I’ll be playing in someone else’s sand box this week!
Follow me, as today I take on rejection and Alexis Stewart — 10/30/11
Today, a poem — 11/01/11
Today, some fiction — 11/03/11
I watch you approach me in the produce section, it seems all good stories begin in the produce section. Your eyes are on a pineapple and I’m baffled as I try to look away — your clothes are dirty, shorts and a t-shirt so faded I can’t make out the picture on the front. Your feet are sticking out over the edges of a pair of flip-flops and I’m immediately repulsed. Your gray beard is matted and unkempt as it hangs almost to your stomach, yellow stains around your mouth from years of smoking I assume.
For a second, I imagine cleaning you up and putting a red coat and hat on you and hiring you to entertain the kids at my Christmas party… and so in that second that has passed I give you a name… Dirty Santa. Still, you peruse the pineapple and I am dumbfounded. I look in your cart and all I see is mouthwash — twenty bottles of mouthwash and I think of about three very inappropriate jokes associated with the mouthwash in Dirty Santa’s cart in that next second and I laugh deep within my thoughts so that no one knows until I realize why you have all that mouthwash — you drink it.
You come to this store on Sunday morning when the liquor stores are all closed and you know you must have something, soon — I see the trembling in your hands, I see the sweat beading on your brow, I see the confusion within your eyes. Your gaze doesn’t leave those pineapple and mine doesn’t leave you — all of you. You put the pineapple in your cart and you head in the direction of the checkout. I follow you for a bit but you have no idea, the trembling has gotten worse with each passing second and I watch you will your legs to remain steady and forward — left foot, right foot.
You turn to take your place in line and I keep going — past you and I don’t look again… I don’t wonder about you anymore. I stop myself from thinking about the mouthwash and the quivering hands and the dirty clothes and the kids whose father is now the dirty Santa who buys a cart full of mouthwash on Sunday morning and the wife who finally followed through with her ultimatum and the boss who had to let you go and the grandchildren you’ll never know — I stop myself from thinking about all of that and turn to go down the dairy aisle. You were in my heart for a few seconds on a Sunday morning.
The field next door is perfectly mowed, I look at it because to me it is the world… my world. The world that keeps me company every summer. In the middle we’ve carved out a baseball field where we play every day. I never worry about being the last one chosen… they all want me on their team. I run fast. I hit hard. I throw far. I never give up. I am wild.
There’s a dirt track that circles the boundary, worn down from the motorcycle that the boys next door own. I sneak on it, out of the sight of my grandmother. My legs are too short to crank the kick-starter so the boys do it for me. I ride around the track, my sweaty brown hair flapping uncontrollably in the summer heat as I beg the bike to go faster as I approach the bump that will send me into the air for a brief second. I am wild.
The boys are waiting as I round the corner, screaming at me over the roar of engine to stop because it’s their turn. I keep going — they’re twice as old and twice as big as me but I laugh wildly as I tear past them for another time around the track and over that bump. They curse at me, laughing, when I finally stop and call me punk and squirt and pat my head and none of them go as fast I did — none of them. I am wild.
The sun disappears and we say our goodbyes for the night, I’m the last one to leave at the end of every day and the first one to arrive in the mornings. The boys walk to sit with the adults gathered in the backyard of their house. I turn and give the field a final look before I wind my way through the opening in the bushes that separates the field and the serene perfection of my grandmother’s immaculately groomed back yard.
She sits by the open window, the warm breeze blows the curtains back just a bit, the family next door laughs and screams and curses. She can smell the spilled beer and the unfiltered cigarettes as if she were standing in the middle of them… instead of where she is, on the edge of the footstool peering through the open window. I join her.
We watch together and listen together and we are silent, together. I wonder if she wishes she were sitting in the backyard with them… unencumbered by the foul smells and prickly words thrashing through the summer air all around them. I look at her. I see the want in her eyes… briefly. I stand up, tired of watching, and walk away, leaving her there… still staring.
I see you… standing there on the corner.
A cigarette hanging from your mouth, your fingertips are yellowed by the repulsive habit. Your hair is dirty, there is no color… just the color of alone, empty, left-over. You’re clothes are disheveled. I imagine you sifting through the pile of used clothes, strewn across a cold concrete floor –piece milling your outfit together, hurriedly before anyone else joins you. Then you pick out your mat and place it in a spot close to the bathroom, you think you have a better chance of sleep with the faint light creeping under the door — the complete dark of the large room scares you.
I know this about you… I can see it.
Once your mat is in place you sprint to the front of the line for food… you know you have a better chance at seconds if you’re at the front, you know this because you watched the others those first couple of times and the power of osmosis gave you the knowledge to survive these nights. When you have your food, you pick the table closest to the front… closest to the line. You can gauge the quantity of food left and when you need to get back in line. Your eyes dart back and forth between the line and your food only you can’t even see your food — you don’t care. It’s hot. You eat. You look right through your plate to the memories of a life you think must have been lived by someone else.
I know this about you… I can see it.
I can see the baby being held by a mother — love in her eyes, a smile on her face. Her hair falls gently past her shoulder and tickles your cheek as she sings Van Morrison and there you are… into the mystic. Dancing around in her arms, clinging to the warmth of her breath, inhaling the sweet scent of her dreams — the dreams she had for you. The report card she knew she would frame, the touchdown she knew you would catch, the college she knew you would attend… she knew you would have her gypsy soul. And she danced and she twirled and you closed your eyes and…
I know this about you… I can see it.
When the morning comes you gather your things… a backpack with clothes, a toothbrush, a marker, matches — your cigarettes. You stand in the line again, waiting for your breakfast and the sack lunch for later. You put it all in your backpack and you wait outside for the van to leave and carry you back to this corner — this corner where I pull up to everyday and I watch you put that cigarette to your mouth and I see your yellowed finger tips and I wonder if anyone ever held you in their arms. I wonder if you ever knew the hope of someone who believed in you. I wonder if anyone ever gazed down on you while you were sleeping and wished you dreams of unicorns and bunny rabbits and clouds shaped like hearts. I wonder if anyone ever stood up for you — I wonder if you remember.
I see you… standing there on the corner.
I drive past you, every day at the same time… at the same stop light. I drive past you.
You’re always looking slightly down, maybe at your feet, maybe at the sidewalk, maybe you want to avoid eye contact with me as much as I want to avoid eye contact with you.
You have a picture ID attached to a lanyard that dangles from your neck… you work out, I can tell by the thickness of your shoulders. Your tattoos look old but well thought out. Your hair is cut perfectly. A single ear-ring draws my attention to your square jaw, your straight nose, your blue eyes, your perfect skin tanned by the summer sun.
You usually have on shorts so I glance at the tattoo on the back of your calf — my imagination starts to drift, I reel in my thoughts.
I look at the ID again, every day I look at that ID at that same stop light and I wonder about you. It identifies you as a vendor selling the “homeless” paper — I’m baffled because you are exquisite, young, strong. You make my thoughts soar in the early morning. I wonder how… how?
I imagine us having dinner together, you tell me a story of combat duty and how your job was gone when you returned and you have no family and one thing led to another and you ended up homeless. But then I change the story… it was drugs. You became addicted as a teenager. Your parents kicked you out. You’re starting over. Then, again, I have an even better story… you’re a writer, spending the year homeless, living in shelters, selling the paper. You have several large publishing houses interested already.
I notice you, sifting your stance. The tattoo on your calf flexes. You walk up to the car in front of me and exchange a paper for the dollar the woman is holding precariously through the half-opened window. You nod your head to say thank you and look around at me to see if I’m waving a dollar as well — I’m not.
I look down to avoid your blue eyes and the stories I’ve created about them… the light turns green. I drive away, until tomorrow.
Her brakes squeak loudly as she continually pushes them in the halting traffic. She turns the radio up just a bit so she can pretend she doesn’t hear them as she rests her arm on the rolled down window. It’s hot out. Too hot for the window to be open but running the air conditioner will use up more gas and she already put her allotted money in the tank this week. She knows she needs new brakes but it isn’t to the point of emergency yet.
She looks in the rearview mirror at her daughter sitting behind her, she smiles as her daughter pushes her tongue through the empty spot in her gums where her tooth used to be. Yesterday her daughter was crying because the cavity had gotten so big it hurt almost continually. But today, the hole is there where the pain used to be. She used the emergency fund to take away her daughters painful tooth.
She moves her glance back towards the halted traffic and starts thinking about her brakes again — they’re the next emergency. That’s how she categorizes all the things that need her attention, the things that will cause her to re-do the budget for the month… again. The emergencies get taken care of first and today her daughter’s cavity is the emergency, not the squeaking brakes.
The traffic stops again, the same spot every morning, she thinks. Right under the billboard that changes every few days to announce that someone else has just become a millionaire. Someone she doesn’t know and someone who doesn’t deserve the money as much as her and someone who will never need to categorize the expenses by emergencies.
She stares at the sign. Her eyes fixed to the amount, $56 million today. She thinks of that cavity, the tennis shoes she needs to buy for her son so he continues to not suspect anything is wrong, the name brand laundry detergent she wants to splurge on… just once. She sits there in the stopped traffic and thinks of all the things she wishes she could afford — all at once, not needing to space it out in between paychecks. She wants to be that mom that just goes and gets the materials for the class project without adding up the amount in her head at the cash register and hoping it’s less than the amount in her bank account. She wants to place her items on the conveyor belt and talk nonchalantly with the cashier about the weather and the shrimp that are on sale instead of holding her breath hoping to get the “transaction approved” sign from the debit card reader.
She lets her gaze stay on the sign just a bit too long as the traffic moves a few feet ahead. She knows she isn’t going to win the jackpot that’s flashing on the sign above her head because she never plays… and she laughs at the thought of it, for a moment. She knows the five dollars she would spend on her “winning numbers” will pay for her daughter’s lunches that week at school. She thinks someone with fewer priorities will win, she knows it’s not her.
She breathes in deep, her lungs slowly filling with the stale air of this stagnant life, the life where priorities take over — the struggles, the empty bank account, the loss of laughter, the facade. She knows that winning the lottery would screw up the alignment of this life. She struggles to convince herself that she isn’t deserving of this sad but she knows that anything making it better wouldn’t feel right.
She looks around at the other cars stopped in traffic with her. She can pick out the people who think they don’t deserve anything better, who think the lottery will be won by someone else — they look like her… pretty hair, discount clothes, a fake smile — those are the people who think they deserve to be sad.
Still, she looks at the billboard and she wonders. She plans her budget in her head — millions for the kids, a million here and there for relatives, new furniture, a carpet for her dining room, a vacation. She smiles and allows herself to let out a small laugh, then she remembers her daughter’s cavity, her son’s sneakers, the school lunches. She curses the billboard as she finally passes it by because she knows it made her forget about her priorities.
She glances at her now sleeping daughter once again in the rearview. The traffic breaks apart and she continues home. She places a call to the bank to check her account. This months emergency fund will take care of her daughter’s cavity, maybe next month she’ll get a rug for the kitchen. Maybe next month her priorities will change.
The symbiosis between her and the young girl behind the counter is almost complete, again. They know each other far too well now. She watches the young girl count out the money, she see’s the dollar bills neatly in the drawer and realizes why the plexiglass separates them. It would be so easy to reach in and take what she needs, she could run, she could start her car and be gone within seconds, she feels her blood begin to warm in her veins and she understands impulse and how quickly impulse can take over the actions of your body.
The young girl finishes counting out the money and places it in the tiny hole cut out of the plexiglass separating the two. She takes the money and counts it again, there at the window before she leaves. It’s become her routine. The young girl smiles at her through her over-processed hair that lies disheveled across her face. She wonders how she got here, this place in her life. She thinks about how the young girl has no worries, yet. How she doesn’t have kids and only dates occasionally, how she lives with her parents and is saving up for her first car. She knows all of these things because they chat like that. She talks to the young girl like they are sorority sisters planning ahead to the evenings events — that makes it easier. Small talk surrounding them to mask the real reason she was there. Her son wants to go out with his friends. Her dog is hungry. Her water bill is late. Her car is out of gas.
They say goodbye… again.
She walks to her car gripping the cash tightly in her hand, eyes down so no one see’s her. She jumps in her car, slams the door shut and locks it in one quick move. She always parks far enough away from the door of the business so no one would suspect she was in there… it was a small town, she was sure someone would become suspicious if they recognized her car out front. So, she parks closer to the nail salon. She can say she is just getting a manicure — no one would doubt her. No one knows the symbiosis between her and the young girl behind the plexiglass.
She holds tight to the money for a few seconds and feels her stress leave, briefly. She counts out the twenty-dollar bills until she reaches $200.00, then she stares at it again… there, in her hands. She then begins separating it onto the passenger seat. She can make it last for two weeks, she knows she can, she’s done it before. One hundred dollars for the grocery store — she’ll stick with the store brand items, instant potatoes, a bag of potatoes… potatoes are cheap, at least 5 meals from them she thinks. She’ll get the eggs that are on sale… 3 meals out of those. Chicken legs are cheap too… 4 meals out of those. She goes over her list there in the car and reminds herself she can do it — $100.00 in the grocery pile. She puts $40.00 in a different pile… gas for the car. $20.00 in a pile all to itself — money for her oldest son to go to the movies. He has no idea… $20.00 for the movies once in a while will keep it that way. The rest, $40.00, she hides in the console of her car — for emergencies. Two weeks, she can do this, she’s done it before.
She looks at all the piles and takes a deep breath — still unsure of how she got to this place in her journey. Off in the distance she hears the whistle of the train, picking up the lunch time crowd, whisking them away to downtown to enjoy lunches on terraces and mid-day margaritas on decorated patios. As quickly as she imagined the ease at which her impulses would allow her to reach into the young girls drawer of money, she imagined taking her piles of cash and hopping on the train to enjoy a cold drink at her favorite spot, people watching with her friends, laughing, hugging, telling stories. The whistle blew again as she started her car, pulling away from her innocent parking spot near the nail salon, aiming the car toward the grocery store because that’s where her life is taking her right now, the symbiosis is complete, again — her dog is hungry.