She knew. I knew she knew something was wrong. But I sat there, a coward. No way I was telling the truth to those eyes outpouring empathy, that hand rubbing my back. She was sitting next to me supportively, seeing right through my red-eyed smile, trying to understand. But how could I tell her? How could I tell her the real cause for my pained countenance; my conspicuous blotchiness? How could I say that I’d miscarried her grandchild? What if it was the stress of traveling halfway across the planet to see her that did it? She hadn’t even known I was pregnant. There was no reason to say anything.
“Are you alright darlin’?”
“Yep, of course.” I blurted too quickly. Then I looked her in the eye to cement my acting skills, putting all the casual-small-talkiness I could muster into my next (hopefully more convincing) utterance. “Just tired, you know, jet-lag’s a B.”
She probably assumes it’s abuse. My whole family thinks he’s abusing me; my husband, that is. What other explanation could there be for a sweet, caring girl like me to marry a jerk like him? Alright, so he’s no diplomat. He hates just about everybody by default, and doesn’t try to hide it. What he does hide is his brilliant mind, his keen interest in history and philosophy, his endearing chuckles. They’ve never even seen him crack a smile. It’s as though he’s two different people; the public arsehole, and the private gentleman. (Opposite of most people- isn’t it?) Case in point; He’d just spent all night cradling his bedraggled monster of a wife as she shuddered chest-soaking tears all over him, and still had enough fortitude to kiss her cheek and go buy her toiletries first thing in the morning, but scowled at his mother-in-law on his way out the door...
I smiled again, genuinely this time, but without the discomforting eye-contact. Contemplating the reasons behind my husband’s jekyll-and-hyde routine was a welcome distraction from the gut wrenching emptiness which threatened to swallow all smiles forever.
“Well, I stink. I need a shower.” I told my ceaselessly loving mother, relieved to excuse myself from further inquiries, and to finally tell a meager truth. I stood and turned towards the bathroom just in time to hide the new flood of silent tears which manifested in my aching eyes.
Post-script note:This is a reflection on a moment in my life from years ago. I have agonized over whether or not to post it, or to keep it to myself. But in the end I have decided to post it as the non-fiction that it is because I know that others here on Prose have been through their own heart-wrenching circumstances, and I want you to know that you’re not alone. Some of the most painful things in life are nobody’s fault. And that in itself is a very painful thing to accept.
cause i’ve got a girl crush.
Title- “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town
This was back when I was still identified as cisgender. I’m non-binary and use they/them pronouns. However, for this, I will be referring to myself as my assigned gender at birth. Please do not refer to me as a girl. I only allow masculine nicknames/slang (dude, bro, king, etc.) to used on me. Thank you, have fun :)
I never thought about women that way. Wanting to hold their hands, kiss them, feel their touch against mine; it just never appealed to me. But that was only because I didn’t know it was possible. I didn’t know you could be with the same gender as yourself, nobody told me about it. I didn’t see anything about it on T.V, I wasn’t taught about it, I didn’t know anything about it; until I did. I asked a friend what being gay meant when I was. She told me that was when you date the same gender as yourself. At first, I was confused. Like I said before, I didn’t know about it. But the more I thought about it, the less I cared. Whoever you date and love is none of my business, so why should I care? Sadly, in this day and age, most people care, even when it doesn’t affect them at all. People can date, kiss, make love, marry, do whatever with anybody, I don’t care, as long as nobody is getting hurt; and I left it at that.
One day, I began to think if I was interested in the same gender as myself. I tried to imagine it. I didn’t hate it? I don’t know, it was confusing. I never had a crush on a girl, or even felt anything remotely romantic for a girl. I was boy-crazy and was already crushing hard on a guy (one that didn’t like me back, but he’s irrelevant). I thought some more, but I only got more confused. I didn’t particulary hate the idea of being with a girl, I just wasn’t sure if I like it since I’ve never been in love with one before. I decided to not dwell on the topic any longer. It wasn’t like I was planning on dating anytime soon (despite the fact that I had a crush on a guy). And just like before, I left it at that; that is, until I couldn’t.
It was late at night, and I was just scrolling through social media. It was the same old, same old; except it wasn’t. A picture of a friend popped up. She was in a short, navy blue dress with a sunflower tucked behind her ear. Her dirty blond hair was draped over her bare shoulders, her smile brighter than the sun. Freckles scattered around her cheeks, her eyes shined like diamonds, diamonds that I could gaze at for hours and never get bored of. My face began to heat up as my heart began to race. What was this feeling? I know this feeling, but why am I feeling it now? I was feeling love, but who was it for? Her? No, it couldn’t be...could it?
I fell in love with her. It was beautiful, new, and all around wonderful; but only for a split second. After that split second, everything was a hell.
I hated being in love with her, for I knew she wouldn’t ever feel the same. She was only interested in guys. Was I a guy? Nope, not in the slightest. I was a girl, not a guy. Still, did that stop me from being in love with her? Again, nope, not in the slightest. I couldn’t control it, but how I wish I could. I wanted to be hers, I wanted her to be mine. But it was never going to happen; and it shattered my heart.
The butterflies in my stomach only grew with each passing day, and as disturbing as it sounds, I wanted to rip off each and every one of their beautifully delicate wings and watch them die slowly with pain in my hands. It’s what they deserved. Crying myself to sleep, wishing she liked girls, wishing I didn’t like her. I made a lot of wishes, but none of them ever came true. It was painful. Why did it have to be so painful? As beautiful as love is, it’s also one of the cruelest things to ever exist. Sure, I was used to getting hurt from having crushes, but this was different. At least I had a chance (a slim one, but still a chance), but here, there was no chance to begin with. She would never see me the way I saw her, so I began to hate myself.
Why? Why me? Why did I have to be the one to fall in love with the same gender as myself? Why did I have to steal glances at her in class hoping that she would do the same with me? Why did I have to cry at night because she wasn’t mine? Why did I have to gush about how stunning she looked from every angle? Why did I have to wish for her to always be by my side? Why did I have to make up fake scenarios where she would actually be with me? Why? Why me?
Why did I have to be the freak that loved her?
If it is okay with you, I have two.
The first is July 19, 1956. Then I was nearly nine and attended my first ever funeral of my grandfather. As he lay in the casket, I pulled and tugged at his arm closest to me. It pained me at the time he wouldn’t wake up and talk to me, tell me stories, make me laugh. When it finally sunk in that he would never wake up again, I ran out of the church where the viewing was held and cried. It wasn’t until later my mother found me and explained what death is and why even good people have to die. That day, I lost the best friend I ever had. On that day, I learned grief, sorrow, and pain.
Sometime in June, the Summer of 1961, I had my first ever real date with a girl named Sandy. We were both fourteen. This may be hard to imagine but we had a Sunday picnic. Rather odd since we both lived in the city, but we made do by having the picnic in her backyard.
Long story short; when the picnic was over and time for me to get back home, I went to kiss her goodbye. She backed up and shook her head no, saying, “A picnic doesn’t mean you take liberties with my virginity.” (Honest, they were her words.) When I came home, my mother asked me how things went, and then that’s when I asked her what virginity was. When she asked why, I told her what Sandy said. My mother laughed out loud but then proceeded to sit me down and explain virginity and a few other Bird and Bee tales. So yeah, it was my mother, not father, who gave me my basic sex education.
Uncle Keith, he's my favorite everything. I tell Mom, When I grow up, I’m gonna be just like him. She says, Don't even think about it. Then she tells Dad, Does he have to keep coming over here? He SMELLS.
Dad says, No, he doesn't. C'mon now.
Mom says, Burt, he wreaks. Can't you smell the B.O.?
Dad says, Aww, c'mon.
I don't know B.O. I know it's a smell thing. But I don't know what it is. But who cares?
Uncle Keith does EVERYthing like how I want to do it when I'm a grown up. He drives a sports car with the top all the way down. It can go up or down. Down is way more fun, so thats how he always keeps it. It's a MG. It’s red. It’s dark maroon red, and when he takes me for rides, I sit right next to him, and he has yellowy-brown hair that's long, and the wind makes it go like super-fast waves in the air like a cape behind him, and all over I feel the wind on me, on my face, on my hair, on my mouth, it's the only time I ever felt wind like that, and it's in my hair, and I lift my hand up and down and let the wind keep it up there like it's a sailboat, I don't have to lift it now, it's just the wind blowing that's keeping my hand up, this is amazingness. This is amazingness of life again. This is it.
Sports cars don't have a backseat. Only two people can ride in it. Me and him. Uncle Keith says it's a bachelor car. That's what I'm gonna be when I grow up. We always go to the liquor store. He always gets me something when we're here. They have drinks here you can’t get at a big store. They have red soda and green soda and blue soda, and tons and tons of others, and all kinds of candy you can't find any place else. Liquor stores are way better than big stores. This is the BEST place ever!
Uncle Keith says I can pick out a couple things. I already picked out three. My Big Red soda and these Bottle Caps and these round things that say NECCO. He says "couple" means two. I say to him, I thought it was the same for when you say "few." I thought couple meant more than one, but when you don't know exactly, so you just say couple or you just say few. I made him smile and he gets it, that's what I like about Uncle Keith, he always gets it. He says again when he calls me Buddy, couple means two, and I can tell in his voice that he knows it, he knows for sure it's two, so I just learned a new word that I didn't have right. Now I know. He's my greatest teacher. But he lets me get all three still.
Okay, just this time, he says. And he smiles like he's my brother. That's how it feels like. Like he's my older brother I never had.
I put my few, not my couple, up on the table so the man can do the money on them. The store man says what a nice uncle I have to get me all this stuff. Uncle Keith says, Heyyyy, as long it doesn’t go over a couple of bucks.
But then the DING happens when the guy does his buttons and I can see, it goes over. That's more than a couple. The store man looks at Uncle Keith, and that's a grown-up look, but Uncle Keith says, Heyyyy, man, it's only money. Then he's my brother looking at me and it's funny. It's funny 'cause he was way off on the money, it was more than just two bucks.
Then we go back to his MG car and I get in with him, then there's the VrrRROOOOM and it's more and more wind in my face, I love it, it's all over my hair again till I can’t control how it goes and it's fun, everything's fun, fun is everywhere right here now, and it gets funner everytime Uncle Keith grabs the stickball thing sticking up, he pushes it forward, then he goes back, then he does it this way and up, then he goes back down with it, and everytime there's another vrooom when he pushes it, everytime we go faster, everytime we get more wind again, till I have to close my eyes, it gets too good in here with all this wind.
When we get back home, Uncle Keith says if Dad got 'er done.
I say, Dad, Dad, what a great ride we had. Me and Uncle Keith. We had a GREAT ride.
Dad says, Ha, looks like everybody went riding today.
Then they do a great big laugh together. And I'm just like them. I can do grown-up stuff too.
I love it when Uncle Keith comes over, and if he sticks around, he and Dad talk about grown-up stuff in the front yard. Uncle Keith is Dad’s little brother. He looks the same as Dad, but his hair is not as brown and it's long, and his nose isn't big like Dad's.
He says, Heyyyyy, man!
He says, Farrrrrr out!
He says, Riiiight on!
Uncle Keith makes records. Mom says he's a bum. He doesn't want to work. He just wants to figure the easy way out. Uncle Keith cleans carpets of people’s houses. He also has a van. His van I LOVE riding in. He puts stickers on his van that are magnets that he takes on and off. It depends if he's at work doing carpets. The magnet stickers say the name of his company for doing carpets, and every magnet sticker has a different number. Mom says he's trying to trick people, he makes people believe he's got a bunch of vans, but really it's just him and his one van he has. But I just think that's smart.
When he doesn't come over, sometimes he's making records. Uncle Keith wants to do a hit song on the radio. I gave him all my song ideas. I wrote them all down and made a list. I stayed up all night and did it and he liked two of my ideas. He liked my song called “Boogie-itis.” And he liked my song called "The Brightest Star in the Universe." I told him, the "Boogie-itis" one is just perfect, because they already have a song on the radio called “Boogie Fever.” So they might as well have one called “Boogie-itis" then, because "itis" also means sick, just like "fever," plus they both have the word "Boogie" in front of it.
He said, Riiiight on, Buddy.
He said he liked where I was going.
Uncle Keith and Dad talk about when they were kids. They do that out by the gutter. When they were kids, their dad would take them fishing. That means Grampa, my Grampa that is dead. So that's what they can talk about a lot is places they used to go for fishing, and all the fun they used to have. One time when Uncle Keith came, they were talking grown-up stuff out by the gutter, and there was a mud puddle of water in the gutter from Dad washing the car before, and me and Dad and Uncle Keith were standing, and Uncle Keith got down low when he sees the puddle all of a sudden, and he makes a fishing pole sign with his hands, and looks up to Dad, and flicks his hand and he goes, Zzzzzzzzzzz! That's the fishing sound, like he was casting his pole out there. Like he was gonna catch a fish right there in that little mud puddle. Dad got it, so he laughed. I also got that he was pretending, so I laughed. I can do just like them. I know what they're saying.
I just want to go fishing with Dad and Uncle Keith. You don’t have to be a grown up. You just have to know how to cast. That's what I remind them. They say that they will.
I say, Farrrr out!
But Uncle Keith and Dad just go back to talking grown-up stuff. No more fishing. Just boring. But I watch them and I stay right here, because it's Uncle Keith.
When I grow up, I want to be just like him.
Sometimes if I tell him, he gets it and he likes it. He goes, Riiiiiiight on.
Life and Death
I was six years old. Smart. Too smart in many ways, yet ridiculously ignorant in others. When it came to common sense on social cues, I was useless. As for life's greater questions, such as why we are here and the balance of nature... Well, I was already in the process of figuring those out. Let it be known, I was never a genius, nor will I ever be one; but I had strange fascinations no little girl ought to ever worry themselves over.
That was when my great-grandmother died of a heart attack. I remember sitting in the waiting room and my mother telling me I couldn't go in to see her. I was worried but I still didn't fully comprehend what had happened. As any child at that age, I didn't think of it again until her funeral. The memory still holds in my mind - my grandfather holding me up to see into her coffin. Still, I didn't understand what was going on and wondered that if she was 'no longer with us' and that wasn't my "grape grandma", then did that body still have eyes? An odd question, I know.
I still don't recall the exact moment I finally came to an understanding of what 'death' meant. All I do know is that it scarred me. It lead to my developing anxiety and perhaps some depression -though we didn't know exactly what to call my strange behavior until I was past the age of thirteen. I grew into the habit of wearing her shirts everywhere almost obsessively for some time until they became only my nightshirts and then momentos in the back of my closet. Though it is unclear whether this event was the reason behind my current ailment or not, my impressionable younger self was so affected that it took many, many years before I truly recovered.
The Mystery of the Shells
A nursing home the red brick flat roofed creation ubiquitous 1960s construction two blocks. Inside we ask at the desk for the room number. Fluorescent halls of open doors of identical dim rooms. We find his room number. Inside, two beds separated by a curtain the one nearest the door empty. Beyond the fading orange drape, his bed close the window. Drapes wide open. He is asleep in the sunshine. I softly sit on the edge of his tiny bed and watch him, my grandfather who I have not seen in nine years. Now half way through the one hundredth year of life.
He hadn’t changed much from the last time I saw to him - before I had outgrown family trips, went to college, got married, my time taken by career - when he last took me by the hand, as he had for those early sixteen years of my youth, and led me to the big rocks beside the steep steps that went down to the lake always cluttered with yellow lily flowers that time of year. There, together we’d hide tiny snail shells plucked from under the dock while sitting together kicking our feet in the water. Mine small and tanned, his so very white with blue veins as if they never, but this one time each year, were exposed to the sun.
The shells waiting until my family came back for one week each June, when first thing he'd clasp my growing hand in his wrinkled one and together we would look beneath the rocks to always find the shells waiting so faithfully that, as I came of age, I wondered if he waited for June and then replenished the tiny treasures beneath the rocks.
This day, as I gaze at the delicate rising and falling of his flannel plaid chest, trying hard to etch the lines and shadows of his form - curled up beside me now as it must have been within his mother so long ago - into some place my memory where it will never fade even when I am half way through my one hundredth year of life, he wakes. Reaching up to touch my then long and golden hair, he says without another word, “Joy Joy, did you look under the rocks to see if the shells are there?”
Reflections of a Nursing Home
On sleepless nights their faces come, unbidden to my mind. Quivering lips and doleful eyes glimmer out of the gloom. —Gray-aged creases, crinkled to scowls; faces stale and spent beside the insolence of youth. They peer up at me out of oversized hospital beds and follow me from the corners of hallways.
I am haunted by their silent accusations.
Sunshine Meadows called to offer me the position on the same day rent was due. My one-bedroom apartment cost two-hundred and seventy-five dollars a month and the role as night-aide, 6 PM to 6 AM, paid $8.50 an hour. I accepted gratefully and chewed my fingernails until the first paycheck cleared.
I was sixteen years old, and alone. My conscience resorts to this irrelevant statistic—age—when it feels particularly guilty, when the images of lips and eyes and creases flash unceasingly in memory.
A forgetful youth. A selfish moment. Is this neglect?
A cutting word. A cruel grimace. Is this abuse?
An impudent girl in over-large scrubs clocks on to her shift.
The work is steady, but unenviable. Distribute pills. Check vitals. Apply lotions, creams and cosmetics. Wash. Scrub. Comb. Hair. Urine. Dentures. Feces.
An endless monotony of self-sacrifice to the nearly dead.
The shower shift is especially unsavory. Twelve hours heaving the invalid and overweight from wheelchair to shower seat, removing undergarments, hearing aids and jewelry, and being bitingly warned against pocketing the treasures stripped from their scabby necks. The men are prone to grope. The women are prone to complain.
After careful scrubbing between each fleshy excrescence and a second hugging of their naked, now wet bodies back to the wheelchair, the process of re-clothing begins. Breasts are scooped from their long descent into bras. Hip-high compression socks are peeled over layers of mottled, flaking skin. Buttons are adjusted. Watches are replaced. Every individual has their preference.
‘Over the shirt, I said. Over the shirt, not under!’
‘Watch the curls. I just had it permed.’
‘Put it in the left pocket, not the right. I can’t reach it in the right.’
The list of demands is unending.
Irma is uniquely cantankerous. She has two great vanities: heaps of gaudy jewelry that she wears draped about her wrists and neck, and vermilion lipstick, meticulously applied. If the jewelry is not put on in just-the-right order, or the lipstick applied not just-to-her-liking, it must be removed and started over.
As I draw closer to that threshold between activity and inability, my compassion grows. My own skin is now blotched, my own mobility now constrained. Handing over control of my personal comforts, however small, to the impersonality of a stranger feels dreadful.
On the third re-application of lipstick, with Irma insisting “it’s just not quite right. See how it’s smeared at the bottom?” I sneer and toss the tube into her lap.
“If you don’t like it, put it on yourself.”
Her embarrassed glance at the useless, arthritic arms at her sides, and those quivering red lips linger now in my mind.
Her voice is falsely cheery when she replies.
“Well.. that’s ok then. I think it looks alright after all.”
The last game, and libraries.
My grandfather taught me to play chess. he was a genius. spoke quite a few languages, knew the latin name for every plant under the sun. i did some research on this amazing person. during the great depression, to kept his young family fed, by working on the laundry boat that serviced the prison island of Alcatraz. He was later 'diagnosed' with super- intelligence, the poor man, and held back from fighting ze germans by the army, being rushed to collage on a scholarship to be the next Zigmund Fraud.
he played piano, and his fingers were a blur of action.
that kind of genius.
i was in awe of hin, naturally.
in chess, he killed me mercilessly every time, explaining with great passion where i failed, prompting me to think strategically. to avoid his many, MANY traps.
in chess, he killed me mercilessly every time,explaining where i failed, prompting me to think strategically. to avoid his many, MANY traps. nk strategically. to avoid his many, MANY traps.
but i never won a game.
when i was around 12, there was a period when i didn’t get to see him all that much. he was feeling bad, i was informed, obscurly.
one day, my parents took me over.
seeing him on that occasion i couldn't help but seeing that he was changed. he did not speak as precisly as before. more distressing, he could not play piano at all any more.
i was asked to play for him, ‘to cheer him up’.
i did not understand. how could my playing cheer him up, i was far from impressive. nothing like him.
then we played a game of chess. he looked at the board, as he always did. carefully calculating.
but he set no traps for me, he defended weakly.
i beat him that day. for the first and only time.
many years later, i realized i have a strange neurotic condition. i could not set foot inside a public library, without immidiately needing to run to the bathroom and pee.
the problem was absurd and was annoying me all through collage.
then one day i got a glimpse as to what was bothering me in a dream.
a flash memory of something i've totaly forgotten.
many years earlier, when i was about eight, i was sent for a weekend to be with my grandparents. i guess my parents needed a rest , dealing with only my rambunctious 5 year old brother, back home.
i stayed the first night away from home in my grandfather’s office. he had an impressive library covering many topics, many of the books falling into my hands years later.
sleeping on a cot , i was excited, going to sleep thinking about what we were going to do the following day. everything was great until i needed to pee.
living in a modest apartment, my grandparents had only one bathroom, which was just next to their bedroom. the toilet however, was perhaps the nousiest toilet in the history of the world. it made a sound that was a cross between a semitrailer and a jackhammer. it was on the other side of the wall from their bed's headboard.
so, sitting in the dark , i held on to this dilemma: go potty and wake my grandparents, or hold my own, with everything i had.
sitting there, the smell of the books and their dark silluettes taunted and threatened me. it's odd, that the smell of books, particularly old ones is my favorite, considering that that night they added to my anxiety...
i guesd i'm a weird person...
that was the dream anyway. i am not sure what i did. but i think around five AM the resistance i had was about to pop . literally.
i’ve never seen my grandfather angry, but he had a way about him, that made you know that it wouldn’t be nice. a larger than life kind of person.
perhaps , since then, i am drawn to learning about other genius like him( beethoven , byron, samuel clemens, ted geisel , etc..)
he is truly someone i would love to meet again in another life, and get killed, playing chess with.
She held my hand down hard under the airport kiosk. Don’t be a bitch. I don’t remember doing anything except being myself. Maybe that’s the sass, or maybe my mother couldn’t undo two decades of abuse.
When we touched down in California, I was all Happy Face, the one I make when I’m trying hard to avoid what’s really happening, what I’m really feeling. It’s a wall I put up when I need to decompress behind the scenes, like an actress who has forgotten her lines and needs to regroup alone, away from the crowd.
Perhaps I'll win an Oscar, or perhaps it's not necessary to reward trauma.
When we got to San Francisco, I took a selfie with my parents in the background. We all look like hell. Thirteen hours of travel later and we all need to build walls around ourselves. Walls that include a cigarette break, or maybe a divorce.
My sister waved like the queen at her graduation. My mother gave her flowers, I took the necessary social media pictures. It was precious, like the love and respect we think we deserve from ourselves, but can never fathom feeling when the diploma is handed to you.
I remember everyone’s happy faces. We didn’t know she was an alcoholic too, we didn’t know anything at all about who she really was.
Walls. My family puts them up like air, like the clouds. Blink and they’re different, the shape taking on a new animal, but never a new addiction.
The Rain Bull
A poem inspired by a true story as told by Dog
My dad Dog used to tell me ‘The Rain Bull Story’
So called for one who in his day outstood,
“No way to move a bull that dudn’t want to go,”
Dog’d go on and say so I’d see it plain:
A bull-headed sun-of-a-gone
Good stubborn spirit hooves-planted in the mud
While the clouds climbed closer over pasture,
“Standoff’s what e’s after,
Make or break because you cain’t outwait
A bull who dudn’t want to move.”
Whence the name, ole bull stayed
All my life later and still I can picture those
Obstinate cow knees, crystal torrents for horns
Dripping tail swishing surety and sense
Steady, center-placed inside the fence
Might as well and kind as thunder
Stern-gazed, chin raised, just watching
Drop by drop till the Rain Bull
Was good’n ready to be on his own way.