my sisters

Years ago I celebrated my girlfriends in an article I wrote for www.MomsRising.org.  Today it was re-published at www.womenforone.com.  You can see it here.

Deb, Me, Krista, and Alex.  I love all three of you, my sisters.

Deb, Me, Krista, and Alex. I love all three of you, my sisters.

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Ruby

Ruby (Published by Flashquake, 2011)

By the time Ruby was twenty-eight, she had four sons: Big Bastard, Little Bastard, Weasel, and Psycho. Those weren’t their real names of course, but that’s how she referred to them in her head and occasionally out loud. She lived in a Cracker Jack box on a postage stamp backed up against wooded acreage, none of which she owned, but all of which had been peed on by at least one of her boys. She lived confidently knowing that her territory was well marked.

The two-year-old was running naked around the back yard. The three older boys fell over, like a pack of laughing hyenas, when Little Bastard’s penis erupted in a spray of yellow.

“Ruby,” Psycho yelled, “He’s peeing on Barney.”

Her three oldest had referred to Ruby by her first name ever since she had a meltdown in the bathroom stall at Wal-Mart and ordered them to, “Quit calling Mom, Mom, Mom!”

Ruby stuck her head out of the screenless kitchen window and caught a glimpse of the black lab running for cover. “Hose off the dog,” she ordered.

“He already got hosed,” Psycho replied and, like fireworks, the laughter exploded again.

Ruby lit a cigarette and watched her youngest toddle naked after the dog. His legs and behind were covered with dirt . . . at least she hoped it was dirt. “Hose off the baby too,” she yelled, and under her breath, “Goddamn Little Bastard.” She closed the window and took a seat at the kitchen table next to her ashtray and stack of National Enquirers. She was just learning how John Travolta had given birth to an alien, when the baby wandered in, soaking wet and crying. She heaved a sigh as heavy as her breasts. “What?” She asked.

He held his small hands in the air and Ruby hoisted his wet cold body onto her lap, sliding a bowl of M & Ms within his reach. “Have yourself a little sugar high,” she said. “You’ll feel better soon.”

Psycho appeared at the door, “Hey, why does he get candy?”

“’Cause he doesn’t bug the crap out of me, that’s why. Go back outside. I’ll make lunch in a few minutes.”

“Can I have Doritos?”

Ruby nodded and her boy fled, smiling.

She slid the baby off her lap and began half-heartedly smearing peanut butter on white bread. She was piling them on a paper plate when she heard the scream. She was used to screaming; it ceased to register alarm. She lit another cigarette and began digging juice boxes out of the fridge when Psycho reappeared on the porch.

Panting and pale, he blurted, “Ronnie fell out of the tree, and his leg bone is sticking all the way out of his skin!”

Ruby stood, staring purposefully into her son’s eyes; her instinct was as good as any lie detector. The boy met her gaze with a leveled stare. “Shit!” Ruby grabbed the phone and ran. She hadn’t run since she turned out for track in the seventh grade and even then her courageous attempt at athletics only lasted two weeks. She tried out for the team to satisfy a massive crush she had on Mr. Daley, the sprint coach. Fourteen days into it, she found out he was engaged; she quit track and solidified her life as a couch potato.

Her lungs felt like wet garbage bags, heavy and thick. By the time she reached the tree, she had already barked orders to the 911 operator in exasperated gasps.

She knelt by her son and held his hand. “You’re fine,” she whispered, over and over. So intent on her chanting, she didn’t hear the sirens or see the paramedic approach.

“What’s his name?” the paramedic asked, squatting next to the injured boy.

“Ronnie,” Ruby’s voice cracked. “Ronald James Spencer.”

She slid back; a tear balanced on the rim of her eyelid, then slid slowly to the crease beside her nose. Holding both hands over her mouth, she mumbled to herself, “What were you thinking? Weasels can’t climb trees.”

What She Took From Me

What She Took From Me (published by Pudding House, 2000)

She worries about high fructose corn syrup, melanoma, and fatal car accidents. She worries that I will eat Twinkies for dinner or not eat anything at all. She worries I will be cold at night, or work too hard, or be trapped at a party without a tampon. And of course she worries about boys, and drugs, and too much beer. Then there are storms, droughts, earthquakes, money, poorly installed airbags, ill fitting shoes, brain tumors, varicose veins, declining salmon runs, and airplanes. Oh and I can’t forget pregnancy, cellular phones, and the high cost of a college education. But mostly she worries that I will take her worries with me.

I am tied to this town by strings of anxiety, and my fears are the last thing I want her to carry. She is so truly amazing. Self assured beyond her years, beautiful and smart. I have spent too many years full of doubt. How can I forgive myself if she becomes what I hate most in me?

I am a young woman with pedicured toes and a closet full of old prom dresses. But she sees me running barefoot in a sundress, soles dark with dirt and grass. I own an eyelash curler and multiple pairs of black boots, but I will always be the child she rocked to sleep, and there is comfort in that. I know she doesn’t want to hold me back. I know she yearns to hear stories of my adventures, aches for me to experience the thrills she would never allow herself.

I never got drunk at a party or had a passionate one-night stand. I never cheated on a test, or a boyfriend, or my taxes. I had a chance to go to Europe once to study art history; I declined the offer. I could have gone away to school, or backpacked through South America, or taught English in Japan. I could have jumped into adventure and let it take me somewhere, anywhere. But I stayed here, so sure no one could manage without me. I am good at taking care of people, but I don’t want that for my daughter. As much as I want to hold her and protect her, I also want her to walk boldly in this world.

She holds onto her worries like spare change in a jar—never quite sure what to do with it all. But she sells herself short in a multitude of ways. She is an amazing listener. Truly. It is like a God-given talent the way she listens. She takes problems away. It is not uncommon to walk through the door of our house and find her talking with my friends. They come to see her; they tell her their problems. Warring parents, failed tests, sexually transmitted diseases, broken promises—my mother knows the truth of every rumor ever spread and never says a word, never betrays a confidence. She can also bake amazing chocolate chip cookies. She never looks at a recipe, never measures the ingredients. Just dumps everything in a bowl, and it turns out perfect every time. Everything she touches turns out perfect. She fixes things, repairs things. The biggest mess, the worst problem. She makes things whole again, and she never takes credit for all the good she does, for all the people she has helped.

Taking care of people is my job. I do it well and honor being held in confidence, but taking on the worries of others is a weighty responsibility. I fantasize about hocking my life on Ebay and running away in a Winnebago. I would go to the Grand Canyon just to hear the echo of my scream. Spit over the edge of the Hoover Dam. Get a body part pierced, or tattooed, or maybe I would have my breast surgically lifted back to their proper location. Then I would sunbath nude so everyone could admire the heart on my butt, the ring in my navel, or the perkiness of my nipples. Imagine if I took up smoking or drank Kamikazes in dimly- lit, roadside taverns. Imagine the freedom of just letting go.

My mother secretly longs for me to skip school or shoplift silk underwear. Don’t get me wrong, she raised me to be an honest, loyal, respectable girl, but I still sense her desire for me to take risks. Not climb Mt. Everest or swim with sharks, something slightly tamer, yet adventuresome. Something to make up for her sobriety. And I love that side of her. That she encourages me to be a little left of center. Like when I shaved my head for the state swim meet or wore the black patent-leather go-go boots to my grandmother’s funeral. It has always been okay to be myself and to experiment at being myself. She never allows her wild side to show.

When you spend your life being the rock, the solid one, it isn’t easy to move. My life has always been heavy, but I gladly hold that weight so she can glide and soar and experience the lightness I know exists.

It is sad really. I will never be as light as she wants me to be. I can’t go out in the world and travel with a free spirit, take risks, be completely confident and bold while the mother I love sits at home nursing an ulcer, worried to death that I might return home with a broken leg, a broken heart, a broken spirit. Or worse, not return at all. I learned at an early age, you have to take care of people, and I am getting very good at it.

Deonetti’s Lunch

Deonetti’s Lunch (Writer’s Weekly contest winner)

Tess had been pear-shaped all her life. She had tried every fad diet from eating nothing but hotdogs to only eating foods beginning with the letter “O”. She even hired a personal trainer who clad himself in spandex and was fond of the phrase, “Increase the intensity,” but the pounds always crept back.

This time was different. Thanks to the Atkins’ diet and all the smoked Gouda she could eat, Tess was the lightest she had ever been. She tossed back auburn curls and slid into tailored trousers. Tess had big plans. She wanted to be in charge of her own account at the ad agency where she had spent the past seven years waddling the halls as an executive assistant. If this meeting went well, she had a real shot.

She wrinkled her brow as she slid her feet into patent-leather heels and thought back to the previous week and a conversation with her boss, Leon Deonetti. Tess had spent the better part of a month putting together his proposal for a huge new account; however, on her own time, she had worked on a second plan–an edgier, less conservative version of what her boss intended to present. Despite her effort, her enthusiasm was crushed when Deonetti slaughtered her work.

“This idea is cute, but I’ve been involved from the ground up on the Dean account. My plan is the one we’re moving forward on. You ought to take this home. Wouldn’t want it to get mixed up with the real proposal.”

Then he threw in words like inexperienced and naïve. Tess left his office deflated.

Never mind that Leon hated her idea. Tess’s weight loss accomplishment brought her new-found confidence. This meeting invited real opportunity; top executives would be there. She had a chance at the promotion she’d been dreaming of.

She walked into the boardroom, glowing in her new size-eight trousers, but soon things began to go south. Deonetti’s proposal was all wrong. The client seemed restless.

“Mr. Dean,” Leon said. “I can see now that you’re looking for a sexier
plan. Tess, hand me the second proposal.”

Tess stared at her boss and felt the pink drain from her face. “I’m afraid I left that paperwork at home.”

Leon glared and snapped, “If you don’t have the proposal then you’re of no
use to me. You’re dismissed.”

Out of the boardroom, Tess dashed down the hall and into the employee lounge. Tears leaked from the corner of her eyes. “God damn son-of-a-bitch!” She pounded her fist on the table, exhaled through her teeth, and stared at the humming refrigerator. After a quick glance behind her, she pulled the handle and scanned its contents–Chinese take-out, a bottle of salad dressing, old Tupperware. Tucked back on the bottom shelf sat an enormous deli sandwich, a hill of Ruffles, and a fat brownie with a slab of chocolate frosting trowelled over the top. The entire meal was displayed on a paper plate, covered tightly in plastic wrap. On top perched a handwritten note, “Deonetti’s Lunch.”

Tess smirked picturing Leon printing his label like a fourth grader. Of course, things occasionally disappeared from the office refrigerator. Emails would circulate, “Who ate my Yoplait?” “Which bastard drank my Fresca?” But never a whole meal, never someone’s entire lunch, the boss’s lunch. Tess knew she had only a moment or she risked detection. She pulled the plastic away and quickly began to feast. Minutes later, the sandwich was finished, every chip crumb gone. Tess turned to the brownie. Clutching the cake in both hands, she ate the entire square in three bites.

All that remained was a pickle spear. Tess skewered the note with a foil-topped toothpick and planted it in the pickle, which she placed defiantly back in the refrigerator. She rinsed her mouth at the sink and strolled to her cubicle, where she sat and chewed purposefully on a piece of sugar-free gum.

A fellow assistant stopped. “Heard you got hung out to dry at the meeting this morning. Leon’s an asshole. He’s ranting and raving now. Someone ate his lunch.”

“It wasn’t me,” Tess said. “I’m on Atkins.”