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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This I Believe #5, 2011

Please post your TIB essay by noon on Friday, February 25th. (:

13 comments:

  1. Virginia is a ten hour drive from home.

    Indiana is a three hour trip in the opposite direction.

    I remember that the air was crisp and dusty and the ground was covered in leaves.
    Everything seemed like a joke. The conversations in the car because we thought it would look bad if the two of us were just home alone all day while my parents were gone.

    But when we did go home, and put a movie on.

    Nothing was a joke. We were not on the same page. The conversations in the car and the fall air had failed to warn me about bruised wrists and the hazards of basement couches.

    I was being sent away to boarding school on a river that wasn't long from the Atlantic coast, that much we agreed on. It was far away, farther away than we already were, and he wouldn't be able to visit me there. I wouldn't be home very often. I'd readied myself for goodbye, but not for what he'd expected he'd get before that goodbye.

    Fourteen stairs and seven steps. I'd walked it hundreds of times. Never feeling like it was taking too long before that afternoon.

    Contrary to the tone of currently proposed legislation, no should be enough. It should be more than enough. The way I was behaving should have been enough. Bruises and fear are too much, no should be enough.

    The front door of my house was fourteen stairs and seven running steps from the couch. I believed in our front door.

    The bruises were easier to cover than I'd thought. No hadn't been enough to get away from him, but I got away anyway.

    He called a couple of days later, after he'd gone home again. I didn't answer.

    Fourteen stairs and seven steps.

    I believe in escape.

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  2. on hot summer days, we’d walk barefooted down the well-worn path between our house and hers. often, we’d find my nanna watching birds from the front porch, perhaps while talking to a dear old friend on the cordless telephone. we’d open the gate, slip inside the front door and quickly cross hardwood, carpet, and linoleum to the freezer. we’d find exactly what we were looking for and return outside, where we were soon sticky-fingered, messy-faced, and satisfied.

    my mother, although hot-headed and unpredictable, knew exactly how to make her children ridiculously happy. when it snowed just the right kind of snow, she’d take our largest mixing bowl into the back yard and fill it full of fresh white powder. in the kitchen she added cocoa, sugar, half-and-half, and a lot of mother’s love. she’d dish it out and serve it with a spoon and a handful of paper towels. winter never tasted so good as it did on those delicious snow-day mornings.

    in high school, i spent five weeks on a college campus for a summer camp. our ‘hall buddy,’ a kind, grandfather-y man, never failed to bring us homemade heaven during his weekly post in our dorm. strawberry, peach, chocolate, vanilla, cookies ‘n’ cream. we lined up and dove in, torn between eating quickly in hopes of seconds and eating slowly and savoring every last bite.

    i believe in ice cream.

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  3. Thin brown lines weave into upholstery the tight edges of an image, the canvas top of a covered-wagon tufted into the back cushion of a sofa now frozen in a pile of snow-covered junk as the man asks, “You want me to sit there?” I nod apologetically and he makes himself at home, his long-leg checkered pajama bottoms fray at the ends against corduroy slippers trimmed with fake fur, matted with sweat and no longer white. He is glad that someone has noticed the old couch, glad that his time sweeping snow from the porch got broken up so he could rest himself against the velveteen images. A thick pair of leathered fingers slide into the icy tuft of a cushion.

    Though the stack of wallet-sized photos still conforms to the shape of a body that once carried them, the images are now bruised by the marks of pressure found between a car tire and the sharp edges of small stones. A toddler leans against a set of soft cubes, a pregnant woman leans into a young man, and the toddler teeters over red velvet cake: smiles all around baby’s birthday. The wallet nearly drowns in the soaked asphalt outside Kroger, contents spilt, the owner long gone. Backs no longer detailed with dates, cursive ink mixes with rain.

    Unleathered elbows of a favorite shirt once saved for special occasions brush against waking skin. She wanted him to wear it more often, to look good, to feel good, to get a spring in his step: not just at family weddings. Now worn about the house, threadbare, the shirt reminds him of the time he put it on for her in the morning. “How did you sleep,” he asked and she rang a thousand angel bells in his face.

    Rolls of pink carpet come undone on the curb: loose tendrils tie cut pieces together at sharp edges, daisies spilling out of sight. Grooves signal the legs of buried chairs, a table, bare feet scurrying under cups of dark coffee, cheerios with milk in the morning. Do you care for honey? Honey? No one remembers the answer.

    I believe in broken patterns worn thin by repeated acts of skin.

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  4. I bid good bye to my mother on a hot morning in August, 1996. She did not cry and neither did I. I focused on the journey ahead, wondering if my clothes were good enough. My family did not fly often and we knew it was a special occasion: like a wedding, it required one’s best.

    Childless, I did not wonder what helped my mother let go of me: her only proof that she had not failed completely. Back in 1970s Communist Bulgaria, even children knew what kind of women got divorced. My mother was one of them: marked first by an absence and then by a daughter who left.

    Seven years later my mother arrived for her first American visit. Two weeks before I got married, she traveled to South Bend, Indiana. Though a depressed town since December, 1963, South Bend—like my American husband-to-be—held great promises for my mother: a red Nissan, a brick house circa 1920, and a selection of box stores wallpapered with clean smiles.

    Like a stubborn daughter in an immigrant novel, I determined to prove to my mother there is more to America than a white picket fence surrounding a dream big enough to accommodate the successful. Our route to Kroger, Target, and Kohl’s meandered by houses sagging under peeling paint, blind walls staring at urban blight. Unfamiliar with South Bend, my mother had no idea these trips took twice as long as they should have.

    Though she found some black kids next to whom she had her picture taken, my mother persisted in her belief than in America everyone is blond and beautiful. When I remarked that my hair would never be blond, my mother pointed out that I was not a real American. An impeccable accent, like a perfect body, marked the real ones.

    Seven years earlier my mother had not mourned my departure because she knew where I was headed: to a country full of dreamers. “The dream is the truth,” she was fond of saying.

    I believe that my mother is an American dreamer. Though she doesn’t speak English, her belief is firm.

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  5. I believe in sleeping in.

    Waking up to the sunlight streaming on your face instead of a beeping alarm clock. Stirring awake and realizing that you don't have anything to do, or that you just simply aren't concerned about anything you have to do, and sinking back down into the soft mattress and pulling the fluffy covers back over your shoulder.

    Sometimes, it's important just to take some time to yourself. To treat yourself to that extra hour of alone, or alone with someone you love, time.

    Many people, including myself a year ago, would say it is highly irresponsible to waste time sleeping when you have more important things to do. But, I've changed position. Sleeping in makes me happy. It makes me relaxed. It makes me a healthy person.

    I believe snuggling is just as important to the overall person as studying is. One helps your emotional, mental, and physical health, the other your intellectual. There is just something magical about a cozy bed that can make you forget all your troubles, all your stresses, at least for a little while.

    Just once in a while, every now and then, our society should try taking an extra hour or two to ourselves. Devote some time to pampering, to letting our bodies' relax. To listening to the rain pound and think, I'm going to turn over and get up in an hour. It's not procrastinating, it's happiness. And the little bits of happiness found in every day, that's what life is really about.

    I believe in snuggling up, with somebody special or all by your lonesome, and sleeping in.

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  6. The world can be a terrible place. There is a good there, which I believe to be the most important piece, but how does someone separate the good from the bad? Death, destruction, and mayhem run rampant yet no one seems concerned enough to help. Humanity, for all its capabilities for good, has a trend of evil within it. This evil makes it so difficult to believe in anything…yet something good occurs and the doubt only increases. What is there to believe in that is faultless or pure?
    Every rose has a thorn and Humanity has thorns abound.
    Our children are subjected to this evil every day, whether indirectly or not. They also suffer some of the worst fates…yet most people do nothing, other than participate in those “just for five cents a day” charity events. Even then, those charities are woefully unprepared to help those who seem abandoned. The young child with the distended stomach that stares into the camera…why is this allowed? For all the bluster of Humanity’s humanity, it’s very strange that this is not only allowed but tolerated. This attitude indicates the inherent evil within human beings…

    I believe in the humanity within people but I also believe in the evil that is present within us all.

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  7. The way I remember it, Jack, my twin, and Michael, our neighbor, dropped a cherry tomato into the entrance of the underground hive and popped a bucket over the hole. We didn’t know three things.

    We should have realized there was a hole in my dad’s haggard planter.

    We were too young to know the foresight of bees and their backdoors.

    The swarm chased us up the same hill we went sledding down every winter when plants and insects slept.

    I was the slowest, and remember the bug landing on my arm in an appropriate slow-mo fashion.

    Shortly after, I was puffing up like a tomato in an ice cold bath while my mom went from sympathetic to calling 911.

    Every time I get stung, I become more allergic. I’m like Mccaulay Culkin in “My Girl” allergic. And with the exception of the blessed sweat bee, it seems to apply to every variety: wasps, yellow-jackets, hornets, et al. I wear a medical alert necklace emblazoned, “Clay Shields Allergic to beestings,” and carry an epi-pen almost everywhere during Spring and Summer.

    It’s all more of an irritation than anything else. I’m rarely more than 30 minutes away from a hospital, and once I jam the epi-pen into my hip, I’m golden. I feel like it’s a waste of my time: up to 10 hours in the hospital just to run tests.

    The martyred bee garners no such attention.

    I watched a documentary yesterday about the dwindling numbers of honeybees. Without them, we wouldn’t have fruits, vegetables, or that sweet, sweet nectar of the Gods. If they sleep forever, it'll be winter bleak all year round.

    Most people immediately think of being stung when they think of a bee. You’d think that’d be me. But I feel that stings, hives, and the occasional trip to the hospital are a small price to pay for the gifts of the honeybee.

    I believe in bees.

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  8. Blair, I can't imagine what it's like to be in a situation like the one you describe; i can't imagine the fear and disbelief, the inability to trust any longer, the sheer horror of no not being enough. You are right: no should be enough. And I am glad you escaped.

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  9. Katie, I love the details you included in this reflection: your sticky face, your mother's hot-headedness, strawberry and peach flavors. I also like how one doesn't find out until the very end what you believe in. I thought it had something to do with kind adults...

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  10. April, I am sorry there are people who believe that sleeping in is irresponsible, that you used to feel that way yourself until not so long ago. I totally agree with you about the happiness entailed in sleeping in, not getting out of bed first thing, feeling one's toes one by one, enjoying being away from schedules and days that can become too predictable too fast. Cheers for people who make it a point to sleep in, no guilt snuggling with them.

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  11. Fourteen stairs and seven steps. I appreciate the repetition in your essay, Blair, as I appreciate the confidence you show in sharing this. Your counting, and now your sharing of this counting of fourteen stairs and seven steps, creates a rhythm for us to follow, to find a way into the place where you wrote this from. Please keep sharing this whenever you can, your words are powerful.

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  12. Cody, you would enjoy (I think) reading about the Stanford Prison experiments and Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments, if you do not already know about them.

    And I agree, much charitable giving is designed to soothe the guilt of the person making the gift. I do believe, though, that there is room for altruism, that cultures practicing altruism are stronger. Individuals, though, see very few benefits (it seems) from altruism, unless they cease thinking of themselves as individuals and see themselves as part of a collective, of something larger than themselves.

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  13. Between your concern about bees and your previously stated (a few years ago) joy in Pokemon, Clay, it seems you are an older version of a child that lives with me.

    I hope that is true, even if it means that I will one day be jabbing an epi-pen into his hip.

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