Avignon from the gardens at the Papal Palace, the Roman aqueduct in Nimes built more than two thousand years ago and the fortified city of Carcassonne and its modern-day counterpart.
Originally published July twentieth, ‘ten.
Avignon from the gardens at the Papal Palace, the Roman aqueduct in Nimes built more than two thousand years ago and the fortified city of Carcassonne and its modern-day counterpart.
Originally published July twentieth, ‘ten.
In the religion (renamed the politically-correct Belief) section of the Houston Chronicle‘s Sunday, November thirteenth issue, there was an article entitled The Silent (Mis)Treatment: Show Hospitality to Everyone You Encounter by Ben Byrum. In it he talked about the experiment he conducted as a college freshman. New in town, new to the church and having difficulty making friends, he decided one Sunday that if after services had gotten underway no one had greeted him he would walk out. He waited for five minutes and nothing. Thirty seconds before the service, he began gathering his things.
I was planning to go back to my room and stay there for the rest of the day; after all, nobody seemed to pay attention to me. With fifteen seconds left, my math professor turned around in her chair, which was a couple of rows in front of me, and almost as if she had turned around just for me, she flashed a me a smile and said, “I’m glad you’re here, Ben.”
He stayed. He couldn’t tell you what the service was about, what songs were sung, but he remembers feeling noticed and how painful not being noticed was.
Further in the article, Byrum shares a tale from the seventies about a man in his thirties who wrote a letter, walked from his San Francisco apartment to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Byrum said the man had left the letter in his dresser.
It was discovered by investigators when they searched his apartment. It was a suicide letter that read, “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I won’t jump.”
I wept when my mother told me about this article, these stories of invisibility. The writer had gone to that church on several occasions. He’d chosen it because it was the most popular among the student body. That man… I can’t even begin to imagine how his despair must’ve grown with each step toward that bridge.
Christ, how difficult is it to smile at someone? Just smile? That simple act of kindness could’ve been the light for that man. Could’ve meant LIFE.
Today, I spent my afternoon at Pappadeaux’s. I went to Barnes and Nobles for a couple of books. I got gas for the journey home. When I pulled into the station, I noticed a girl huddled on the corner of the curb. I asked her if she needed a ride. She asked me if I was going to Tomball. I wasn’t. That’s twenty minutes southwest of where I was, and home is Ten minutes north, but I told her I could take her wherever she needed to go. In my mind I’m praying Please God, don’t be some psycho bent on wreaking havoc. I mucked out my car, gave her a bag of chips, which was the only food I had on me. She’d not eaten all day. She had no money. Her phone was dead. Her friends had left her there. She was a twenty-seven-year-old psychology student and a mother of two. She reminded me a little bit of my brother’s wife: petite, blonde with pigtails dyed blue, dressed in a sweatshirt, jeans and chucks. Her birthday was in three days. Her friends had left her there. I told her she needed to get some new friends.
She’d been waiting at that gas station since ten a.m. When I’d met it her, it was half-past eight.
Now sure, a whole lot of bad shit could’ve happened. I can imagine all kinds of scary, yall. I knew the risks. I just kept thinking if someone had left me there, and I had no way of getting home, I would’ve been praying hard for someone to show me some kindness. I asked her if anyone had offered to give her a ride, thinking that maybe they’d asked and refused because it was out of their way. She said no. I thought of the story in the paper, of the man, and asked if anyone had even smiled at her. She said no.
I’m a Christian woman, but I don’t go around bragging about it. That’s not how I define myself. Those commandments? I’m pretty sure I’ve broken at least half of’m, some of’m I break with phenomenal consistency. I say God a hell of a lot more than I should, which means I break that third commandment several times a day. My faith’s a crazy mix of Catholicism, astrology and Greek mythology, which means I’m breaking the second one with pretty much every breath. and I love my mama and daddy, but I do not live the way they want me to, so… there’s three of’m that I’ve all but obliterated. But that passage in Matthew… twenty-five: forty: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me… I’m not always good about it, but I try to keep that one in mind.
So there’s that. But more… I’ve gone through too much of my life feeling as invisible as that author and the man who’d made that godawful trek to that bridge. Nobody should ever have to feel like they don’t matter.
Can you imagine how many had gawked at that girl today? How they’d thought so little of her?
Ain’t no way in hell I would’ve left her sitting there. Ain’t no way.
I’m not some social justice warrior. I don’t think I get up on my soap box too often. Not nearly as much as some of my friends do, anyway.
But good God, yall… we can do better. We can do so much better. It just takes one person… one kind word. One gesture. One smile. It just takes one.
Originally published November fourteenth, ‘sixteen.
Not Even the Trees Hootie and the Blowfish Someone please talk to me cause I feel you cry and you're sitting with Him, and I know I'll never see you again... I wonder if you're looking down at me and smiling right now I wanna know if it's true when He looks at me, won't you tell me does He realize He came down here and He took you too soon... Right now I just can't see cause I'm feeling weak and my soul begins to bleed and no one's listening to me, not even the trees
God of Wine Third Eye Blind Every thought that I repent there's another chip you haven't spent and you're cashing them all in... The god of wine comes crashing through the headlights of a car that took you farther than you thought you'd ever want to go... She takes a drink, and then she waits. The alcohol, it permeates and soon the cells give way and cancels out the day... Every glamorous sunrise throws the planets out of line a star sign out of whack, a fraudulent zodiac and the god of wine is crouched down in my room You let me down. I said it. Now I'm going down and you're not even around
There’s not a day where I don’t think of my brother and get either, if not both, of these songs in my head soon after. I, who lived in San Antonio at the time, was listening to the first one right around the time the cops in Lake Charles were calling my parents in Conroe to tell them that their older son, their firstborn had died.
And when my parents called me six hours later, when I made the roughly four-hour drive home, the second song was on repeat. I played it most of the way home because I didn’t know the circumstances. My brother had a drinking problem. It developed when I was in high school. So for a decade, I’d been living under the assumption that, yes, chances were quite good that I would see his death sooner rather than later, and that he would most likely die in an automobile accident. So while I’m making that trek, I’m imagining the physical, literal wreckage. I should’ve been more preoccupied with the figurative kind.
The sky was white that day. There was no break in the clouds, no variance in the hue. It was raining, but it wasn’t. It was more like a mist, like the air was sweating. But it was the middle of March, not hot enough for that. It was like that the whole way home, halfway across Texas.
There’s not a day where I don’t see that sky and think, That’s how it was. And every memory of that day and the events to follow flood my consciousness.
I’ve always felt as though my brother was the best of the three of us. Imagined him being born on a day that began with a glamorous sunrise, that maybe if he’d been born on a different one, things would be different. It’s a silly thing to think. It does me no good whatsoever.
He didn’t die in a car. He died alone, in front of L’auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He’d spent his last day on earth fishing with friends. drinking buddies. They’d hightailed it to my parents’ house after he died. I remember greeting them at the door. I remember the air outside feeling oppressed by their grief. The sun had come out sometime between my arrival home and their appearance on our doorstep. I remember their faces, the guilt on them. Like they thought it was their fault he’d died because they’d left him alone.
My brother could be a vicious bastard when he was drunk. I was unfortunate in my life that I got to see how callous he could be. He’d gotten so drunk the day he’d died that he’d become that cranky jackass, and they’d left him in his room while they’d gone to dinner, figuring a nap would do him some good. They came back afterward to find that he was still cranky and left him again to go to the casino. When they came back at around ten that night, he was not in his room.
A stranger found him face down on concrete at half past midnight on March twelfth, fifty feet from the resort’s entrance.
The guilt on those men’s faces haunts me. They couldn’t have saved him. No one could.
I spent that first week running errands: calling on his oldest friend to get the word out about the memorial service we had here for him; gathering the things my mother requested; packing for the trip to Colorado for his funeral; turning a bulletin board into a photo collage:
I kept busy. I was so concerned with whether my parents and younger brother and our friends and Jon’s friends were alright. I hadn’t been that close with my older brother. I’d been preparing myself for this moment since I was in college so I hadn’t expected grief would sucker punch me.
But it did.
It waited a couple of months, waited until I was back in my apartment in San Antonio. until I was alone. And then…
There were days I didn’t leave my apartment. Days I didn’t bother to brush my teeth or comb my hair or change my clothes or shower. It was disgusting. I was disgusting. Not so much because I missed him but because I’d fucked things up with him. I’d not loved him well enough. I’d spent the first two decades of my life putting him on a pedestal, and then when he’d broken it, I’d thought he was no better than the rubbish beneath the debris. I’d never bothered to know him.
And I couldn’t lean on my family, didn’t want to weigh them down with my guilt and grief when they were struggling with their own. Didn’t want to lean on his friends. Didn’t really have friends of my own on whom I could call for help.
Here’s the thing, though: the only person I would’ve allowed myself to lean on would’ve been a romantic partner, had I had one. I wouldn’t’ve shared my feelings. I would’ve wanted him to distract me.
I can’t tell you what else happened in two thousand three. That whole year was March. That month dragged on and on and on. I don’t remember anything but death and grief.
I wish this weren’t the case. How awful is it that a whole year could be so significant and so ghostly at once?
You would think the first year would be the hardest. It’s not. It’s the second one. There’s the anniversary of the death. There’s all the holidays and birthdays that he’s not here to celebrate with us.
Then you fall into a routine, acclimate yourself to the new normal. You start to forget him: the sound of his voice, the things he loved, the stories he told, the horrible taste in music, the way he could NEVER sing in key. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it helps you heal. You can’t cling to him, to the grief, the loss. He’s not there anymore. Not anywhere.
And then people kind of forget that you’ve lost him.
Of his friends, the only one who makes a consistent effort to keep in touch is one of his Corps buddies from A & M. He tells me stories. He doesn’t mind sharing them. His daughter was born a few years after my brother died, on the anniversary of his death. I have no trouble remembering her birthday. I need to be reminded when her brother’s is.
A few days before I’d written this post a friend messaged me because a friend of hers had lost her brother, and she wanted to know how to best help her friend. I told her that my grief might be different from her friend’s because I felt my brother’s death had been intentional: he’d put himself on that path and chosen to walk it to its dead end. I have a lot of anger, still: at God because he couldn’t save him, because he took him instead of me when my brother’s presence in this world was so much more appreciated and by so many (When he was sober, he was amazing, yall. He was beautiful, and I am not); at him for not finding the strength to conquer his demons, for not appreciating how much he was loved; at myself for being angry with God and him and myself, for not loving him, for thinking all these things. I told her I needed to think on this some.
So how could I have been helped…
I don’t need to talk about him. He’s buried in the mountains of Colorado, near the rivers and slopes, where his spirit is free to fish in the warmer months and ski in the winter… or so I like to think.
But on the occasion that I want to talk about him, I want people to be willing to engage. My younger brother is never interested in doing this, but he’s an Olympic internalizer. I know not to bring Jon up with him. Every now and then, I’ll see Jon in him: in the sound of his voice, his mannerisms, the way he expresses himself. prior to my brother’s death, I’d never seen the similarities. It’s kind of nice to see them now.
I wish I could remember that year. I wish I could I remember the good that occurred then. I wish more of his friends were present in our lives now, not because I want them to help me keep his memory alive but because his death is enough… the death of those friendships just adds to the grief, makes the loss that much more prevalent.
I’d want someone there… often. Not to grieve with me but to brighten my world because it was so, so unbearably bleak. I needed color and chaos, the kind that’s born from creativity rather than tragedy.
My mother struggled with what to put on my brother’s headstone. One of the television programs I liked the year he died was called Ed. There was an episode where the main character was struggling with something — can’t tell you what exactly because, again, I can’t remember much from that year — but I do recall from that episode the words Life was his art. My mother liked that. And so on my brother’s headstone are the words Laughter was his art. Of the things I’ve written, the pieces I love the most have come from the most hideous experiences. Art’s one of the best therapies there is.
What I miss most is my brother’s laugh and the ease with which he could make others laugh.
In the film Steel Magnolias Truvy says Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. THAT’S how you get through grief, yall. Laughter. The more, the merrier.
Originally published September third, ‘seventeen.
Bodie Lighthouse, Kill Devil Hills, Mayberry, Rodanthe and Woodfin Valley.
Originally published November thirteenth, ‘fifteen.
The trouble with going to sleep unhappy with yourself is that you wake up that way. Only it’s worse, because while you were sleeping all those negative feelings you had magically intensified exponentially so that when you wake the next morning you have maybe two hundredths of a second to revel in the glory of the sunlight and the comfort of your bed before your brain switches from automatic to manual.
And when that switch takes place… some days, nothing good can come of that.
On this particular morning, I woke at ten after seven. By fifteen after I was feeling despicable, and the feeling wouldn’t be shaken no matter how many times I tossed and turned or how much more deeply I buried my head to snuggle under the covers.
So then I tried to distract myself by watching recorded shows. Ones that had been camping out for months, waiting for me to remember that I actually liked them. I watched Three Rivers. Why I liked that one, I do not know. I watched NCIS: Los Angeles. That one I love. I watched the last two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. These made me cry. Both of them. So much for distraction.
By this time it’s eleven or so. My head’s started to hurt. I figured maybe if I eat that might help so I all but hobbled downstairs to the kitchen (on days like this, mental anguish begins to take on a physical form, and all my joints hurt, especially my knees and ankles) to pour a giant bowl of Cheerios.
I camped out on the sofa and flipped through a dozen channels. First I settled on football. While last night, I might have succeeded, momentarily, in shrugging off despair with the glee of anticipating a fast-approaching football season, this morning football could not pacify me. So then I switched to What Not to Wear because I think Stacy and Clinton are cool. This morning, however, they annoyed me. So then I switched to Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader. No luck there either.
By this time I was crying again. I figured sitting at home’s not helping, and I have errands to run — money to deposit, bills to pay, vehicular registrations and inspections to make current, a vehicle to wash. responsibility. So I went back upstairs to change. I managed to quell the tears while doing this. but then, as I got my hair wet — because fine, curly hair never does well the day after — the tears came again. the more I stop and start this crying, the more despairing the tears are. I remembered I’d left my comb in my father’s car the night before. So it’s back downstairs to my parent’s bathroom, still crying. Somewhere between the landing and the doorway to their bedroom, the crying morphed into full-on wailing and misery.
Which morphed into wrath seconds after I’ve entered their room.
And by this time, by this time I might as well have been hunched in a ball in a corner.
Wrath terrifies me. Whatever strength I think I might have dissipates rapidly in her presence.
Tears that were once huge rivers became quiet streams that are more reluctant to flow, and I was chanting no, much like my then nineteen-month-old niece and nephew do when they’re crying and miserable. No. No. No. Scared. Because I never think I’m going to get through it when I’m in the throes of wrath.
But somehow I do.
And I’m grateful for this.
I rounded the corner, passed their closet, padded into their bathroom, still chanting. I rummaged through my mother’s cosmetics drawer for a comb and sat on the commode to slowly, slowly, run the comb through the tangles. Five minutes or so of this, and I was better.
Drained but better.
The trouble is, I didn’t indulge wrath.
Usually it’s better if I let her play for a bit. harder to handle. harder to live through. But better in the long run. Usually, afterward, I’m tired but nice. I won’t smile at you, but I won’t tear your head off, either.
I’ve got those errands to run, and on this day I wasn’t so sure of my strength so I shoved her back.
Somewhere between the time I left the house and the time I came home, I got ugly with cranky and snarly. So much so that by the time I got to the last errand, I was at the I’m-gonna-tear-your-head-off-just-for-looking-at-me stage.
When I was twenty-five my family went to Austin for the Fighting Irish versus the longhorns football game. A handful of my older brother’s friends met up with us. I’d been having a conversation with one of them — I’m a pretty sarcastic girl, and those who know me are amused by this as they should be because I mean it in good fun, but those who don’t aren’t so much. This one didn’t know me. All of the sudden he comes out with God, you’re bitter. I don’t even remember what I’d said that prompted him to say this, except that whatever I’d said, I hadn’t meant for it to be so sarcastic that it offended.
Flash forward. I thought of this conversation today. Of this friend of my brother’s.
Today, I was a prime example of bitter hag. Ugly with it.
This is what happens when I don’t give into wrath.
I bitched at an employee — an elderly woman who works in the floral department (What a lovely job that must be. Really. Happy and thoughtful) — for not washing her hands after using the restroom before returning to work. I snarled at the library staff because printing a single sheet of paper is more of an inconvenience and challenge than I think it ought to be. God forbid I should consider that they don’t have to offer such a service. I don’t have a printer hooked up to my mac. My mother’s printer, at the time, was not communicating with her computer, and my father’s computer was off limits so I had to borrow someone else’s. That it doesn’t work like I want it to do so was, apparently, a criminal offense.
The best example? I stopped by a courthouse, after having finally succeeded in enlisting the help of a reference librarian to get the damned proof of insurance card I needed so that I could get my registration updated, and had been walking, rather intently (in other words, in a don’t-fucking-talk-to-me fashion), when a woman had the audacity to smile at me and ask if I worked there.
What? (Said in the same fashion as I had used when walking.)
Do you work here? (She was walking toward me, still smiling, still being friendly. Curious. In need of help.)
I was wearing a T-shirt promoting a Grand Junction, Colorado brewery, capris and flip-flops. I looked like death. No. (Said in a what-the-hell-would-make-you-ask-such-a-stupid-question tone of voice.)
Now she’s not so friendly. Now she’s taken aback, and a hell of a lot smarter than she’d been a second before. she proceeded to tell me that the building was locked, that I couldn’t get in, that I was rude…etc., etc., etc.
The moment I heard that I can’t get in, I turned and headed back to my car. So while’s she’s telling me that I’m rude…
I could hear this boy’s voice in my head, just as I could while at the library. See his face just as clearly today as I’d seen it a dozen years before. God, you’re bitter.
Earlier that day I’d found a picture of me as a first-grade student. In it I’m sitting there with my hands in my lap, my arms pressed to my sides, my shoulders slightly drawn up. I’m grinning. beautifully.
I wish I could be that girl again. I wish I could channel her and infuse my present personality with a bit of the cute and funny my mother said I was back then.
I don’t understand why I have to hurt so much. I don’t understand how I could hurt others knowing how much the hurting sucks ass.
Originally published September first, ‘ten.
So I’ve been trying for two decades to write a book. A love story. The cheesy shit most chicks write because, well, that’s what most chicks read. And underneath all the sarcasm and crassness and occasional tomboyishness, I happen to be a sucker for that cheesy shit.
I am soft. I blame this on my father. My mother says I’m just like him. When I was younger and having trouble making friends, my father would often suggest to me that I emulate my mother. Oh, how easy my world would be if that were possible. Every time he said that, my heart would break a little because I could never be like her. Always, always, I was told of how I should be… by my parents, my peers, my educators and employers. I am a four-letter word.
Anyway, at the time this post was written, the past few days I’d been tanking… badly. This particular day I woke up, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed and sleep all day. It was a good day for it, after all. Rainy and gloomy. But I had bills to pay and whatnot …
And Five Hundred Days of Summer came out in wide release that day. I’d been waiting for this movie for months. I’d thought I might see it a dozen times. It is just that good. The best movie to come out that year.
So I went to work to collect my check and get a cup of hot cocoa because that always makes me feel better, and then I went to the banks to transfer money so that I could pay those bills, and then I went back to work to get a jug of water because while hot chocolate makes me feel better mentally, physically it makes me hot — yes, I know — and jittery. And then I went to the movie.
There’s a scene in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s sister is telling him that maybe when he looks back on his relationship, he should look not only on what was good about it but also on what was bad about it.
Do people really think this doesn’t happen?
One of the guys I’d dated – the one I’d liked the most — suggested, basically, that I’d colored my memories with emotion and that made those memories different for me than for him.
Okay. Fine. I can see how one might think that. It makes sense.
I can remember that he emailed me on St. Patrick’s Day. That I hadn’t been looking. I’d gotten up at ten or so, played spades on the computer for a while and gone to work. That it was a glorious day, the first glorious day we’d had in some time. That work went well for a change, that a group of coworkers and I went to Friday’s afterward and chatted and drank for an hour or so. That I took the long way home. That I’d checked my email accounts (all three of them, the last of which was one I’d not checked in several weeks), and there in the last, sent that day, was his letter.
Yall, it was a damned fine letter. I’ve a thing for guys who can communicate well.
I remember telling him, later, of this coincidence. He told me that he’d considered writing me the week before but had decided against it. I’d asked him if he had written me on the tenth and I’d replied on the seventeenth, if he would’ve replied to my email. He’d said no.
After a fight with the clothes in my closet because I could no longer fit in most of them, I showed up at his apartment and he’d had a lone, long-stem rose waiting for me. Because I’d been late, he’d said. That was the first time I’d ever gotten flowers from a guy who was not a relative, and it couldn’t have been a better occasion.
That the first time he kissed me was horrible, so much so that I worried over it for hours afterward. That the second time was awesome, so much so that I was wound up for hours afterward.
I remember him taking me to first Friday at the Blue Star Art Complex in the King William’s District of San Antonio. I’d never been. He led me up a narrow flight of stairs, my hand in his. I asked where we were going. An elderly woman on her way down looked at me, smiled, pointed and said, Up. Indeed. I was going up. It was marvelous. I don’t think I’ve been that happy since.
Bolting from his apartment because I didn’t want to, couldn’t let him see me cry. I made it to the Phillips Sixty-Six gas station across the street to the attendant who sold me a carton of Marlboro Lights and a Bic lighter to halfway between the station’s door and the driver’s side of my truck before I broke. Right there on the concrete hunched next to the rocks that were the station’s shell for all the world to see. I ended up cruising Loop 1604 — twice – chain-smoking and crying until I couldn’t anymore. I don’t think I’ve been that miserable since.
I remember the way he’d smile at me. The way he said my name when he was happy with me. The way he said it when he wasn’t. The way he smelled. To this day, yall. If I catch a whiff of Ralph Lauren’s Romance for Men, I am flooded by sadness and longing.
I remember everything. Everything. And that is how it should be.
A friend of mine asked me a few days before I’d originally posted this why I’d not finished my book. I’d told her that I can’t pretend everybody gets to have happy. That it makes me sad to try to write it. And then I saw this movie and was reminded of how much I love fate and coincidence and how much I should believe in them. I remembered how much I used to do so and that I missed doing that.
I’d made myself focus more on the bad things about love. I’d let it become a four-letter word.
Originally published July thirty-first, ‘nine.
My favorite sweatshirt is one I purchased twelve years ago at Aggie Outfitters at the mall in College Station. At the time I’d originally written this post, it was too big for me, which was one of the reasons I love it. It falls to the middle of my thigh, and the sleeves are long enough that my hands are hidden by the fabric. And it’s hooded. I can get lost in this sweatshirt.
I ain’t that scarred when I’m covered up (Beth Hart — Leave the Light on).
It’s thick, good, strong, warm cotton. Wearing it is like being wrapped up in a thick, flannel blanket.
But the best thing is the giant 12 imprinted on the front in worn white numbers, trimmed in gold. Big, bold blocks of Twelfth Man.
I wear it when my soul is at its weakest.
I was walking the streets of Cardiff at three in the morning, back to the hotel after a quest to find a debit machine so I could get the cash I needed to pay the cab fare for transit from the hotel to the airport. The hotel had an ATM in the lobby, and I’d expected to get money there, but there was some festival going on while I was in Cardiff… something comparable to Mardi Gras… and the tenants had emptied the hotel’s ATM in the night. So I set out… alone.
Like any other city, the streets of Cardiff at three a.m. look nothing like the streets at three p.m. I marveled at the city’s ability to clean up the excessive debris from a drunken night of debauchery in such a short time. If one were to be on those streets at ten a.m., all evidence of the previous night’s party would have been swept up and tossed in the garbage. But on this night, as I was walking, I think there easily might have been two hundred plastic cups broken and crushed on the concrete in front of one bar. I passed a lot of bars.
At three a.m., just like at three p.m., a lot of people are milling about, but the early morning’s crowd is dressed dramatically different than the afternoon’s, and instead of anticipating the fine time to come as the afternoon’s crowd does the early morning’s bunch are coming down from the high of having that fine time.
And there’s me, who’s been up for maybe ninety minutes, who’s exhausted from a mediocre vacation and a mild depressive episode. I was shoving my way back to the surface. At least, I was trying to do so. I’d had a good day’s rest and was bound for the airport, for family, for home, so I was a little better.
But better is a fragile thing.
There’s me in my comfort clothes, making my way through the crowds as quickly, as unobtrusively as possible. I was a little scared, so I didn’t look at anyone directly. I tried not to call too much attention to myself.
But there’s that giant, white twelve, and quite a few noticed it.
No one said anything. Not until I was a couple of blocks away from the hotel, just around the corner. And I thought Almost there, almost there. I was reveling in the knowledge that I’d made it unharmed.
Three men walk by me. After they’d passed, one of them called out, Hey, twelve! You’re not a number! You’re a female!
I’d considered saying something when I heard another say, And ugly!
Mentally everything stopped. In my head, I just stood there, frozen, shocked, humiliated, hurt and horrified that my day had begun this way. In my head, I cried. I could almost feel the breath freeze in my lungs and my heart stop, just for a second.
But outside, I appeared as though I was unfazed. There wasn’t a hitch in my step that betrayed me. Not a shift in my posture so that my shoulders seemed slumped. I kept walking.
It’s not normally a shocking sentiment. I’ve heard this more times, so many more times than I care to recall. It’s not new. It’s not something I’ve not told myself more times than I’ve heard it, in hopes that hearing it would hurt less.
It’s that I’d not heard it in a while. That I liked my face well enough when I got dressed that morning. That it’d been said by someone on the other side of the world.
It’s that the sentiment is now universal.
And the sweatshirt, the thing that once provided some small bit of solace, is now tainted by the taunts of three men I met on the streets of Cardiff at three in the morning, and every time I look at it, I’ll think of them, of that day, of that ugliness.
Originally published August thirty-first, ‘nine.
So the day before originally writing this, I went on a miserable date at the Houston Zoo, and it started sprinkling. I yelled at the heavens to do more than that — we hadn’t seen rain in what felt like ages. I bargained with God, and yeah I know that I shouldn’t do that, but I did it anyway. I said that if He would let it rain, really rain, I’d go to church for the next four Sundays.
It really rained. Not as long as I would’ve liked, but a deal’s a deal.
I’m not so fond of my church so I went to a different one. On this particular day, it was a better one. I’m kind of the mind that all church is the same… boring.
But that day’s Mass seemed to be tailored for me. It was about the sheep who stray from the Shepherd.
When I was a little girl and my family would take vacations to the other parts of the country the moment we’d checked in and unloaded our baggage into our hotel rooms I’d take off. I’m not sure I’d tell my folks where I was going, just that I was. It would never be too far, but I was young enough that it must’ve worried them a little bit. I’ve a habit of wandering off. Still do.
They left me in a gallery in Santa Fe once. I’d found a print I liked. It wasn’t a great print, but something about it appealed to me. It was of a girl standing in a field holding a candle with one hand cupped around the flame to keep the wind from extinguishing it. The colors were sort of muted — not pastel, just softer, like everything had been cast in shadow. There were mountains and a house and a sunset in the distance. Not an exemplary print by any means. But for some reason my interest had been so captured that I’d knelt on the floor in front of it and gawked. My parents and my brothers called to me a number of times that they were leaving. I’d call back, like I was getting ready to get going, but I wouldn’t move. Could only sit there. And sit I did, for a very long time.
Finally I got up, and they were gone.
So used to wandering on my own was I, though, that I thought nothing of it. I was quite confident that they’d realize they’d left me and would come back for me.
I’m not sure how long it took them to come to that realization. I vaguely remember chatting with the gallery owner while scoping out the rest of the pictures she’d had on display.
My mom came in and got me. She thanked the owner for the trouble. We went on about our vacation.
A week or so later my parents got a package in the mail. I stood with my mother at the kitchen table in the breakfast room, looking over her shoulder as she unfurled the roll of prints that they’d purchased at that gallery. And there, amidst the pictures my parents had chosen, was the print I’d admired. The woman had included it at no charge because she’d enjoyed watching me study it. I’d been eleven or so at the time. I remember being in awe of the woman’s generosity. People didn’t normally do nice things for me then.
I’m still in awe of that generosity, actually. I still have the print.
The point of that diatribe is this: if a sheep’s got a habit of wandering, isn’t the Shepherd somewhat responsible for keeping an eye on the sheep and making sure she doesn’t get lost?
I feel so lost right now. I’ve felt that way for decades, and the older I get the more lost I become.
One of my friends had a song, Come on Get Higher, by Matt Nathanson on her blog. It’s kind of country. I’m not so much a fan of country music, but every now and then some song will strike a chord. This one’s got something in it about Make you believe; make you forget.
Oh, how I wish I could.
I almost cried during Mass twice the day I wrote this. I couldn’t sing because the lyrics kept choking me up. And the singing’s my favorite part of Mass.
I make it a point not to cry in public. I used to do it all the time as a child when I was in school. And then I learned to hide.
We sang The Prayer of St. Francis: Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope where there is darkness only light and where there's sadness ever joy And, later, The Gift of Finest Wheat: You satisfy the hungry heart And as I wrote this... The Fray's Vienna: There's really no way to reach me Depeche Mode's Blasphemous Rumors: But I think that God's got a sick sense of humor and when I die, I expect to find Him laughing Train's When I Look to the Sky: When I feel like there's no one that will ever know me there you are to show me Keane's Somewhere Only We Know: Simple thing, where have you gone I'm getting old, and I need something to rely on so tell me when you're gonna let me in I'm getting tired, and I need somewhere to begin Indigo Girls' Closer to Fine: Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable and lightness has a call that's hard to hear I wrapped my fear around me like a blanket And Rachel Yamagata's Elephants: All I want is to just forget you
I am destined to remember, and the memories make me wary. How’m I supposed to find my way back when I’ve wandered off so far? How could He have let me wander off that much? Why does it feel like no one’s there?
Originally published July twentieth, ‘nine.
I managed to go through high school and college, studying English, without ever having to read any of Jane Austen’s or Charlotte Bronte’s works.
Can you imagine this? I’m certain there are dozens of other classical authors revered by educators of all sorts which are considered to be necessary to the literary world, which they would be appalled to know I’d not read.
Do you know what made me want to read Pride and Prejudice? The trailer for the Knightley/MacFayden version of the tale. Actually, a particular quote from the film, spoken by Mr. Darcy to Ms. Bennett after having professed, to his chagrin, his interest in marriage to her. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your circumstances?
I love this line. I love how it cuts. I love how the word choice — the sharpness of the K and the X and the CT sounds, the bite of it, the hiss of the soft C and the S and even the F — contributes to the sentiment expressed. There’s such disdain there. Such frustration, not just in that sentiment, nor its language, but in the delivery of it, as well. It’s a fantastic line. Marvelous, really. And it, more than any other, sums up Mr. Darcy quite well.
I hunted up that bit of script while at work one day, so eager was I to see the film, to know the story. I printed out the page or two of dialogue I’d found, and, after work, taken it in to Macaroni Grill with me to study while I had dinner.
Actually, I did more than study it. I took my red and blue crayons and diagrammed the whole of those sentences — Darcy’s in blue, Bennett’s in red — on the butcher paper that covered my table’s cloth.
This version of the film interested me enough that I purchased a cheap Barnes and Noble classics version of P and P and read it, painstakingly and begrudgingly for the most part, cover to cover.
While I can concede that Ms. Austen can construct some fantastic prose, her propensity for girlish, frivolous detail is pretty annoying.
I am not a fan.
And then the cinematic world introduced me to Becoming Jane a couple of years later.
And oh, how my heart broke for her.
Every time I’ve watched this movie I’ve stood firmly in the knowledge that she was right to refuse Mr. Wisley, and she was right to turn back, to go home rather than run away with Mr. Lefroy. But the first few times I watched her departures from him, first from his uncle’s residence and later on the morning of her elopement after she’d discovered the letter from his family, I bawled. Quietly, of course, but still …
And every time, I’ve been gung ho against the notion that she should marry Wisley because he is, as her father had said, a booby.
It must be age. My birthday, at the time I’d written this post, was less than twelve weeks away, and I was abhorring that particular milestone. It was far, far too close to forty for my comfort. It has to be age. There’s no other reason for it. But on that particular morning, as I watched the story unfold, I began to think Wisley wasn’t so bad. Wealthy, tall, decent voice …
Oh, god. I think I’m going to be sick. This shift in my opinion of him is not good at all. It wasn’t THAT long ago that I was mocking his character.
I hate watching this movie. It crushes my spirit every time. And yet, I feel compelled to torment myself with it. So typical of a woman, right?
I’m blaming this on Jane Eyre.
I saw the trailer for it a couple of weeks before having written this post, and it got me thinking about these women, factual or fictional, who are deprived of lives of love and passion.
I’ve not read Jane Eyre. I was tempted to watch the BBC production of it a while back but talked myself out of it. Probably because Mr. Rochester sounds like an idiot.
Do you think that because I am poor, obscure, plain and little that I am soulless and heartless?
If there were a line that could convince me to see this film that would be it, but it doesn’t compel me nearly as well as Mr. Darcy’s line did. Mostly because it’s spoken to Mr. Rochester, and I just told you what I think of him.
My father says I’m a whole lot more sentimental than I let on, than I am comfortable with, and this is true to an extent. But sentiment hasn’t ever really done me much good so I see no point in showing off that bit of my character.
The point of all this is that I feel sorry for these women, these Janes who live so much of their lives without the thing they most desire for themselves.
I read Wikipedia’s synopsis of Jane Eyre, and I know she gets her guy in the end — after Mr. Rochester’s wife burns the house down and kills herself and blinds her husband and whatnot. This would be the other reason why I can’t bring myself to read it … way too much tragedy for my tastes.
Oh. Crap. Maybe you’ve not read it.
Every time I saw the trailer for this film it would bring to mind memories of Becoming Jane, which of course would have me itching to watch it again.
And every time I watch it I go to sleep sad and sentimental.
Bronte, by the way, married and became pregnant but died before giving birth. She was thirty-nine. Austen received a proposal from a wealthy but pathetic man which she accepted, then refused the following day. She never married. She died at forty-two.
And here, these two women wrote all these stories that are so well-loved by so many though I cannot say that I am one of that many, but still … I can respect others’ appreciation for their works … at least they’ve left the world these.
I have given nothing but a couple of chapters to my friends because unlike these women, I cannot seem to find the courage to write about love when I find it so lacking in my own life.
And this is how I shall end my day.
Originally published January twelfth, ‘eleven.
The first three are of Savannah, the fourth of Charleston, and the last of Coligny Beach at Hilton Head.
Originally published October seventh, ‘fourteen.