Month: April 2016

Lone Wolves in Gourds: On Turning into Soft Pillows

I am making myself unlovable, again.  Maybe it’s all this fresh air and freedom.  But I am curling into myself like a snail shell, pulling what’s tender from out of reach.  Except I am also mutating so that my tough exterior is also sprouting metal spikes that are tipped with a lethal poison that can go airborne and suck all of the moisture out of the air until everyone around me is choking.  I look around to see how everyone is faring.  They all seem fine.  Except they seem concerned because I seem to be choking.

My Someone uses what we learned this winter and says that I am telling myself the wrong story.  He says that I need to tell myself the story where the people around me love me.  I balk and tell him to cut the therapy bullshit.  I am becoming unlovable.


I have visions of becoming a lone wolf, wandering around the country with a scowl and an agenda to right the universe by brute force.  There is snow and a few scenes Mary Shelley created.  I anticipate difficulty and get what I expect.  I unravel the scenario until, miraculously at the end, I find true happiness where the world doesn’t braze my neck as I am fevered and aching for love.  The world just becomes a Soft Pillow with no work of my own.  And I will lay down on it and be lovable once again.

My scenario requires that every creature is not also hurting.

My scenario is impossible.

So I play out my God Daydream, where I am a small furry animal caught in a hollowed out gourd.  In it, this God character– usually looking like a combination of Mark Ruffalo and Patti Smith– pokes their pointer finger through the hole in the gourd, peaking their large, aged, squinty eye in effort to catch a glimpse of my pink nose and my baby rodent eyes.  I put out my little clawed paw, which can grasp only a few grained lines of His/Her hand print.  I become less afraid.  I am sought after.  I am coaxed.  I am carried from the gourd.  I can never imagine what happens after the gourd.  Only that someone cared to carry me from it.


“That’s just what she does sometimes,” Matt said to me a few weeks ago.  He and his partner had a fight.  “She makes herself the most unhuggable she possibly can, and then practically dares me to hug her.”

“And what do you do?” I asked.

“Well, I cross the room and hug her.”


I replay my God Daydream with what I have.  I don’t have Mark Ruffalo/Patti Smith God.  I have a Someone who says he likes me and wants to sit across the table from me in my gourd.  I am not a cute fuzzy rodent creature.  I am just my scowling self.  Sometimes my Someone says the wrong thing or gets mad, and it makes my fever aches of unlovableness flare.  Sometimes my friends who love me don’t know what to say and I feel alone and cry into the phone.  And then my gourd is filled with these friends who sometimes get it right.  We all sit at the table.  It’s getting crowded.  It’s harder to be comfortable with all of these gourd people.

Somewhere inside, in this secret compartment, I find them:  Soft Pillows.  I pull them out.  There are more.  Everyone is provided with a Soft Pillow.  We sit on them.  We lay down our heads.  We wrap them around us like armor.  And then, we leave the gourd.  No giant finger to carry us.  It takes a lot of work, with the bulk of the pillows and the number of people.  But we each stand on our own legs, and walk ourselves across the room to where the hugs might be.  And I can picture our exodus this time.  A group of people in a sharp, Picasso lined outside, occasionally howling.  Hobbling along trying to make the world into a Soft Pillow.

Lilacs and Old Dogs: On Forgiving Death

“Brontus has to die today,” my nephew stated.  Then, at my silence, he protruded his bottom lip to indicate what my response should be.

“I see,” I said, looking around for help.  “I guess it’s his time.”

“He’s going to get a shot!” my niece intervened, “And then he’s going to fall asleep and then he will be dead.”

My sister and brother-in-law’s dog has been alive one half of the time I have, now.  His slow then rapid deterioration became evident as my Someone and I found shelter in their house for the winter.  And now, this morning, he is one day gone.  Everyone agrees it is for the best, as his little legs couldn’t manage the linoleum in the kitchen, anymore, and every pat to his frail body came as a surprise to him with his lost sight and hearing.  It was time, but time is still ticking, and the ticking makes for uncomfortable what-ifs for the ones left listening.


My father is threatening to kill my mother’s lilac bushes again.

“Don’t you kill my lilac bushes,” she pushes back at him with a purse-lipped scowl.

Truthfully, they have it coming.  The long wall of what used to be illustrious spring blooms is dulling to a tangle of wooden, leafy shards.  I still side with my mother on this one.  Even if the only thing keeping them up is the deteriorating back panel of the fence that used to surround the now filled in swimming pool, there is a deep satisfaction of the lilacs’ declaration of Spring.  Even if that declaration is more of a strangled whisper, now, in the meager, wrangled heads of a few tiny blooms.

It probably isn’t the whole story, anyway.  Since my father slew my mother’s favorite dying Dogwood just outside our bedroom windows when I was in high school, she has been digging her heels in about everything from the pines to the rhododendrons.  This grievance may be what is keeping the lilacs alive.  We have the power to force anything out of existence, but we have no power to force the ones we love to be ready for it.


Last Monday, my Someone and I were part of a launch party and memorial for our songwriting teacher who passed three years ago.  Cancer.  We sang some songs and gathered with people who were familiar, and recognized that this was the closing of a long chapter of grief.  Except it is never the end.  This became even clearer as we consoled one another and chose our words carefully and poured thicker glasses of rye whiskey.  And then, Reva stood on stage and sang a song that she had written with our late friend.  She sang the song as she would have sang it with him, switching between harmony and melody.  She left the missing parts missing, because our friend was now missing.  And that was how the song was heard at this juncture.


“Can I watch Brontus die, Dad?” my nephew asked before he left.  My Someone and I walked the neighborhood, repeating the questions and answers the kids had that morning.  Their directness of it all made my Someone question whether the kids understood what was happening.  And then, their directness of it all made us realize they knew exactly what was happening.  It isn’t the death itself that is hard, but the forgiveness of death itself: forgiving the patch of grass that is growing where the Dogwood’s roots used to be, forgiving the dog dishes in the kitchen still half full, forgiving the silence where the sound used to be.

Last night, my brother-in-law relayed the questions the kids asked the vet.  As they unraveled, I envisioned them getting older and older…

What’s in the shot?

                             How long until he sleeps?

                                                                    Where is he going next?

Salvation Runways: On Flying Commercial

And after the declaration of hell’s fire beckoning, the pastor turned gently with his Britney Spears headset and got soft in the eyes– the kind of soft that every good Shakespearean actor knows to play.  It comes with the cock of the head and the worry of the stage right eyebrow–

“Salvation is like a plane ride,” he said. “You all have to land on the same Jesus runway to get it.”


(but what if it was actually true that the runway is salvation, and Jesus is the plane, and it doesn’t matter how you get to the plane, or even what you call it, because the plane is actually a spinning globe we all occupy, and we all always land in the right place.

…and how does that extend to the important matter of riding First Class?)

Funeral Homes: On Stealing Candy and Believing in Sunsets

Today is the two year anniversary of the time a community of people lost their best member. It’s as difficult to come up with new words now as it was then, so here is what I figured out then. It’s about the same as I have figured out now.

Quartz from Pallets

After the usual pleasantries with the local mortician at Marshall’s Funeral Home, updating him on my latest report card and confirming that art is still my favorite class, it was time to get to the business of stealing candy.


I spent much of my childhood in the funeral home.  Grandparents, great grandparents, Sunday school teachers, cousins, friends, people I’d never met: it was a rotation of faces in the same glossy box with the same bouquets and the same cast of characters on either side of the receiving line.  Old ladies clucked their tongues and old men shook their heads while my friends and I ran rampant in the cool downstairs basement, experimenting with powdered coffee creamer in our tea and spooking ourselves with the infant coffins kept in the back room we weren’t allowed in, but always found ourselves shooed out of.

My father led the protocol of laughter…

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