Shades of the Past

The news of my junior-high-turned-life-long-friend’s father’s death shocked me. It shook me for its suddeness and the blow it served to my friend, his brother, and mother. It also pulled me back into a fold I hadn’t been part of for quite some time.

This family gave me first, the friendship of its younger son, then older brother, deepened by the quasi-adopted status of daughter in a family of boys. Through a childhood bond of the older brother and the wheeling and dealing of the younger, it gave me my husband. When our band of merry men wasn’t tearing into the cul-de-sac in front of their house, we were storming their vacation cottage in the mountains. We ate, drank mai tais the old way, and managed to meet up around the country and world as life took us on its various roads.

But year spooled into year, and suddenly it had been over a decade since I’d visited their home. I didn’t think it would affect me until our car slid into line with the others at the curb, much like it did when we’d jockey for position years ago. Stepping over the threshold from the breezeway to the kitchen, a wave of emotion rolled over me. The same wallpaper, the same linoleum, the same smell. The books, the airshow posters, the tea bags and coffee press. The fresh air billowing in the bathroom window overlooking the backyard. The same futon where three of us had crammed to watch German subtitled movies for English class.

We gathered around the table on the patio and drank the sweet, slushy lemonade of our childhood with a splash of rum from Pappy’s reserve. I don’t think I’d realized how much a place can take on a life of its own. But really, what this place gave me is a better appreciation for the people and times that made it so special.

Andrew Apuya

Andrew Apuya

Somewhere Out There

I write best when in my car.

No, I’m not one of those people you see mouth agape going eighty miles an hour applying mascara.  I’m not reading the map spread across my dashboard as I try to maintain lane (disregard the fact that ergonomic dashboards and GPS have made this point moot).  I’m not even trying to eat a sloppy sandwich as I steer with my elbows.

I have both hands securely planted on the wheel, watching both the speed- and tachometer, the radio adjusted to a safe level so as not to cause distraction.  My youngest daughter is safely secured in her five-point harness in the backseat.  My eyes are on the road and what the traffic ahead of me is doing.

Some part of my mind, however, is in the hills lit by sunlight on the horizon.  The clouds sweeping across the crest of the hill.  That part of my mind is parsing words and phrases, building them up and fine-tuning them.

the roadInto poetry.

Into a thousand different perfect prompts for this blog.

Into the character quirk I’ve been needing for Dmitri.

Into metaphors and images, symbols and signs –

all of which leave me when I sit down hours or days later at the keyboard.

There are times it’s happened in the ether just before sleep.  When the body has relaxed just enough to quell the mind’s obsessing, but not it’s creative processes.  Perfectly formed paragraphs gather and congregate.  Teasing me to remember them, knowing I won’t fight the exhaustion to lift a pen and record them in the notebook on my bedside table.

In the morning, the memory of them remains but not the perfect manuscript.

A voice to text application would probably help.  But I have such a nostalgia for and dedication to hand- and typewritten words.  I’m searching for a place to display the ancient Underwood typewriter my father’s holding for me now.  It would feel disingenuous somehow to speak my words into thin air and have them magically transform to text.  Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.  Maybe I just hate to hear a playback of my recorded voice.

I’m hopelessly devoted to forming the perfect mental manuscript and promptly forgetting it when my hands touch the keyboard.  If only mental memory would transfer to sense memory in this one instance.  Just another form of writers’ block, I suppose.  Or another rationalization for not writing what I’m supposed to be.  It’s much easier to lament the perfect lost words than write the imperfect permanent ones.

So I’ll take leave of you now.  Perhaps to go for a drive.  Perhaps to build on the momentum I finally reengaged in my book yesterday.  Or maybe to go stare out the window and dream of the perfect words floating somewhere out there.

Still Flying the Flannel

Our local modern rock station, born of a university radio station since gone commercial, is currently airing “90s week” programming for “those of [us] still flying the flannel”; an extended Christmas gift, if you will.

It really is all I could ask of WBRU.

I cut my alternative teeth on their play lists.  I made tape – yes, audiocassette – recordings of their “twelve cuts above the rest” and “retro lunch” programs.  I mailed one such cassette to my now husband when he was in some far-flung locale in the Coast Guard.  I did have a few flannels and one ripped-in-all-the-right-places pair of men’s jeans I still miss from time to time.

Over the years, some of the music made my ears hurt and I found myself asking the question oft-repeated by our forebears, ‘they call this music?’  And I questioned some of their song selections for the “retro” lunch: ‘they call this retro!?’  I scoffed at the apparent naiveté of the new jockeys, these rookies who didn’t know the really classic stuff.  It never occurred to me that for them to be considered whippersnappers, I had to be moving into a new age bracket myself.

Slowly, tastes changed, a new sound came about, and I reveled in it.  There was this niggling thought in the back of my head, though.  Was this a new crop of really fabulous music – or was I old enough to have witnessed my first cycle of the old becoming new?  After all, Rainbow Brite, a color-wheel explosion of my childhood, is now available on DVD.  The Strawberry Shortcake picture that once hung above my twin bed now adorns my daughters’ space – and they know who she is!

When I was in second or third grade, I remember rocking out to Billy Idol’s version of “Mony, Mony”.  I was flabbergasted when my mother chimed in.  ‘This is an old song, you know,’ she told me with a certain triumph in her voice.  I can’t say I share in her bravado.

The very phrase, “for those of you still flying the flannel”, suggests that we’re somehow stuck in an outdated place.  Are the glorious days of my hey-day now ancient?  And am I becoming so?

It’s a bittersweet feeling.  While one never wants to be considered passé, the gut-wrenching chords of “Seether” still awaken the adolescent beast in me.  “Particle Man” still reignites images of my favorite people bouncing around to it.  And the supposed one-hit-wonders, The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, still make me turn up the volume to an unhealthy level and groove.

The synapses are still firing and helping me remember some of the best and brightest moments of my life.  And luckily the music that inspired them has inspired a new group of whippersnappers to create like-minded and nearly as good music for a new soundtrack.

No Salt in this Wound

There really is no point to a saltine – except for the salt, of course.

For some reason, as many other kids, I loved them when I was little.  I think it had more to do with trying to stand it upright in between my top and bottom teeth or shoving it in my mouth in one bite rather than any great gastronomic pleasure.  I didn’t return to them until I carried whole sleeves of them around with me during my bouts of morning sickness three times over.  That’s the telltale sign of a pregnancy, isn’t it?  The white, crinkly cellophane pulled open at the seam, the stack of perfectly pointed squares cascading out into the open, and hopefully, into your belly to quell the ravaging beast that threatens to ruin every waking moment – not just those in the morning.  A friend’s mother says that she hasn’t touched a saltine since her pregnancy over thirty years ago.  I can’t say I blame her.  It is not a pleasant connotation when that’s your last memory.

So, imagine my surprise, when I found myself chowing down on them as I rushed to an appointment in the car.  So light and insubstantial, I was flying through the sleeve with reckless abandon – actually just savoring the salt and waiting for some sort of gratification from the mush that the enriched flour had turned to in my mouth.  I had bought them for the kids, but running late and low on fuel, I needed a quick and easy – if not satisfying – snack.

After I’d downed a quarter of the sleeve, the sharp bite of the salt searing into my tongue, I realized what I was doing.  I was eating saltines!  After a miserable last pregnancy, I avoided at any costs anything that reminded me of those memories that made me shudder.  I gave away all my maternity clothes with great aplomb.  I threw out the sitz baths and lanolin left in the house.  A wicked pack rat, I even sorted through and shredded all paperwork from the hospital.  Saltines fell into this category.  I didn’t fling them out my window, a crazed cracker hail sending birds flying, I just didn’t even think of pulling a box off the grocery store shelf.

In one conversation with my therapist in that first year of recovery, I explained how I felt as if I were grieving a death.  I marked each familiar date, each holiday, each anniversary of some hard memory – noting it, like the rung of a ladder I had to climb to get up and out of this hole.  ‘Okay, I’ve made it past that one,’ I’d say.  I’d survive one set of negative memories at a time and start to wipe them away with new ones.

It wasn’t easy and I knew I wasn’t suffering the same grief as someone who had actually lost a loved one, but, as my therapist so astutely pointed out, I was suffering a loss – the death of my life as I had known it.  Things were totally – in some ways, irrevocably – different.  It was time to move forward with the positive and with this new knowledge and see what would happen.  Life certainly wasn’t over – it was just different.

As was the action of eating a saltine.  I wasn’t a kid crushing one into my mouth as I cavorted on the beach with my parents.  I wasn’t a desperately nauseous woman at the mercy of her upset stomach (and those damn hormones).  I was an adaptable survivor who could do simple tasks again without the crippling connotations once associated with them.

Saltines have never tasted so good.

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