The Stone Pillar
My father never showed a vulnerable side. Like many from his generation, he kept it locked away somewhere so secret that I often thought even he forgot where it was.
When I was growing up, I watched him and tried my best to emulate the parts that I admired. I wanted to be a source of calm, a rock, a shoulder, hell I wanted to be a gravitational pull for when his world was spinning off its axis.
And I got my opportunity on the day my brother almost died, and he lost his job.
I remained calm that day, despite an anxiety riddled so deep in my bones that I thought it would paralyze me. Watching my brother fall asleep at the wheel of my old man’s work truck. Watching the tar black smoke rise from the hood like a dark omen. Screaming my brother’s name as I exited the car, running, then hauling on the driver’s side door like my life depended on it. Staring at the near lifeless body of my best friend, who was unconscious at the wheel.
I remained calm as my mother screamed obscenities at my grandmother. Blaming her for my brother’s condition. Pointing at her with a long wicked finger, preaching the gospel according to an angry middle-aged mother. Psalms that couldn’t have come from the mouth of the woman who had taught me about love, compassion, and sincerity.
She was yelling, saying that if my grandma would have just stayed put in her shitty apartment instead of insisting that we help her move back to the town she swore she’d never return to, my brother wouldn’t be lying in a hospital bed cut-up and concussed.
My grandmother’s frail hands were shaking in deep disbelief of the barrage of obscenities she was bearing witness to. I wanted to step in, but I was numb. My tongue was so dry, I couldn’t even imagine stringing two words together, let alone enough coherent sentences that would ratify the damage already done.
So, I walked out of the hospital room to get away from the madness for a moment. I saw my father on his work phone, telling who I assumed was the big boss about the incident. Pleading, to no avail, for his job. The job which he had worked for over 20 years. Pleading, but not begging, never begging. Eventually, ending the call with a monotone, “thanks for everything, I guess.” and hanging up.
He turned and looked at me. I didn’t want to hold his gaze, afraid that the stone pillar I had built for myself, and out of myself, would crumble if we were to lock eyes. So, instead, I looked at the floor and headed back towards the war zone. The fighting seemed to have stopped, at least momentarily.
I took a step in the direction of the room and my father said, “not so fast, kiddo.” I turned around slowly. Feeling nervous, like he was going to scold me, although I’d done nothing wrong, at least not since Minnie’s Field. Instead, he put his hands on my shoulder. “Thanks for everything today. You’re a tough kid. I’m proud of ya. I know, I
probably don’t say this enough, but I love you, kid”
Then, despite my best efforts, the stone pillar crumbled.
It filled the room.
Gradually flowing and forming into what looked like a massive cloud coming from the vents. She knew to hold her breath, and not breathe it in.
Her eyes scanned the room. She could not see him. As she tried to continue searching for him in the room, she ended up banging her head near a giant lamp that for some odd reason appeared out of thin air.
‘‘Not so fast!’’
She rubbed her head, and felt like she just got hit with a baseball bat. Then turned to stare at the enormous lamp that now cleared its throat.
The lamp flickered it’s light in her face. When she reached for the light switch, a long cord slapped her face. She screamed, and asked, ‘‘What was that for?’’
No it seemed like the lamp had won. It flickered once more right before it turned it’s light off.
The gas…it was still circulating around the room! She panicked. How could she have forgotten about it? Her eyelids began to feel heavy.
‘‘Lights out…hope you have a nice, long cat nap!’’
She felt lightheaded.
Her chest was on fire.
She thought of drawing water out of thin air. But she had not been taught that hand sign at school.
Her body fell onto the floor. The floor opened up, and swallowed her body whole.
‘‘Sayonara!’’ the lamp exclaimed.
I wince in pain as sweat drips off my brows, and scorches the corners of my eyes. The excess makes its way down my face until I can taste the saltiness on my lips. My heart is chugging at top speed as if it's a train barreling down the tracks, and I am a locomotive that refuses to stop. My blistering feet smack against the pavement, and each pounding step sends a bolt of electricity into my ass, jolting me to keep pushing on. I’m in race with Tina, but she doesn’t know it, and there is no time to consider slowing down. I'm approaching seventy feet behind her, and I can already see she's wearing those trendy ass-lifting leggings sold on QVC last week; The purple ones with Laser beams, I think. If for any second, she thinks that her fancy car, expensive clothes, or lavish lifestyle will help her win this race she is sorely mistaken. I’m about to show her what second-hand spandex can really do.
She presents herself as this virtuous yoga instructor in our little corner of town, but you should see what she does behind her castle walls. Her front door revolves with male visitors like there is an open sign always left on. Twenty feet, and my pace is rising. She would hear me now if it wasn’t for her matching purple air-pods stuck in her ears. Suddenly, I smack into a wall of gnats freeing me from my thoughts, and filling me with a protein shake that I didn’t expect. I spit out a couple dozen onto the ground, and keep pushing on. They are disgusting, and I can imagine they taste similar to Tina's tofu order she gets every Friday from the local Won-Ton delivery guy. She earns a free lunch and he receives more than a tip.
We round the corner onto Highlander Street which is known for its quiet, but nosy neighbors. Most of them are old, retired, and soon to be dying, and being within arm’s reach of Tina, sends me into overdrive. Today, I very well may be joining one of those old bastards in the hospital. Not so Fast! I grit my teeth, punch at my ribs, and groan in agony as I full-throttle the jets and surge past her. Yes! I’m smirking with celebration while simultaneously trying to catch my breath. Eat my dust bitch. She’s in my rear-view and well behind me for good. As I get closer to the “T” in the road, I dart right, and a few moments after, shoot a glance back at her; she goes left. Sunday, 3:24pm. 19 minutes, 23 seconds; My fastest time yet.
And for whatever
And whatever's worth!
The thing that gave wings
these preceding weeks,
Its deadline came
For that hope and uplift
all I care to now admit
is that the Universe...
and so this Slate
is what it was,
with the dust
of other Life.
No not you, or You, or ME.
Not tangible, nor thought;
Not by lack of these...
But by sheared
It was always
so as intended,
along a different
line of dreams...
cache of Reality's
"Not So Fast!" challenge @AJAY9979
Consequences of high-speed passivity
Outside the train window, I see life swiftly passing by.
I didn't mean to board this train and I certainly didn't plan to sit down. Or, at least, this was supposed to be a momentary pause, this was supposed to be a little break to relax and recharge before taking to the trail again, but suddenly I'm here, a passenger, passively sitting and passively watching and passively waiting.
The future is approaching very quickly and I am frightened. This train goes so fast, so fast—maybe I should've walked? Maybe I should've taken the scenic route. My passion for efficiency has a dark side, after all, and that dark side is choking the life out of me with every passing day. I mean, I like it rough, but Jesus Christ, this is overkill. I'd say my safe-word if only I remembered it.
My memory has been getting worse and worse and I wonder if the train is to blame. Am I missing the trees for the forest? I'm going so fast and I can't see everything, I can't hear everything; I'm scribbling furiously in my little notepad, but my hands ache and I can't keep up with the speed of the train. I make errors when I write, errors in my perception—misunderstandings, misjudgments, mistakes—and I don't have enough time to fix them so they stand, they sit, they linger on in my memory. I am left with a skewed image of the past, but aren't we all? Some people have photographic memory, but the rest of us make do with messy portraits of emotion and cluttered journal entries in stained notebooks. Subjectivity is the norm.
The train is traveling so fast and I sometimes think about getting off. I don't even remember when I got on—all I know is that I boarded the train a long time ago, somewhere between childhood and adolescence. After all, that's when everything went wrong, that's when the faulty wiring of my brain started to reveal itself, that's when I got tired, so tired, so incredibly tired, and I thought that it might be nice to sit down, to take a pause, to catch my breath. I have been catching my breath for a long, long time.
Not so fast. Please, not so fast—can't we slow down a little? I wonder if my stop is coming up. It might be time for me to use my legs again, to smell the flowers. I see them passing by outside the window, large swaths of purple and yellow and blue. I see poppies and daffodils, roses and violets, bleeding hearts and orchids, and avalanche lilies, and I am confused, because avalanche lilies should not grow beside train tracks. I rarely see the details, and when I do, they're usually wrong.
Not so fast. But it's not so fast, right? Life isn't this fast—it can't be this fast, right? Of course, I already know the answer. I may not be the conductor of this train, but I've chosen to remain onboard. I've actively chosen passivity. Life doesn't need to be this fast. I could stand up, I could leave the train, I could wander through the woods and explore the vast unknown. I could venture beyond my comfort zone, beyond the warm velvet interior of the train, and maybe then I'd be free from this constant feeling of guilt, of shame, of exhaustion. But darkness is falling and I'm afraid. The moon is on vacation, leaving the world to curl in on itself as night presses down, smothering, overpowering, overbearing. The stars are cold and distant, faint pinpricks of light from ages and ages ago. I could get off the train, but I'm still so tired, and I just need a little more rest, more stagnancy, more rotting in place as my life passes by.
Tomorrow, I'll get up tomorrow. Right? I'm 99% confident, but there's always an error bar when it comes to my decisions.
All roads lead to death and the train seems to be picking up speed. Sooner or later, I'll need to decide.
Every Breath I Take, He’ll be Watching Me (1)
It was early December in Ontario 1976, and the weather had been on and off rain and ice for the past few days. The 401 had been shut down between Toronto and Hamilton due to multiple wrecks and road conditions. It had also turned out to be a bad week for strippers in Ontario, as the Provincial council had just voted to allow nudity in the clubs. Fully dressed bureaucrats had decided that to increase the tax revenue from alcohol sales they would force exotic dancers into baring it all onstage. In one fell swoop, our G-Strings had been yanked off by fully clothed pencil pushers in a faraway office building. Both events were doubly troublesome to me, as Ontario seemed like a safe haven for stripping, as they had not allowed nudity up until that point. I disliked dancing in the nude, especially because just plain nudity never was enough for audiences.
Once they had that the clubs would insist upon more and more concessions from the dancers, such as explicit nudity and worse. I flipped on the television in my hotel room to see if the news station had anything on the new laws. They were still talking about the weather and the 401 shutdowns. Apparently, it still wasn’t completely open yet, which meant my boyfriend, Jake probably wouldn’t be able to get down to see me on Saturday. The manager of the club I was working at approached me and one of the other strippers in the hotel coffee shop and explained the change in nudity laws, leaving it up to us as to how much nudity we chose to do during our shows. The club in St. Catherines was easygoing about the nudity, however, there weren’t going to be many other clubs so generous.
For my first show, there were only about a dozen customers in the place, all sitting at the bar. I had decided to do my Doll show, with the white face makeup and the heart cheeks and bow lips painted on with pink lipstick. I used extra large false eyelashes for my eyes and penciled in thin, arched eyebrows. My hair was curly that year, so I fluffed up my curls to complete the look and zipped myself into the green and black striped ballet tutu with the satin corset. The show started out with the song, Hello, Dolly, a fast-paced, fun tune, then switched over to several slower songs about dolls to which I pantomimed a stiff, jerky mechanical dance. For my chair routine, I danced to I’m Your Puppet, pretending to be manipulated by an invisible puppeteer above the stage.
The only real change in that show came at the very last minute of my cape-twirling dance to the theme from The Valley of the Dolls. I decided to get changed into my red pantsuit for the fire show and hang out a bit before the eleven o’clock show. Yesterday had been long and boring and I didn’t want to be stuck in my room all evening again. After I got the doll makeup goo off my face I dressed and came back down to sit at the bar. I caught the last of my friend, Jesse’s show and all of Miss Waddle Duck’s, the nickname I gave my arch nemesis, the snooty stripper. I switched over to grasshoppers because this bar had a real mixologist- a rarity in strip clubs. It was a very good drink and I have always been a sucker for sugary things, so, when a guy about my age plopped down next to me at the bar, I happily took him up on the offer of ‘just one more’.
Halfway through Miss Waddle Duck’s act, Jesse and her new squeeze, Gary, came down to the club. She brought him over and introduced him to me. “Tina, this is Gary- he came to see me this afternoon.” Aha! That’s why there was no answer from her at dinner time. She looked pretty happy, even though she missed a meal. Her blue eyes were shining, and her pale face was flushed- probably from the sunny weather or something. “Hi, Gary, nice to meet you. What were the roads like today?”
“Shitty,” He replied. “The 401 is still shut down.” “Yeah,” I replied, “I saw that on the news.” The guy sitting next to me introduced himself and we sat for another half an hour, the four of us, joking and telling funny stories until I had to go back onstage at eleven. With patrons sitting closer to the stage than for my first show of the night I was a bit more reticent about the G-String removal. The black chiffon twirling cape was going to cover me most of the time. But I was still nervous about stray glimpses by the audience of my baby-making mechanism.
Jake, my boyfriend, had said he didn’t care one way or the other about me going nude. However, that was before the law had changed. I wondered how he would feel now that it was no longer a hypothetical question. I was glad, for once, that he wasn’t there tonight, and wondered how this was going to affect our relationship going forward. I knew how I would feel if Jake whipped “it” out in front of a crowd of horny women. Someone would get hurt. I’d go to jail. He would never have those children he talked about because I would be taking “it” to jail with me.
I changed back into jeans and a blouse and came back down to the bar to hang out with my new friends. The party had moved to a table, and I joined them. Jesse was up doing her last show for the night, and we all got refills. By the time Miss Waddle Duck was onstage the four of us were in pretty good spirits and the unattached male decided he wanted to get attached to me on a temporary basis, I’m sure. Nevertheless, he started getting a little handsy, making me uncomfortable, even in my four-grasshopper state of mind. “Um, um. No touching.” He ignored me. So, I picked his hand up off my thigh and set it down on the table. What the hell was it with men and my thighs? Did I look like a rotisserie chicken? Random guys kept grabbing my thighs for some reason. Then he tried the old, ‘just stretching’ routine and landed his arm around my shoulder- purely by accident, I’m certain. I plucked the offending arm off me and tried to stand up, when he grabbed me around the waist and set me down on his lap, laughing like a hyena.
Okay. This wasn’t funny anymore. I was getting pissed. Jesse’s friend, Gary intervened, “Hey, she doesn’t want you all over her. Let her up.”
“Relax, dude. She’s fine. Aren’t you, honey?” “No, I’m not fine.” I spit at him between gritted teeth. “Let me up. Right. Now.”
Gary stood up and said, “You need to let her go. Can’t you see she’s not enjoying it?”
“Dude,” the drunk guy slurred at Gary, “You need to mind your own business.”
By that time, the bartender noticed the brouhaha and came around the other side of the guy. Somehow, between him and Gary, they peeled me off him and Gary walked me through the hotel lobby and up to my room, making sure I got in safely, then he went down to the club to wait for Jesse. So much for having fun between shows. Yikes. What a mistake.
I waited for Jake to call at one o’clock. Maybe he got held up by work. I stayed up until three, hoping he’d still call. Nothing. I finally drifted off to sleep. I waited all day for him to call on Saturday and was disappointed once again. The weather had made it a strange week for everyone. Jake was probably just caught up in the fallout from the storm. Working on a construction site during an ice storm must have caused a ton of problems for them. Still, I barely ate anything all day, the absence of communication with Jake was tugging at my worst insecurities. Was he in Hamilton with his wife? Was he chasing another girl somewhere? Had he decided I was too much trouble?
This relationship was tearing me apart but I had no intention of letting go. I didn't know how to. It would have been like stepping out into thin air with two broken wings. The next day was spent with my heart in my throat, wondering, fearing if this was going to be the end of my first real love affair.