and the present, with upturned eyes, Phil. IMG_8857

And what’s not to LOVE about that? (I’m already craving a re-PHIL!)

 

Meeting Misha

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It is a universal truth that other people’s dreams are seldom interesting and make terrible tell-aloud stories, yet here I sit, about to regale you, because believe it or not, I’ve just had my first ever good dream.
Since I first appeared as a plumpish, pumpkin-topped urchin here on earth, I cannot remember having any other ‘good’ dream. Every morn I recall plenty of nightly visions, yet these are always bizarre vignettes revealing mostly pain, frustration, and inane misfortune.
Take the night I dreamt every person was assigned a five word ‘descriptor’ phrase to be listed beneath their legal name – a preselected tag line for social media forays. Mine read: Designed to Repeatedly Offend You. Damon, of course, fared slightly better: Excessive Cheerfulness on Perpetual Display.
Decade after decade I have dreamt of having my fingers bit or sliced off; I’ve been shot in the chest; I’ve discovered on more than one occasion that I have a ‘dirty soul’; I’ve suffered, drastically and often, from ‘Inward Panic Syndrome’; I’ve cleaned up vomit infinitum; given birth to an albino-midget of indeterminate sex named Willie Joe; and come to regard the presence of whales as portents of disaster, same as my sister does.
Yet – for all of this, I can’t recall even one pleasant dream I’ve experienced over the past 48 years. Until this year. Now that it’s finally happened, I want to put it to paper so that my offspring might know – happiness did greet old, cranky Kristine, one memorable, magical eve, long, long ago. *********************************************************************
Upon waking from this miraculous event, I lay in bed, too overcome to speak or move. After a long time clutching the dream close, reliving each second, cementing every frame to memory, I sat up, turned to Damon, and asked, “Can you ever remember me having a good dream?”
Over top of his steaming coffee he peered at me freakishly, even as he gave it some concentrated thought. At last he said, “No, I don’t think so.”
I nodded. “So, I’ve never, ever woken you up one time since we’ve been together and said, ‘Listen to this, my love…I’ve just had the most amazing time without you but please let me tell you all about it!’”
He laughed. “No. Definitely not. All of your dreams seem sort of awful, don’t they?”
“No!” I screamed, truly elated now. “Not anymore! I’ve just had a good dream! A very good dream! My first one ever!”
Damon stared at me as if I were nuts.
“This dream wasn’t just good. It was great! It was…dare I say it out loud? It might have been utterly perfect!”
Damon laughed a bit, then slurped his morning manna. “OK, ok, tell it to me, already!” He sounded a bit more blasé then I wanted him to be.
“Well, I was on some sort of field trip,” I began, while he peered at me with determined, morning-ish stoicism.
“And there were other teachers there, too. We had all these kids, and we were in some sort of big auditorium, which was prettier than normal, with nicely paned, sunshiny windows. The kids were sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor, happily talking, and I had no idea why we were there or what the field trip was about, but all the other teachers were young and pretty, and we all wore floral, kaftan-like dresses, and it seemed a nicer-than-usual way to spend a workday, so I sat there feeling just fine.”
“Uh-hmm…” Damon made little obligatory sounds while nodding encouragingly.
“Then, this rather petite but strong-looking man walked in and made his way towards the front, to the podium. And here my heart started beating so crazily,” I paused now and grabbed Damon’s hand away from the coffee cup to thrust it over my heart. “See…even now my heart’s jumping madly merely telling you about it!”
Damon looked at me as if I had lost all my marbles, then removed his hand before trying to mop up coffee splatters all over the covers.
“That’s when I realized,” I gushed, “that it was Mikhail Baryshnikov!”
I paused for Damon to hoot or holler or go all bug-eyed, but he did none of those things, so I continued right along. “Yeah, standing up there, in front of all the kids… it was him, the actual dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov! He still looked 40 years old or abouts, you know, just the way he looked in ‘White Nights’. He stood there smiling with his famous feet pointed out in first position and absolutely perfect posture, and all that time I could FEEL his blue eyes sparkling at me from way back there behind all those kids and oh.my. god. I was over the moon. Mikhail Baryshnikov was our field trip!!!”
Damon laughed here and seemed a bit more appreciative, now that the dream was ramping up.
“I began looking around the room to see if the other teachers were freaking out like I was, and I realized, oh my word, none of these young teachers knew who he was! They were shrugging and whispering, giving little perplexed twists of their mouths, while the kids kept asking, ‘Who is that?’ I was so sad and embarrassed. Mikhail Baryshnikov was standing right there, and no one seemed to recognize him, with all his talent and mastery, that sexiness just sizzling from his eyes….”
Damon looked at me sort of startled, like just saying the word sexy about someone else was a sin or something.
“Anyways… I had the worst feeling. I was standing there not knowing what to do, trying to shush all those kids. Then, Mr. Baryshnikov began to speak, and I didn’t even grasp what he was saying, because my mind was just a blur. I was watching him intently while he stood there so poised and articulate and hell yeah, sexy. So finally he asked for questions and oh my god, NO ONE in the auditorium raised their hand to ask even one question…of Mikhail Baryshnikov!”
Damon now twisted his face back into polite concern but said nothing yet again.
“Knowing how deeply humbling and upsetting this must be to Mikhail, I raised my hand. And here was where the dream really started to be incredible…because he called on me, so I began to talk, but I was dynamite! I mean, I started off by telling him how much I admired him. Then I launched into how as a little girl I remembered being called out to the TV on a Saturday night, after my bath, when I was all clean and in my nightgown, and my mother telling me to sit down on the carpet, I was about to see something I’d never seen before. That this Something I was about to see was so beautiful and unimaginable that it would reignite my passion for what was possible for all mankind when people were allowed to express themselves through art.
And then, there on the tv, the ballet started, and it was my first ever time watching a ballet, and at last…there he was! In hushed tones my mother explained that the star jumping effortlessly towards the heavens – l’etoile – was Russian, a young dancer who had just defected, risking his very life for his art. Then, as we watched him leap and twirl, stretching those tights in ways I never imagined possible, I glanced over at my mom, awestruck to see silent tears performing their own adagio gracefully down her cheeks, so overcome was she by the beauty of Baryshnikov and the ballet.”
Damon nodded crazily, not too sure whether I was speaking in the past or present now.
“Then I told Mikhail how after the ballet my mother explained about Russia – the country, and communism, and what it meant to defect, and I, being only six years old, had never heard those terms or even realized there could be another country besides the USA. Mikhail’s dancing and presence opened my eyes not just to a whole new art form, but to a whole new world, one so much more complex and dangerous, mystifying and enchanting, than I had known about even an hour before….”
Here I looked intensely at Damon, to see if he was tearing up, as I was, by this emotional retelling…but, alas, he seemed quite steady and almost worried -looking, peering at me like that. “Wow,” he muttered, seeing my actual tears. “wow!”
“Yes, wow! And the whole time I was talking, I was calm and poised, and my voice sounded great – not nervous at all, and everything I said sounded poetic and worthy of his hearing! Best of all, Mikhail seemed genuinely touched by my reflections. At the end he wrapped it all up by saying something else, but I couldn’t even breathe by that time, all I could do was stare at his blue, Russian eyes. Then the event was over and hordes of kids rose up to shuffle back towards the busses, but I ignored them all and went right up to him, standing there in front of the windows all alone – no crowds of people, no celebrity handlers, nothing! I went up to him and he smiled at me and we were the same height, literally, eye to eye. I told him again how amazing it was to meet him and he thanked me for my words earlier and then he leaned in towards me and said, “Please, do call me Misha. Would you like to go for a drink with me?”
Here I looked to see Damon’s reaction but he was completely poker-faced. Or comatose. “Then I woke up!“ I declared dramatically.
“Is that it?” Damon asked cautiously.
“That’s all I need!” I exclaimed proudly. “That was worth the wait! Misha himself clutching my hand and asking me out…” Exhausted from the retelling, I sat back in bed, overcome again by the exquisiteness of the whole sequence.
“I can live the rest of my life happy now, knowing I was asked out by MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV!!!” I shouted, within the hushed house before my impervious spouse.
Damon rolled his eyes and rose from the bed, eager to start the day, while I sighed contentedly, clinging to the night.

Dreamy.

 

 

The Matriot

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It began with a Bald Eagle chase.

One frigid, February morn, just after dawn, I left home and took to the road, inching tender-footed as a doe along crisply frozen roads. Slowly, slowly I wound my way towards work, over long, empty stretches of winding, country lanes. Grasslands shimmered with frozen obedience, aiming their long stalks like crystallized swords towards the heavens. Frozen, gauzy landscapes loomed icy-cold around, as I, now tightly buckled into my motorized, movable box, inched forward beneath the bluing, brightening sky.

Suddenly, a bald eagle darted down in front of my car hood. I gasped and slowed even more. Then, a second eagle, bigger than the first, zipped behind, head-to-tail.  Whoa! The two spun and spiraled, neck and neck. They swirled over and around in tighter, smaller loops, the bigger eagle overshadowing the smaller one. I sat immovable in my car, watching wordlessly as the Flute Sonata No. 1 in A by Philippe Gaubert trilled maniacally from my radio’s speakers, accompanying this spectacle. Barely breathing, I watched as the two creatures flew straight towards each other, head to head, before the bigger one grabbed the smaller ones’ talons. There in front of me, they cartwheeled head over tail towards earth, locked together in a seeming death-dive. Miraculously the pair separated at the last moment, soaring skyward again, while I exhaled with relief.

As the pair roiled up and down in front of me in this repeating, dramatic display, I began to believe this a rape scene. I watched the smaller eagle careen away from the bigger one time and again, while an invisible thought-cloud popped overhead in my mind’s eye. #Metoo it screamed, as wild strings of exclamation points fell clunkily towards earth with unanswered despair.

As I projected my own fears skyward, the two birds swooped and soared overhead, while I stared upwards expectantly, like a prisoner peering out between the bars of her cell, waiting moment-by-moment for a miracle. Instead, the bald eagles forged ahead, leaving me alone on the road, clutching nothing more weighty than flute trills and wordless, womanly wonder.

As I continued on towards work, nothing felt the same. I’d already learned how cruel and torturous male butterflies were to females, often. I knew dolphins routinely raped and pillaged their females. Was this yet another version of a female’s sad, timeless story playing out again? Were all feminine creatures in every kingdom, big and small, doomed to daily domination?

That night I went online to read about bald eagle mating. I’d spent the day feeling unwell about what I’d seen; not knowing whether I had witnessed fear, frenzy, or simply fanfare. Yet my perusals online revealed the one thing I never imagined: the bigger eagle was the FEMALE. Yes, you read that correctly…when documenting bald eagles, scientists have found that it’s usually the FEMALE chasing the male!

This was no rape; no assault; rather, it was the female’s demand that the male prove himself worthy to mate with!

Suddenly this story needed to be revisited by me, from the beginning, with a whole new set of assumptions.

It felt implausible to believe that within this species, the female dominates, by demanding, leading, testing her would-be-mate. And who would believe that a national, symbolic treasure, once nearly wiped out by man’s obliviousness, could now bounce back and tout such a bold, shocking truth…that females wield the power! Imagine all those U.S. men even now, proudly driving around town with emblematic bald eagles, parading their patriotism…a word derived from patrios, meaning of one’s fathers; or power culturally passed on through males only…even as the very symbol they wield speaks of feminine strength.

The fact that I am a forty-eight year old resident of the U.S. and never knew this about the bald eagle, our national emblem – well, it’s laughable. And awesome. And a necessary symbolic reminder for us ladies living here, now, in the age of trump-ism. The female bald eagle is the woman totem we’ve been staring at and looking for this whole time, all while not understanding what she’s trying to tell us. She’s our own face staring back at us in the mirror, urging us to fly higher; to challenge the assumed status quo; to find male allies worthy of our engagement.

My mother often said, “Wear some lipstick…it lifts up your whole face! And for heaven’s sake, wallpaper a bathroom with a man before you marry him!”

What she meant by this sage advice was – test him! Put his feet to the fire and see if he can problem-solve patiently; take direction willingly; work with you as a teammate and equal instead of succumbing to demands, cruelty, even force.

My drive to work that winter morning late last week changed my life. In three-minutes time it presented me with a sobering grasp of my innate assumptions. It imparted to me a national symbol so significant in the fight for feminine empowerment that I will now smile whenever I see it on a truck or the back of a quarter; on the national seal or on the capitol building.

“Thus the eagle, full of the boundless spirit of freedom, living above the valleys, strong and powerful in his her might, has become the national emblem of a country that offers freedom in word and thought and an opportunity for a full and free expansion into the boundless space of the future.” – Maude M. Grant

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