Slogging – oh the ignominy

I have opened this old blog today. I glance through the first old posts listed and realize just how very long it is since I have written. Almost two years have passed – in fact two years minus only a month. I read the trembling feelings I have posted about my husband losing his job. Can it really have been almost two years ago.It feels so close still.

The words are tingling on the tip of my brain, in the tips of my fingers, this need to write – to express feelings that lie just below the surface, feelings that are never to be expressed in polite daily interchange. I have no definite idea of what it is I am trying to write, nor worries of someone reading and judging my writing – that is the beauty of ignonomy, ignominy…see – that is how much I trust that no one reads what is written here. I will even allow myself the lapse of a mispelled word, allow that I don’t even know how to pronounce it although I know its meaning.

The fear is too great and I go to see how to spell ignominy only to realize it doesn’t even mean what I thought it meant. Ignominy is shame, as in, the ignominy of realizing I wasn’t wearing any clothes. And what I meant to convey was a type of anonymity.  I pause to wonder how many other words I am using incorrectly – confident that I do know what they mean.

Today I am full to bursting with love for my children. I full to bursting with cansancio. Weary is what I am. And I am no where near the end of what I need to accomplish. I don’t really know how I will maneuver my way through all the responsibilities I have in front of me this month. I feel like so many people are depending on me right now, depending on me to come through for them: students, boss, stoles to be sewn, a birthday to make memorable, a graduate to applaud, a mother’s day to connect…and it all feels like slogging work. Or at least the work feels slogging and I feel like there isn’t enough of me left to make enjoyable that which should be enjoyable.

sigh. This too shall pass.

 

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Amarante this morning

 Amarante awoke in a bad mood and in those moments there seems to be nothing to do but grit my teeth and put up with him until he can calm himself. I coaxed him into the tub with me and he seemed even to fight the water. But after I had lathered all the necessary parts, I just held him loosely and he finally seemed to relax against my body and let the warm water do its work.

Prothalamium

Come, all you who are not satisfied

as ruler in a lone, wallpapered room

full of mute birds, and flowers that falsely bloom,

and closets choked with dreams that long ago died!

Come, let us sweep the old streets – like a bride:

sweep out dead leaves with a relentless broom;

prepare for Spring, as though he were our groom

for whose light footstep eagerly we bide.

We’ll sweep out shadows, where the rats long fed;

sweep out our shame – and in its place we’ll make

a bower for love, a splendid marriage-bed

fragrant wit flowers aquiver for the Spring.

And when he comes, our murdered dreams shall wake;

and when he comes, all the mute birds shall sing.

                                                                     –Aaron Kramer

And so begins Prodigal Summer. Chapter 1: she is strong, and sexuality is everywhere as is dominance. This chapter, my favorite quote: “But usually by this point in the conversation, it was over. And manners had not been her long suit to begin with, even a lifetime ago when she lived in a brick house, neatley pressed between a husband and neighbors.”  What about this book appeals to me? That it is dealing with living off the grid. That she is out of the norm. That she is not young – and he is. That she is uncertain of his attraction to her, and yet she doesn’t repeatedly make him prove his desire to be with her – only the one time as she points out to him the road to town.

The sex scene is beautiful. I could learn a lot. Nothing is overtly stated. All is in the small details. “Their two soft skinned bodies completed their introductions on the floor of her porch. I love what she says about the leftover surname of her husband. “that name is nothing to me now, but it’s still stuck all over my life, on my driver’s license and everything…scent marking.”

Yes, I think I am going to like this book.

Just right here

Just in case you were wondering, this is where I am today, just right here.

My husband lost his job. No that is not right, he chose not to go back to it. It is funny, we knew the restaurant was closing and were preparing for starvation mode. I tried not to think about it too much, something I advise others to do when they are facing crises they have no control over. It gave us an odd freedom I think. He and I would suddenly look at one another and smile, grasp hands, feel that sudden surge of love. I found myself searching his face. I don’t see many traces of the young man I married. But I love what his face has grown into. I would think about how hard things were going to become very, very soon.

Being poor is hard. It eats away at people. Sometimes I like to pretend. I try to look at it through romantic eyes, but there is very little romantic about poverty. Since we married we have never not been poor. But Armando has always worked. He has worked seven days a week quite literally our entire marriage. Seven days a week and a day off if I gave birth to a child, but then back again the next daywith no one asking more than whether the child was varon or mujercita. Seven days a week unless he irritated El Jefe and then sent home a day as punishment – such punishment. We used to giggle in glee – right up to the moment I had to hurry off to my own job, for El Jefe is smart enough never to give him a day off that I would also be at home. It began to feel planned. Was it planned? I don’t know but we felt conspired against.

I pulled up to the house Friday after work. El Jefe had his truck there, under the shade of the neighbor’s pine, across the street from our house. How very like him , to make sure my husband would walk across to him. I lifted the boys down from the car, watching out of the corner of my eye. Nothing to do but go into the house. But wait, I ran inside and brought out OtterPops for the boys and sat with them, shushing them in spite of the fact that no matter what I would not be able to hear what they were saying, watching the out-of-earshot conversation. My husband squatting below the window of the truck, sunshine seperating him out from the shaded vehicle. El Jefe talked and Armando nodded, endlessly nodding.

Finally Armando straightens his back and stands, waiting a respectful moment for the truck to pull away and then walks slowly to me. I trundle the boys inside with a promise of television and then hurry back out to hear what he has to say. We face one another and I search his face. It is a tired face. He is young but he has lost that softness. Is this defeat I am looking at? This weariness frightens me. He begins to talk but he talks in circles saying what it is not, saying what it makes him think of, saying what he would have felt had it been different. I am used to his talking in circles and I nod my encouragement as he turns more and more tightly inward and toward the subject.

And this is what it is. The restaurant is not closing. They only did it to run out the last man who was trying to make a start for himself. They let him put his money in, let him work for three months, three months of grinding, round the clock work, let him make improvements and begin to feel that the place was his own. And then they let him go saying that the restaurant would close. And now El Jefe comes to park across from our house, comes bearing his good news, comes not to ask if Armando would like to continue working but comes telling him his hours.

He will work every day, as always. He will work sixteen hours three days a week and four days he will work only eight hours, or perhaps another hour or two with no pay. El Jefe says all this minus the fact that they will sometimes keep him an extra hour without pay and then El Jefe drives away, San Luis Potosi emblazoned across his back window.

My husband spins out this information slowly and concentrically and I begin to understand; all is not lost. We will not suffere the abysmal poverty I have feared. We will eat more than beans and rice at dinner and OtterPops when the children beg for sugar. We will go to the doctor when we are sick and buy glasses once a year and they will be budget glasses but we won’t care, and we will never have an excess but all will be well. And I am smiling. I am smiling and once again there is balance and reason to life. I am smiling, but he is not. His face is old and tired and he looks at me, penetratingly. And I begin to realize that he is not happy, not happy at all.

I do not talk, and he does not talk and we are quiet together. I know now what he is asking me without really asking me. He takes my hands in his. My hands are pale and age spotted, my fingers swollen and thickening with age. His hands are young and strong and he has a burn from the grill, a burn in a daily ritual of grease burns from frying tacos. I cannot do it he says, It is too much to bear. My legs are tired from standing, my arms are tired from grating 40 lb. blocks of cheese, my back is tired from being bent. I am 32 years old and I am a tired old man. His words are soft and lispy, his accent heavy.

I consider our relative ages, my 44 to his 32. I think about “for better or for worse” and the fact that he loves me with a consuming love in spite of the fact that my age, my looks, my figure are definitely heading into the “for worse” category. I think about how tired he is day after day. My job is not so physically exhausting as his; it is instead poverty that wears me out, the never having enough. I picture myself working the hours he is required to work and I know I could not do it. He has worked like this for eight years. If it were me I know I could not do it.

I think of my sons wearing brand new jeans from Target, jeans with tags on them and no holes in the knees, of birthday parties we would throw, of new glasses this year, of driving to book club because I have plenty of gas money, of underwear with good elastic, of taking friends out occasionally for lunch. There will be none of this. I think of all of these things and I sigh. I know what he needs me to say. I sigh and I turn to him, and I smile. It is not forced or difficult but easy and genuine. He squeezes my hand and he sighs and all of him is smiling in return. He pulls me close and holds me painfully tight.

The boys are bickering from the screen door and the moment is done. We go inside. I do not know what tomorrow holds. I know that it will not be enough, and yet somehow it will have to be enough. I am not young and I have no foolish hopes of living on sunshine and love. I worry that we will be worn away by worries and hardship. I worry we will turn on one another like ravening wolves. But tomorrow isn’t here yet and I really believe in “for better or worse”.

Armando searches through my old cd’s and slips in a disc. As I start the beans warming, I hear the first notes of Ive Got You Babe. I sometimes think I have greatly underestimated my husband’s grasp of English. I think I have sometimes underestimated my husband. “They say we’re young and we don’t know, won’t find out unti-i-il we grow” I sing out from the kitchen. “Well I don’t know if all that’s true, but you’ve got me and baby I’ve got you.” He sings in reply. And this is where we are today, stuck between poverty and love, leaving “for better” behind and walking towards “for worse”. I guess this is where we find out what we are made of.

big white teeth

Things get harder and harder to pretend normalcy. I feel surrounded by those waiting to take a bite out of me. They smile with big white teeth. I look past their pupils into the whites of their eyes and make pretend eye contact there in the white nothing. And this is how it will be now. I will no longer be me, cannot be me, must never be me. I must appear sincere and concerned, but cannot let my heart be touched. And above all I must never, never like them. If I like them, if I want them to like me, I will be exposed, a heart beating red and wet, with my ribcage opened and pulled away. I must never forget what is behind those smiling white teeth.

night flower

Someone hurt me yesterday

The weapon so old and dull I did not think it could penetrate my hide.

It did not slice neatly, parting my flesh,

but left a ragged hole.

My mind festers, facts and implications roiling,

sucking at it like a sore tooth.

My heart has closed in upon itself,

tightly furled petals

no prying hand can open without damaging.

Like a night flower,

It will open again soon when the sun shines.

Pizza

It has been too many days since I have had time to write. I find myself writing in my mind in the moments before I sleep, as I walk around the track, as I drive in the car: anytime that things get quiet. What is it that drives us creatively. I have felt this throughout my life manifesting in different directions. I must sew or quilt or paint, draw, sculpt, write… something, some outlet. Why? Does everyone feel like this? Perhaps they do.

I sat in writing class last night, and lamented that I am not the writer that I wish I were – a familiar feeling but very intense this time. There is this guy in my class that, simply put, has it. He has a gift and then he told us it wasn’t really hard work for him. Which rather pissed me off. I would still like to think he was lying. I would prefer to see him at least working hard to produce what he did. Again, I hope he was lying. I am not him and I never will be. Almendras amargosas – Bitter almonds! However at one point Jim Berg said aloud what I was thinking – that reading Jared’s writing made him want to put the pen down and never pick it up again. I was glad someone else felt it. Then Jim said Jared’s writing was fine wine and that his own, Jim’s, was pizza. And suddenly I thought, I like pizza. Is it that simple? I mean truthfully, a lot of people like pizza right? Maybe I won’t ever be Jared Ninness but I will be pizza.  And I like pizza.

I Wonder How MaryKay Letourneau’s Mother Felt?

I squeeze my eyes shut: to block out the sun, to stop the tears that threaten, to clear my mind’s eye of my daughter doing nasty things.  But she is there behind my eyelids doing things I never imagined.  I push the wheeled cart harder and enter my daughter’s classroom.  I study its normalness.  It is silent in the late afternoon, the setting sun shining through the curtains I made for this, her first classroom.  The desks are skewed and I push them back into orderly rows. I study the family photos at her desk: Mike and Andee close up with the wedding veil floating out behind them, Andee in a bikini on water skis, Andee, Andee, Andee looking fresh and innocent. I wipe the dust from each and set it back.  I grab the garbage and flipping it upside down I hurl its contents into the wheeled dumpster and then slam the garbage can back down.  Flipping the lights off I push my wheeled cart out the door and into the waning sunshine.

This is the last classroom and I trudge toward the storage room, my keys jangling on my hip.  My thighs rub full and uncomfortable, and my mind circles back again to her, her thighs opened wide and inviting.  Again and again I replace that image with the soft-cheeked, pudgy blonde child she was.  I cannot, simply cannot align that innocence I have known with the woman they say Andee is.  I shake my head vigorously in protest as my mind reviews what I have heard. It cannot be true, must not be true, and yet is.  There is proof.  And day after day, more  boys come forward, proffering ever more lurid details.  Their faces are downcast but their voices hint at pride.

Andee teaches high school English.  It is what she always dreamed of.  She says it proudly.  I am an English teacher. I say it proudly too.  My daughter Andee, she is a high school English teacher. It is  a small school so she teaches junior and senior English.  She boasts she knows every student that passes through our one-school town.   My mind cringes at the thought that every young man in town has passed through her classroom.  And what?  Under her skirt and through her thighs? How did it happen?  How did it start, this inconceivable thing?   

I see her there at the front of the class, nouns and verbs on the whiteboard behind her.  She is not a sexy vixen lowering her glasses and sensually shaking dark hair out of a bun.  She is small and neat, with freckles and her sandy hair is pulled back into a ponytail.  She wears jeans and little t-shirts and blends in with the students.  She is proud of that.  I’m not gonna be stuffy and superior like other teachers she said.  I’m gonna talk to them on their level, I’m gonna be their friend. And I had smiled in pride.  She was going to be their friend.  She was going to be on their level.  Everything has so many meanings now.

I sigh and lock the storage room door and placing the giant ring of keys over my arm I walk back to my car.  A tan, four-door Honda, nine years old, parked under the mural of a puma. It is the school mascot, painted by students but still, pretty good.  I unlock the door and slide into the drivers seat and insert the key into the ignition but I don’t start the car.  The car ping, ping, pings and I cannot hold it back any longer.  My throat swells until I think it will burst and the parking lot is empty so I finally just let it go.  I cry hard sobs with my mouth open, rubbing the base of my palms into my eyes.  My head is tipped forward almost touching the steering wheel, but my saliva starts to come out my mouth so I wipe it away and instead tip my head back.  I cry like this a while, head way back, loud sobs coming out of my mouth and I then I am not sad anymore.  I am angry, angry, angry.  I shake my head back and forth and I scream noises but not words, stomping my feet and beating my hands on the steering wheel.  Through the tears I see a car pulling into the staff parking lot and I stop.  Just like that it turns off. I quickly wipe my face on my hands and start the car, backing out roughly and pull out past them staring straight ahead.

worm on a hook

My mind rolls back and forth over my life, almost like sucking at a sore tooth.  Something nags at me. I compare the happiness I feel today with the unhappiness that preceded it.  Ten years of unhappiness followed by ten more years of suicidal unhappiness.  That is behind me now, but I never know if it is permanently gone.  I remember the depth of agitation; every nerve of my mind in agony, an agony that made each second stretch into the next as long and painful as possible.  I don’t think anyone ever wants to commit suicide, but rather than live in this pain, this ongoing pain, suicide begins to beckon.  Death takes on a friendly and comforting face. 

During those years, innumerable persons patted my hand and said various things within  a single significance.  “Don’t do it, Think of those you will leave behind, Don’t be selfish, and my personal favorite – Someday this will all be over and you will look back and be glad you stuck it out.” So many voices in union over something I don’t think they had even a glimmer of.  And the truth is, that I am glad to be alive today.  And simultaneously the truth is  that when I was in that moment, that never-ending moment of static pain, I thought that if only one person really loved me, they would let me go.  And I promised myself that if anyone ever cried out to me in this raw pain, I wouldn’t mouth those empty platitudes.  I said I would understand that if they said they couldn’t stand this, not one single minute more, I would accept that.

That moment is now.  My very dear friend writhes with this pain.  Not that she wants to die but that living has become too hard, has been too hard for a long time now.  Her words and anguish pour out the phone into my ear and I have no magic words. I listen mutely, and feel as I did as a little girl watching my father carefully thread a worm onto a hook.  Firmly gripping the flacid worm, he punctured its flesh with a hook that sparkled in the sunlight.  The worm, previously making soft movements began to coil and flail, twist and writhe. When I gasped, my father said not to worry, “they don’t feel pain like we do.”

wrinkling peach

I stare sadly at myself, at what I have done.  My image in the mirror is rather like a carwreck.  I am horrified, but cannot look away.  How did I get here?  Oh, I know how I got here.  Whatever makes me who I am got me here.  I who like to sit rather than move, I who like to eat rather than, well, rather than almost anything else in the world. 

I hear women blame their children or their jobs or lack of time or well, really almost anything.  But I will be truthful. I got here very much on my own. The real question is why I stay here.  Is it really a lack of will power?  I am beginning to think not.  I think I am afraid.

If left to imagine, to daydream about who I think I would be minus all this extra body, my mind runs wild.  While my body ages and decomposes almost before my eyes, my mind alone retains the sensation of youth and vibrance and well, sexuality.  I surprise myself with how sensual I am.  And that must remain hidden.  Mustn’t it?  No one wants to know that old women are just as sexual as young women, nay, as sexual as we imagine the most beautiful and glamourous of women to be.  It isn’t fitting.  I wonder what my daughters would think if they could see me as I see myself, deep within my mind?  No, no one out there wants a sensual grandma.  Except perhaps granpas? But we are here.  Hiding behind our decaying flesh, our minds ripe and juicy as peaches.

In self-examination, I circle back to fear.  Who would I be without the fat and the wrinkles? Perhaps I am afraid of her, of what she will do, this woman who lurks inside of me.  I have at last found happiness with a man.  But to gain him, I left the other: left him behind as refuse.  I felt bad, don’t we always feel bad?, but not bad enough to stay.  I had happiness waiting for me, calling to me and I left him crumpled and discarded and fairly skipped away to my new future.  I found happiness and picked it up and held it close and said it would be enough.  And it is enough.  I think it is enough.  Will it be enough?

If I were to shed this outer woman, the one who shrouds me from the world, Who would come out?  Who is in here?  I am afraid of her.  What if she is a woman who is never satisfied?  What if she thinks she needs more, that this life, and this man, are not enough? What then?  I don’t want to be that woman, and deep inside me, I am afraid that all my outer goodness and platitudes are only wrappings that covered her up.  Know yourself they say…I am afraid to know myself.  I am afraid I will not like her.  Is it not better to stay here, wrapped, shrouded, disguised as benign decomposition?

I am a peach, sitting on a long white counter. My skin sags, wrinkles and buckles.  My juice is all the sweeter for my maturity.  Liquid sugar, just before I go bad.

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