This is a simple column by a complex
“Thomas Kemper ginger ale? That’s my absolute favorite. You bitch!” she says in a gunshot, some laughs, and, “It’s wonderful seeing you again, and how’s your beautiful little boy, running around and smiling, he’s such a joy—“
Becca takes my breath away. South African actress Charlize Theron, but naturally voluptuous, an Aretha Franklin vivacious with a touch of gospel acoustic soul. Gold and sun and lemonade in her tousled waves of grain, full bee stung lips, and striking eyes so blue and green, they drown you with fresh air, swinging hammock and a children’s book, tire rope jump skip into Mrs. Dobbs’ next door lake. I am helpless but to sit there staring into those eyes, letting her beauty bask all over me ... this singer friend of my husband Eddie’s whose husband plays drums, a soul band here, a Steely Dan tribute band there, church on Sundays, their home a bastardized French bistro, stylized for Pooh, in scarlets, chrome and russet, parties from the 70s, tri-tipped steaks and apple pie, Jill Scott in stereo...
Her friend Kathleen puts Martha Stewart to shame, if Martha Stewart truly had the heart and hearth she so glamorized with corporate sponsorships into public ownership stock. I walk upstairs to their 2nd-floor entertainment room, worn antique baby grand off my right shoulder, each step decked in fancy exotic postcards from other lands, polyurethaned for safekeeping, rustic woods, clocks adorned with beads, doll heads, shiny speckled things in the kitchen, monster-sized perfume bottles bordering bathroom shelves, black-eyed pea salsa, bagels and lox, and those Thomas Kemper bottles of fizzy perfume, live jazz night following grill-your-own barbecue, Becca’s tri-tips...
I sit with James half-asleep in my lap, watching Eddie play the piano and his musician friends from church play upright bass, drums, horns, a front-row seat to the concert of the after school after work, the sun slanting its beams across my cheeks and I nearly fall along with my baby boy, soothed to a near hypnotic state with the rhythms of verve, shot and applause.
It’s as if God dropped me in the middle of one of those star-lit houses along the winding beachfront of the hallowed Hamptons I press my gritty soiled nose to the windows of in the hallows of my mind as I take my afternoon constitutional past merely little old Lynnwood forests and rushing traffic in the burgeoning suburban blight of temporary retail influx.
My dreams tend to mirror the once in a while Memorial Day weekend basks. I sit, I stand, I walk past, but I don’t speak. I am barely noticed with the casual relief of a welcome guest, an accepted stranger, but not a former Homecoming Queen expected to keep up popular appearances in a room full of critics, antagonists and jealous consorts. No Tupperware party, this.
A ghost, of course. Long having since died from some forgotten illness, harkening Eleanor Rigby but that’s okay because now, centuries later, I can roam freely, I don’t have to look people in the eye, or rush to the bathroom, fight carbo cravings, squeeze middle age into teenaged flap jacks, see myself react. The walls dissolve as the living discuss politics, traffic, drugs, and tell knock-knock jokes, occasionally clinking their beloved blown glasses in toasts to their distractions.
I watch, high on an eternity’s worth of all-you-can-eat Sunday Brunch at the Halekulani’s Orchids on Waikiki. Their buffet catches the light natural and fantastic, a myriad of shapes and colors and dramatic events that remind me, and leave me far behind.
Last September, I slowly came to in a room full of voices, women in nurse’s uniforms, exchanging women things, laughing softly, pausing to catch breath, and check on me.
“—so then I stopped to get a better look. These flowers were still in bloom in the middle of winter, I just had to find the seeds and grow them myself.”
The pause took too long to recover, and I felt a wave of nausea. They stared at me, worried slightly. “You’re finally awake. The surgery went fine.”
“Please keep talking,” I tell them in a whisper, “or I’ll start getting sick again.”
They laughed and continued on about flowers, backyards, chain link or wood fence and the interminable falls that bring torrents of wind and rain. And my nausea disappeared like a ghost.
I suppose much of this is a cover for my painful awkward shyness, an inability to know what to do with my limbs, facial expressions and thoughts in a crowd, focusing too intensely on their reactions to notice my own. But truly, after almost one and a half years of newfound motherhood, adrift on the Mainland after the military and retirement in paradise, three (four now) surgeries, sporadic bouts of handicap, just being in the midst is a balm. Really.
Two news articles from the Seattle Times haunted me last week. I fought valiantly to maintain my distance, but the images of a helpless boy and a struggling homeless veteran brought me to my knees. Nicholas was just a baby, maybe a month or two on this earth, before his manic depressive mother’s boyfriend shook him, beat him and threw him across the room, leaving him permanently without the ability to talk, eat, walk, the basics of humanity. His grandmother bonded with him since holding his little baby body close to her neck before this violence, and determined she’d be his caretaker. Against all odds, despite a low fixed income, and with the compassionate help of her community, she has been his salvation. Oh yeah, she has been blind since her birth. Authorities, as authorities are wont, could never charge the boyfriend and so he’s running around free to this day.
The homeless veteran loved education more than self-preservation, because he sloughed through countless rejections to attend college. He slept nearby in a forest and cleaned up at the Santa Rosa campus, attending classes he wasn’t even registered for, just to learn as much as he could. He will graduate and pursue further studies, thanks to the generosity of those in the university touched by his courage, interest and the kind of determination 90 percent of the usual student body make-up will never get. Despite having the entire contents of his meager belongings robbed, housed in an aging car not even worth jacking, this man never gave up, never sat in a heap smoking crack and cursing his lot. He just wiped himself off, and promised he’d find another way to finish his education.
I’ll bet they were ghosts.
*A footnote to “What happened to my
erection?”: Businesses have discovered another demographic and venue with
which to advertise. Nestles and Oscar Meyer, for starters, have dangled
competitions with hefty monetary prizes for students of all ages, in
exchange for keeping their products in public view, hoping to inspire
brand name recognition, interest and loyalty in the little ones. As an
excuse, their means to an end centers around the fact that the government
and the community and the parents have consistently failed to provide the
kind of quality education high-stakes money can cost, so somebody has to
chip in. What’s a little promotional side benefit for a brand new music
and arts program in a school troubled with financial deficits? Next
stop... renaming churches to their corporate sponsors and selling Pepsi
and Doritos between the pews.
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