The Query that Failed

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2013 by Saranne

Lorin Stein, Editor

The Paris Review

62 White Street

New York, New York 10013

Re: “Unspeakable”

Dear Mr. Stein:

Once, I lived so normal that it made my throat hurt in a way that I was unable to take in the kind of air that feeds the parts of me that medical science cannot see.  It was a pain that distracted me from reaching the segments of the world that have stories that need to be told.  Those are the stories I write; the ones that otherwise cannot be heard, or read, or started, or finished.  Or, mostly, understood.  That’s what it is for me.  I write about the things that I need to better understand.  The news media helps.  Like, when a father kills his four children before the mother can wake to save them.

I am well-versed on the definition and format of an industry-standard cover letter.  I know all about current trends in querying editorial decision-makers, or more accurately, editorial interns who flush the piles.  Unfortunate for those who insist upon such formalities, and as I previously stated, normal almost killed me once.  I will not let it take me on a second occasion. 

So rather than hook and capture you with attention-grabbing action verbs and extravagant adjectives that illustrate my unending fortitude and passionate tenacity, certain to prompt you to turn this page and engage in intricate language that portraits sociopathic tendencies and a woman’s inability to suffer, I simply ask that you read the enclosed short-fiction piece.  And then publish it. 

Thank you, Mr. Stein, for getting this far.

Sincerely,

  

Saranne Fosselman

Enclosure: “Unspeakable”

The Problem

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2013 by Saranne

I am too easily distracted. I will engage in anything, anything at all, in the name of avoiding the task at hand.

I used to think that I was going to change the world. We all do, right? Like, in kindergarten when I convinced myself that if I stood at the top of the jungle gym and jumped to the ground in a spiraling motion, I would metamorphose into Wonder Woman. Who wouldn’t, right? I mean, that’s how she did it. She spun. And then she was AMAZING.

So, I spent the entire year on the slide during recess as to not let the other kids know that if I accidentally spiraled myself off the jungle gym, I would most certainly turn into Wonder Woman. Not until May.

It was an overcast day. A slight breeze. Just enough chill for me to keep my sweater buttoned. Jonathan Spearl, or whatever his name was, was the only thing that stood between me and my climb to the top of that jungle gym where I was about to reveal my power from within.

He missed a toss of the Nerf and had to jog to the left. I ducked to the right and took hold of those metal bars, then an ascension up the wooden steps, around the tower, over the bridge, and finally…finally, I was standing on the highest platform of the structure. I immediately noted that I should have not chosen my first day on the jungle gym as my Reveal Day. It was high and kind of slippery beneath my Keds. The bars were cold and too big for me to wrap my hands around. The ground was so far away.

But this was it, right? My big day. My Debut. Dayyyyyy-Bewwwwww!

This was the moment for which I had waited my whole life. Brother John was all grown up enough in seventh grade to ride his bike all by himself without our parents trotting behind him on the sidewalk barking at him to stop at every corner until they caught up to cross him through the intersection. Even after he came home with a rock in his head, they let him out. Even after he caught his friend on fire down at the empty lot at the end of our street, they let him out.

And then there was baby Jessica. Who cried. All. The. Time. She cried colic all over that house from floors to ceilings and it ricocheted off walls and draperies and berber carpeting that my mom insisted was genius on which to raise her children. It was pea green. We spilled everything on it. All the time.

But this day, the one that happened at the top of the jungle gym, this day was mine. Carpe Diem. Yadda, yadda. Blah, blah, blah.

“Are you going to jump or what?”

It was Jonathan Swirl, or whatever his name was. He was standing behind me, sort of hanging from the tower rods, smirking, making fun of the little kid with her Keds getting ready to turn into Wonder Woman so that the world would finally understand her outward strangeness that attracted kids like Jonathan to, well, pick on her. And now I am talking about myself in third-person, which brings me to the point at hand.

I couldn’t talk myself into jumping that day. Nope. Not on that day. And I never turned into Wonder Woman. In fact, I wasn’t even permitted to watch her show on television. My mother thought she was sleazy. So while all the little girls who populated my neighborhood that summer wore snazzy Wonder Woman tank bathing suits, I adorned a fluorescent pink tank bathing suit with a gray elephant embroidered on the belly. There are photographs of those little girls in their Wonder Woman bathing suits in my mother’s photo albums.

I am in the albums, too. Strange. Awkward. Unusual. You can pick me out of all the group shots. But not because I turned into Wonder Woman during kindergarten recess. And not because I am running through my father’s sprinkler in a fluorescent pink tank bathing suit with an elephant embroidered on the front. But because I have always been different.

I still climb to great heights. I still try to jump. And then I find something else to do. Before the leap comes to fruition.

Eulogy

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2012 by Saranne

My grandmother passed in 2005. I was summoned to author and present a eulogy at her funeral service held at the site of the former Wila Methodist Church. The following is what I delivered to the congregation on that day. I post the passage annually on May 14th; Violet’s birthday. She would have been one-hundred-and-three-years-old today.

Eulogy

Violet Wilhemina Tressler Fosselman

May 14, 1909 – July 3, 2005

Growing up, I didn’t have a grandmother, or a grandma or a mum-mum. I had a Mema. A woman who, in my early years, was defined by a drawer of junk food she kept for me in her kitchen and the toothbrush, just for me, that dangled in a dispenser on her bathroom sink. By the time I was eight, and living only a mile from her house, my every weekend and holiday was spent with Mema in what seemed to me a land of magic and wonder that never tired no matter the number of minutes, hours, or days I spent with her.

When my Aunt Sandra asked me to say a few words regarding the life of Violet Fosselman, a million stories came to mind. I remembered the sealed jars of her homemade grape juice she stored in her basement where cousin Katie and I used to make inventions with in intention of changing the way the world interpreted technology.

I remembered Jiffy Pop on Friday nights and Violet’s rice pudding that made my insides melt. I remembered the smell of Violet’s attic; a treasure trove that provided afternoons of investigative rooting through boxes and bags of life manifested long before my time. Our parents scolded us for dragging Violet’s ancient ruins from the attic collection into the family room. We took the reprimand in exchange for stories that Violet shared for every item; stories delivered in an elaborate tapestry of the olden days.

I remembered Violet dousing my every boo-boo with Solarcaine, her cure-all for wounds ranging from skinned knees to bee stings. I remembered her patience, her tolerance and her tenacity. I remembered old five-eyes that hung on the wall above her range. A wooden paddle with five holes drilled through the center. She never used the paddle on the grandchildren. The threat alone was enough to keep us well-behaved.

I remembered Christmastime and Halloween at the Wila Church. And fausnaught day! That special Tuesday in February when I’d come home from school to find a box of homemade doughnuts made at the grange hall. Catholics call it Fat Tuesday, but Mema was a faithful German Protestant. I was the only one of Violet’s grandchildren confirmed in both churches.

I recalled sitting in Violet’s rocking chair on a lazy summer afternoon with my arms hanging limp over the sides of the chair. My mind drifting and my hands in the wrong place at the wrong time, I managed to rock the chair over my fingers. With a shriek that must have echoed all the way to the T. Luke Toomey Bridge, I leaped from the chair and fell into a fetal position on Violet’s back porch. Traumatized by the pain, I clutched my hand to my chest and rolled around calling for help. My sister, Jessica, was the first to arrive on the scene to immediately assess that I was having a heart attack.

“Mema!” she called through the screen door into the house. “Mema! Get out here! Come quick! Sara’s having a heart attack! Mema! We need you!”

In a flash, Violet was standing over me, her face white as a ghost. For an instant, I think she might have believed that maybe I was in cardiac arrest.

“I rocked over my fingers, Mema!” I shouted.

Violet smiled, and then chuckled. She ushered me into the house and sprayed my swollen fingers with Solarcaine.

And then, quietly, almost still like an ocean tide before a wave rears its foamy head, I remembered a walk I took with Violet on a warm summer evening.

“Let’s go for a walk,” she had suggested. I was about 14-years-old.

We crested the hill behind her house and stopped to survey the valley below. The creek. The church. Lib Lyons’ General Store.

“I’m going to build a house here someday, Mema,” I confided in Violet.

A moment passed before she spoke. And I wonder now if maybe, standing on the fringes of her empire, Violet considered life and how it tosses us like dried leaves in the wind. How misdirected motives influence and lead us down paths we never imagined to exist. And most certainly, I wondered if Violet considered at that moment how the passage of time casts life into faded memory and we forget the things we once promised to do.

“That would be a nice thing to do,” she answered and as we walked down the hill, back to her house, a deer leapt from the brush and onto our path. I easily startled and Violet took my hand. The deer stood like a statue on the path, staring at us in alarm.

“Scat!” Violet said to the animal and the deer disappeared into the green of the summertime hillside. Violet gave my hand a squeeze and let go.

Mema taught me how to sew, but never on Sundays. The seventh day was reserved for rest, she warned me. This made little sense to me as a child. It contradicted the fact that every Sunday morning Mema came into my room, the blue room, the one in which I always chose to sleep. It was my father’s old bedroom, the one with Little Boy Blue on the wall and the teddies on a chair in the corner and the giant headboard on the bed that me feel safe, protected. At the crack of dawn, on the day left for rest, Mema woke me, religiously. I whined and moaned and insisted that I would not be getting out of bed. By the arm, Mema would drag me into the bathroom where I was ordered to splash cold water in my face and brush my teeth. It was time to go to church. This was the thing, Mema said, that God kept for the seventh day. A day of rest, she told me.

What is the worth of a life lived so long that you don’t know in which direction to look when it has ceased?

Ninety-six years this woman lived. I was blessed with knowing her for 34. Yet in all the stories and memories I could recount in the wake of my Mema’s death, it will be the final segments of her life that I will hold dear to my heart. The days I spent with her in a nursing home in Monmouth, New Jersey.

I know by now that the most amazing things in life come packaged in small whispers and quiet kisses. And although we have ninty-six years by which to remember Mema, what I will take with me from her life is the grace that was granted to me in her final years.

My two-year-old daughter, Hazel, too young to be afraid of old age, liked to sit on Mema’s lap when we visited the home. The old woman’s hands wrapped around my daughter in contrast to new and unclaimed flesh. A kiss on Hazel’s cheek. A squeeze. Hazel would find the spot just beneath my Mema’s chin where she’d gently lay her head. Mema would press her face into Hazel’s hair and breathe in life renewed.

“Do you have a boyfriend, little girl?” Mema asked Hazel one day. “I bet you do. I bet all the little boys are chasing you.”

Mema laughed at her own silliness.

During another visit, Mema sang Hazel a song and told my oldest daughter, Zoey, about the turkeys and how proud she was that Zoey did well in school.

One day, in the middle of singing Hazel a song, Mema bent her head toward Hazel’s ear.

“Let me tell you something, little one,” Mema whispered to Hazel. “They will never know how much they mean to us until we are gone. You need to know that. You need to remember that one.”

She gently patted Hazel’s leg and continued to hum a lullaby.

I said goodbye to Mema seven days before she died. I held her hand and helped Sandra give her some fruit punch. The outside world fell away from me in my final hour with Mema. Nothing seemed more important than watching an old woman die. But Sandra said it was time to go. She was right. How long can we hold on to the dying? How long we can ask that they extend their stay? That request is for us, and not them.

“I have to go now Mema,” I said into the woman’s ear. “I want to see you again. You hang in there, okay?”

“O….K….,” she answered, her voice dry and raspy, her eyes closed.

“Mema,” I said, my lips almost touching her ear. “Mema, open your eyes, I want to tell you something…” my voice caught in a lump that knotted in my throat.

“O….K….,” she answered, her eyes open, but not searching for sight.

I swallowed hard and called upon the words I could not leave unsaid. I pressed my cheek against hers and squeezed tears from the corners of my eyes. I pulled back to look into her eyes, to make her see me, hear me.

“Thank you, Mema,” I cried. “Thank you for everything. You did good.”

Mema started to cry. Sandra went to her side. Still holding my Mema’s hand, I was sure I’d never be able to let that woman go. Claire, my middle child, began to cry in the corner of Mema’s room. Sandra offered her a tissue. How long could I stand there? And what power greater than myself would pull me away from a woman who made all the difference in the world to me? A woman who taught me everything I ever needed to know. One who never faultered. Never failed. At every turn, she was always there for me. Without question. Without a doubt.

“I love you, Mema,” my final words falling like echoes from mouth.

Mema stretched her neck, lifted her chin and took a labored breath.

“I love you, too,” she said. Her final words to me.

 

Things I Did When I Was A Kid….That My Children Never Will

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2011 by Saranne

1. I walked with my parents down a dirt road on election day where they entered a shed-like structure in the middle of a corn field and casted votes for our U.S. President.
2. I laid on my back in the middle of the Big Buffalo Creek and felt the wing feathers of a heron brush over me as he swooped for a landing in the shallow water.
3. I committed up to twelve hours a day to riding dirt bikes and four wheelers across the coutryside, which served as the four corners of my world.
4. I attended Friday night lights like a Catholic attends weekly Mass without fail.
5. I fed the cows every morning before school and every night after dinner.
6. I square danced on Saturday nights in real barns with livestock in the stalls and to the tune of live banjo bands.
7. I played basketball with my friends in my own barn.
8. Everything I ate came from our land or our barn or the pig pen or the chicken coop or the sheep pen.
9. I climbed silos to feed my need for a thrill.
10. I skated on a frozen creek from December to February against a bon fire built along the water’s edge.
11. I climbed a mountain to feel God’s grace.
12. I stopped to watch the sun set into the adjacent mountain crest.
13. Trick or treating was my dad driving me farm to farm for apples and bags of freashly popped corn.
14. I snowmobiled into late night hours on snow that stayed white on the ground all winter.
15. I climbed trees and imaged the world view from a high-rise apartment building in New York City, which was where I assumed Sesame Street was filmed.
16. I watched “The Waltons” every week night at seven.
17. I learned to drive with a manual clutch on my father’s tractor.
18. I met my friends on horses at a clearing along the creek on lazy afternoons.
19. I invested a critical pride in attending mt great-great-great grandfather’s alma mater, shared by generations across more than 200 years.
20. I gathered as a teenager with my friends at a pizza shop on the town square where football players wore varsity jackets, and cheerleaders mingled with field hockey palyers, and everyone knew everyone because this was our hometown, 36 miles from the nearest hospital, shopping mall, and movie theater, and 200 miles from where I now live.

Don’t Call Me White

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by Saranne

Last year, flash mobs were booming in Philadelphia. They gathered, collected, rallied, and attacked, breeding superior rule over commoners who are plainly shopping, socializing, generally milling around city streets on otherwise innocent Saturday evenings. That is how I interpreted the news reports. I had not put a color on the skin of flash mobsters. If a photo is included with an article, I had not taken notice. Not until The Philadelphia Inquirer published a story on flash mob victims in the B section of Sunday’s edition sometime last year.

The Inquirer article, written by Monica Yant Kinney, states, “…the galling fact that the perpetrators of these violent attacks are black and the victims, nonblack.”

But what does that mean? Nonblack. And black. And what difference does it make to flash mobs? What button is she pressing here?

I learned about being black in 1976, in a kindergarten class at Hampton Elementary School located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. I was five.

I didn’t enjoy my peers back then. And the jury presently remains out on that issue. Regardless, in kindergarten, I flew solo. I painted at the easel, I perfected my handwriting in meticulously kept copybooks, and I played quietly during outdoor recess on the monkey bars until other children wanted to do the same. At which point I found pleasing solitude on the slide. I could climb high, sit at the top, and survey the ant-like creatures that ran in circles below me. When all of the above failed to provide me solitude, I chose jigsaw puzzles. I constructed the puzzles on the carpeted floor area near the bookshelves which no kid chose to occupy during free time. Reading wasn’t pleasure for those kids. It was a chore. All the better for me.

I liked new kids, though. Kids who were brought into class mid-year, presented to us in front of the blackboard, nervous and anonymous. I liked those kids for their potential to be my twin.

I believed that there was someone out there in the world like me. A twin, I called it. I told my mother about it at Roy Rogers in the Capital City Mall one day. We were having lunch together because my sister had just been born and my mother told my pediatrician that I was having issues with the baby in the house. Dr. Forti articulated to my mother that I was suffering an identity crisis and that she was to take me to lunch on Saturdays. Her favorite place to eat was Roy Rogers.

I told my mother about my belief in having a twin because I wanted her to know that I felt different from the other kids at school, but I hadn’t lost hope in finding one like me. At the age five, I didn’t have the words that matched what was going on inside of me. So I told her I was looking for my twin and that I thought the twin might be living in China. I knew, even then, that China was a far cry from Pennsylvania, but I believed that the twin could find her way to me. I wasn’t concerned about the distance between us, nor was I concerned about the chance of finding one kid in this world who was compatible enough to be my friend. I was certain that fate would overrule logistics and on one unexpected day my twin would show up in my kindergarten classroom in the form of a new kid.

At the time, I was also very concerned as to whether or not I would have long hair to my waistline by the time I was in college. I asked my mother about this at Roy Rogers as well. She assured me that my hair could easily grow to my waistline by the time I was in college. She expressed, however, uncertainty regarding the aspect of me finding my twin. Especially if my twin indeed lived in China.

The new girl’s name was Shannon Johnson. She showed up in April. She had white stuff on her skin.

“What’s that on your arm?” I asked her on her first day at Hampton Elementary School, after Miss Stoup had introduced her from the front of the classroom. I figured that if Shannon was going to be my twin, I might as well cut right to the chase in finding things out about her. I started with the white residue on her arms.

“My mom puts that on me,” Shannon replied.

“I don’t have it on my arms,” I said, revealing my arms sans white stuff. “Can I touch it? Maybe I can rub it off.”

Shannon shrugged her shoulders. I grabbed her wrist in one of my hands and rubbed the areas of her arm covered in white with my other hand. The residue came right off.

“See?” I said. “It comes off. I knew it would. It looked like it would come off.”

Shannon looked upset. “But my mom likes it there,” she explained. Her eyes looked wet.

“She won’t care,” I said. “It doesn’t look right on you anyway.”

I took Shannon’s wrist in my hand again and rolled her arm around to the underside.

“Look,” I urged her. “I didn’t even get it all off. There’s still some on you, right there on the underside.”

I continued scanning her appendage for further white stuff, but stopped, my eyes caught in the palm of her hand.

I rubbed my fingers across her palm, peach-colored with brown creases running like streams through her flesh.

I wanted to tell Shannon that her hand looked funny, but her eyes were already wet and even at the age of five, I knew that some things were better left unsaid.

I dropped Shannon’s arm like a hot coal and returned to my prerogative of doing things in the classroom by myself. I hadn’t completely struck Shannon from the potential twin opportunity, but something wriggled in the back of my mind whispering that she was not the one.

Leaving Shannon with wet eyes at her desk, I scanned the classroom. I pulled a puzzle from the shelf and toted it to the carpeted book-reading area. It was a good puzzle. Butterflies in the Amazon.

“Can I help?” Shannon asked, squatting beside me.

I was alarmed. Had she not been notified that the carpeted book-reading area was my domain?

“No,” I replied with bold authority. And without making eye contact.

“This one goes here,” she said, touching a puzzle piece.

“Stop it,” I said quickly, implementing a get-out-of-my-space tone of voice.

“And this one goes…”, Shannon started. But she didn’t finish because I slapped the puzzle piece right out of her hand and pushed her to her back where I hovered over her and uttered through my teeth, “I don’t want your help.”

My words were clear and concise as to ensure the avoidance of further misunderstanding.

Incidentally, Shannon was not my twin.

Principal Masterson was a large, bald man who hollered messages of discipline and reprimand like a barbarous Viking throughout the school. I felt small sitting in the chair opposite his large, chunky wooden desk. He tapped his fingers against the blotter that covered the top of his desk. He twiddled a pen in the other hand. Then he ceased both activities and rubbed a palm across the top of his shiny, bald head.

I took a deep breath and released an exaggerated sigh into space between us. The pending doom was inevitable. I would be punished with recess at my desk for a week. Miss Stoup would call my mother. I would be without TV for another week. Blah, blah, blah. I knew I shouldn’t hit other kids. But damn, if they’d just leave me alone, no one would get hurt. And that’s when I decided to take the upper hand.

“Mr. Masterson,” I began. “I don’t want other people touching my things. I do things by myself. I like it that way. They are my things and I know Miss Stoup says that they are really her things or the school’s things, but when I’m doing a puzzle, it’s mine and I don’t want other people touching my puzzle when I’m doing it by myself.”

There was a silence.

I didn’t know if I should keep talking or go back to wondering if Mr. Masterson was born bald and stayed that way for the rest of his life, or if bald is something that happens to people when they grow up. Like a sickness. I knew about sicknesses. By kindergarten, I had already lost two grandparents. I made a mental note to ask my mother at Roy Rogers on Saturday why some people are bald.

“Saranne,” Mr. Masterson said, breaking my train of thought on baldness. “Shannon is a very special little girl in this school. Her family is a very good family. They are special people. I have spoken with her mother and her father and they are very kind, good people who are very special to us.”

What. The. Hell. Is wrong. With this guy. I wanted to say it out loud. Just like that. With the “hell” and all. But I didn’t. I was curious to know where Mr. Masterson was going with this one. Me cursing in his office ran a tremendous risk of him losing his own train of thought.

“Okay,” I said in response to the special people in our lives at Hampton Elementary School. Maybe Shannon lived in that development across the creek with the big houses being built up in the woods that my dad says costs an arm and a leg, which apparently is far more than we can afford with three kids at the dinner table. Or maybe Shannon’s mom worked a fancy job in an office in the city. Or maybe Shannon’s dad was the President of the United States. That surely constitutes being special.

Mr. Masterson developed himself a grin that stretched from one ear to the other. He leaned back in his puffy swivel chair and told me that he knew I would understand.

“Shannon needs good friends like you, Saranne,” he added. “We need to be extra nice to Shannon and her family.”

Then he dismissed me from his office. No indoor recess at my desk. No telephone call to my mother. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Instead, I was simply returned to my kindergarten classroom. Shannon was standing by the bookshelf. I approached her with caution. When I was close enough to her, I gently took hold of her arm, like I had done before, and lifted it so that I could see the remaining white residue, the powder that I hadn’t wiped off the first time. I brushed the patch of white from her skin with my free hand.

“It’s baby powder,” I whispered. “I can see it on you because your skin is brown.”

Shannon pulled her arm from my grasp. She took a few steps backward, away from me.

“Is that what makes you special?” I asked. “You being brown?”

I didn’t get an answer because Shannon started to cry and I was removed from the classroom – again – and sent home for the day.

Last year, in her Inquirer article, Kinney referred to flash mob victims as “nonblack.” And then wrote the following statement in parentheses:

“(And no, I’m not avoiding white. One innocent was a Cambodian shopkeeper.)”

In parentheses. Like she had to whisper the line into the facade of reporting on flash mobs in Philadelphia. Let’s face it. Kinney’s story wasn’t about flash mobs. It was about black kids breaking the law and ruining Philadelphia. No different from NPR’s Morning Edition report on the difference in income between black and white families. The story aired around the same time that the mobs were a popular past time for teens. One study, the NPR report indicated, has extended beyond 30 years of research and data collection. To the naked ear, a listener may have heard a report on economic quantification. But listen a little more carefully. The story included the voiceover of the female reporter, voices of the black family, and voices from the white household. The black family chosen was homeless just a few years ago, lived in a shelter for a while, reaped the benefits of welfare stipends, and currently does not own a home, “…not uncommon among black and Hispanic families,” the reporter added. While the white family voiceover included a six-year-old child reading Dr. Seuss out loud as her father droned on about acquiring Aunt Lucy’s family inheritance with which he will be building a multi-million dollar home on the family estate property.

It was a fight over a puzzle.

They are kids gathering in mobs and reeking havoc.

Our economy is failing.

Some people have wealthy relatives.

They are not special. They are not black. They are not white. These are elements of our lives that should not be defined by hue.

Rather than teach me to share my toys that day in kindergarten, I was taught to see the color of someone’s skin for the first time in my life.

And rather than report that today’s youth needs constructive evening activities and an upgrade in influential parenting, the Inquirer blamed violence on the color of children’s skin.

Rather than speak of social class, NPR relied upon stereotypical (and somewhat historical) portrayals that were rich enough in color to stand as cover art for The Saturday Evening Post.

I have spent most of my life trying to figure out the rules to this game, the guidelines. I have tried resolving why the color of someone’s skin constitutes being special, and later researched why that color might mean something bad. I have aced African-American History courses, devoured Black Women’s Literature curriculum. I have studied Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, all of Toni Morrison, and Alexander McCall Smith among others. I have read The Help and cringed, then celebrated something I saw in the beauty and love and unity among a segregated race.

As far as Kinney, Masterson, and NPR are concerned, I don’t belong to a race of color. Don’t call me black, and sure as hell do not call me white. Both terms serve as vessels through which news media and racists choose to paint us. Sound juvenile? Then so does every ignorant fool who believes that color plays a role in who we are. I was almost homeless a little more than ten years ago. And I do not have an Aunt Lucy. Nor a family estate property.

 

Essence

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2011 by Saranne

I am certain that I have written once or twice, or maybe a thousand times that I am lost. I think I wrote it when my oldest was born, and then again when number two took her first breath. I wrote it when our lives had crashed and burned and sent us hurling into the world seeking foundation. Solidarity. I wrote it again when the entrance of a third-born child into our lives ruffled the feathers of a thinned family structure. I wrote it from the desk of a news room and from a third-floor bedroom on Sumac Street. I wrote it through loss, suffering, and most of the sadness with which I’ve been stricken. Not the unique kind of sadness that one is stamped with upon the altar of losing a child or parent. I’m referencing ordinary sadness. The kind we cultivate when there is nothing else to feel. Nothing else to indicate a pulse.

When I look over my shoulder, which I do all too often, I don’t see the lost component in those thousand and maybe one entries that litter my journals and are threaded throughout every story I have authored. What I see from where I am standing is that my children grounded me on the three days that they were born. And the city has never been less than an adventure. I harbored Sumac Street as a mile-marker to the end of something fantastic, yet what a fantastic and exciting new life that had begun right there in that very stone house with the blue trim. And who would I be if it were not for news rooms? Because I know no other way of life beyond pecking at the keys or scratching a pen against the surface of the pages in a sketchbook. I don’t sketch, of course. But I don’t like writing on lined paper.  To avoid the lines, I write in sketchbooks. For spacial reasons.

Then sometimes I blame being lost on the city. Always somewhere to go and someone’s voice to hear. The clatter of this town swells my brain. There are days when I wake without a sense of direction. Without a map or a timeline. On those days, I float. Downstream. Hoping to catch a rapid. Or drown. Either way.

Most recently, I’ve blamed being lost on the house in which I now live, which is not the one on Sumac or Jamestown. Jamestown was good. I loved those bones. I laid my hands on them, smoothed my palm across the surface of its moldings, grazed my fingers along the walls. I’d tell it so. I’d whisper, “What a good house you are. I feel myself here. I am alive and vibrant here.” So many things poured from me onto pages and screens on Jamestown. Three screens, to be exact. Two PCs and a laptop served tenure in that house.

But this house, this house is different with its sterile surfaces, straight edges, and clean lines.  I’ve tried lying on the sofa in the middle of the day after the girls are off to school and only the fish tank has something to say. It gurgles regardless of the term Whisper written on the side of its filter pump. I let the algae grow because that’s how I think the fish want to live. I think they like the green and sometimes they eat it off the sides. But usually only when I go days forgetting to feed them. I do that. Forget them. Sometimes the gurgle from the tank falls on deaf ears. Unless I try to lay on the sofa in search of myself; then I hear it. So loud it crashes against my raw and irritated mind. Like a blister. My brain. Not the fish tank. The tank is not like a blister.

I beg for the quiet when the sofa doesn’t work. I request it. To myself, to God, to the Universe. To anyone who is listening. I say things like, “Do you realize that there is still this dream?” It’s the one I fashioned as a child from the surface of my bedroom window sill that faced east so that I could watch the sun rise in the morning and watch the fields turn orange against the sunset’s glow just before supper was ready. It was there where I thought about it.  It was there where I fashioned my first book. I called it, My Book. It was about me. And the very first line reads something to the extent of, “I want the world to read what I have to say.” Something along those lines. I could get it out of the closet in this house and quote the line. It’s fifteen feet from where I sit now. But I am far too lost for that kind of business. Rummaging through crap that reminds me of how much crap the world has yet to read.

I asked him today if maybe I wasn’t good at this. Maybe, for my whole entire long-lived life, I had chosen a dream that didn’t match even a small part of me or my capacity to fulfill. I tried to find the roots. I vaguely recalled winning contests, writing for the local newspaper as an adolescent. Then I remembered the sixth grade autobiography. Her note beautifully written next to the A+. “You should be a writer.”

That’s all it took. In fact, I was a little irritated that someone hadn’t mentioned it earlier because I had just devoured two weeks of my life preparing a report on practicing medicine for the career segment in my language arts class. Of course I would be writer. And not a pediatrician.

I do not practice medicine. Following the receipt of my sixth-grade teacher’s note, I practiced writing. I thought briefly about medicine in 1999, following the birth of my second child. I researched schools, programs, financial aid. I hadn’t written since the babies had made themselves comfortable in my life and consumed my every waking and sleeping hour. I acknowledged it as a sign to become a doctor. Who wouldn’t think that, right? It seemed like a perfectly natural process to me.

I targeted a start date on my higher education. I had essays to write, of course. Letters to the officials who rule the kingdom of that caliber of education. I logged onto my PC, circa 1985. One of the original McIntoshes. And thought it wise to clean out the plethora of documents and files that had collected for more than a decade. I wasn’t a writer. I no longer needed the stories. Clean house, ducks in a row, all was good. Except when I stumbled upon that one story. The one that was inspired by the dream I had had with the orphans in Guatemala. I couldn’t pull myself away. I printed all 347 pages of the manuscript and crumpled it into a folder that I tucked into the outside pocket of the diaper bag. I never completed a medical school admissions package.

I don’t have an end to this. Other than to say that lying on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon, listening to water gurgle from a tank that is green from the inside out does not make me feel that inner self. It reminds me of the wooden swing my father installed on a branch of the maple tree at the corner of the house in which I grew up. The hours, the days, I sat on that swing and gazed at the landscape that neither moved nor transformed other than the occasional tractor that interrupted it seasonally. It was the same view from my bedroom window sill, the one facing east. Because the swing was below the window, to the left a little. I inserted the landscape and tree swing into the Guatemalan story.  But in the story, the view becomes exhausting for the character and forces her to retreat from a place she once held dear.  I take photographs of the field and the hillside when I go home now and again. I stand in the spot where the swing once hung. It’s no longer there. But that’s where I stand to snap the shudder.

Actually, I have a digital Polaroid that cost me seventy bucks at Target. I don’t think it has a shudder. I don’t know anything about digital photography other than to say that it captures what I see when I press the button on the top.

Regardless, the view from my sofa is now exhausting. The yellow walls smother me. The sound of the fish tank is deafening. I like the green, though. In the tank. I don’t believe that the average keeper of fish can hone the talent of nurturing green algae like I do. It’s a delicate situation. That requires patience. And tenacity. Sunlight helps, too.

I assume, much like the former one thousand and one times I have issued a notice on being lost, I will look over my shoulder after having passed this way, and realize that the content upon which I base my negativity, is the very essence of my life. Not the sofa. Or the yellow. But the rest.

Times Like These

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 by Saranne

As a child, Saturday afternoons in my home were not free. My parents chose Saturdays to accomplish what seemed like an endless list of to-do’s. There was cleaning, cooking, mowing, cutting wood, hauling wood, stacking wood, feeding livestock, cleaning animal stalls, gutting sheds, washing cars, repairing farm equipment, washing laundry, dusting, changing the bedding, scrubbing floors, and so forth.

Every Saturday morning, I woke by nine and left the house by nine-thirty for gymnastics practice. I returned home at one to the crack of my parents’ work whip. I begrudgingly cleaned the bathroom with one eye out the window; I could hear the muffled grind of my friends’ dirt bikes grazing the terrain. But upon bathroom-cleaning inspection, my mother would scowl that I had missed the base of the toilet or that I had left hair in the bathtub drain. I hadn’t cleaned to the level of her expectation.

 Next was the kitchen floor. I sloshed soapy water from one end of my mother’s industrial-sized kitchen to the next. Missing patches here and there, hurrying to finish, wanting to have been at the creek by then to spy on the boys’ newly constructed hideout that perched on a nearby rock ledge. But again, upon inspection, my work did not make the cut. My mother would stand over me, pointing out those missed patches of dirty flooring. I hadn’t achieved what she was expecting.

From the kitchen floor, I was ushered outside where my father methodologically split thick chunks of wood that he and my brother had hauled from the hollow. “Get the wheelbarrow, Sissy,” he’d say. “This wood needs stacked beneath the porch.” On my fourth trip, the sun would begin to set, casting splintered orange rays through the branches of the walnut trees. I couldn’t see that the stacks were not straight. I was blinded by the silent alarm of the day coming to a premature end for me. My father, disappointed in my ill-shaped wood pile, scolded me for my shoddy workmanship and shooed me away with his gloved hand.

I still had time. It wasn’t yet dark. I ran to the barn for my bike. I could still make it to the creek. My friends still might be down there. But lo-and-behold, my mother would call for me through the kitchen window, waving a wicker basket in her hand. She needed blueberries from the orchard. Wouldn’t it be nice to have muffins after supper? I would pick the berries, but eat most of them. And then take the verbal lashing from my mother in the kitchen when I would return her basket with no more than a few handfuls of berries rolling around at the bottom. Not enough for her anticipated muffins. “But I mixed the batter while you were picking!” she’d say to me, her voice shrill and crammed with utter frustration.

The sky would be dark by then.  Saturday would officially come to an end.

I’m certainly not scarred by my childhood Saturdays. I don’t often think of those days in the perspective in which I just described. Growing up on my parents’ farm has blessed me with endless stories of old that fill me with warmth and a longing to return.

But today I recalled those Saturday afternoons under a cloak of failure. It’s the same cloak I’m wearing right now.

I slipped it on this morning in BJ’s just after turning into the new produce section of the store. Because I am in one of those mind-sets in which I am unable to execute anything to the fullest extent. Nothing ends in proper completion, nothing turns out as expected, and everything involves an intense and internal frustration that randomly erupts from me without prior notice. A quality cloak of failure is required for times like these. It enhances the degree of self-loathing necessary in walking that jagged line of martyrdom. Not everyone can take failing to such great heights.

But we all go through it. I hope. Times when it feels like everything we have tried has ended in failure. And then there are those really special times in life when we keep trying, and we try so hard, and for so long that resources become exhausted. Innovation dissipates. Strategies fade. Passion ceases to thrive. Emptiness consumes. At which point I pull my cloak of failure over my head and mope. Sometimes I cry.

Hence, the explosive success of the anti-depressant niche.

I don’t take the pills. I was asked to take a prescription twelve years ago by my doctor. Knowing better, I declined.

If I didn’t smudge my way through these standard life-lesson pitfalls, against what would have to measure the joy when it comes? Don’t we need the bad parts of life to cultivate the good parts into something beyond our wildest dreams?

Sometimes I fail because I’m distracted; I’d rather be doing other things, like being a kid and wanting to play rather than work. Sometimes I fail because I lack interest in the things I’m doing. But most of the time I fail because I have no patience, tolerance, or acceptance for the circumstances with which I am dealing. I have destroyed more than I’d like to admit merely because I did not have the patience to wait for the miracle to happen on its own.

I know that I fail not because of the heaping pile of failure at my feet, but because I am informed of my failure by those whom I have failed.

When my mother yelled at me for not cleaning properly, I remember thinking, “But you asked me to clean, and I cleaned. You never told me how you wanted me to clean. You just told me to do it. So I did it my way.”

Or when my father muttered words of distaste over my inability to properly stack wood, I remember thinking, “You never said the piles had to be formed in even rows. You only said it went under the porch. And that’s where I put your wood.”

As an adult, I whisper similar statements in my mind when under fire. Sometimes I want to ask people if they’d like to have my job? Or if I’m doing such a terrible job, why are you still here?

But rule #1 in the Guide to Becoming a Martyr states, “Martyrs do not question verbal abuse. They take it as it comes and politely smile in response. In some cases a Martyr may inquire if he or she can offer any further services to the abuser at hand; however, getting a word in edgewise may be impossible depending upon the circumstances and the decibel level at which the abuser is offering criticism.”

So I smile. I crack a joke. I well up in BJ’s. I argue with people in my head. And I eventually find the way out of my self-obsessed maze. I fold the cloak and place at the back of the closet until next time.

I am convinced that Blue Cross should issue me a stipend for the amount of cash I am saving them on monthly prescription refills.