Summer Colors

001 (3)Colors behind glass in a small corner cabinet.  Orange, and yellow and green and salmon and two shades of blue, one as soft as a cloudless sky, another as electric as an approaching storm.   My favorite has always been the orange, though.  It is red by definition, but orange to my eyes, round and smooth; such a happy color.  I have been collecting these dishes since before Fiesta’s comeback.  Flea markets, yard sales, my mother’s cupboards.  When facsimiles started showing up in magazines and at Target, my heart sank.  The colors weren’t right.  Too pastel.   Not as real.  Forever to be popping up and mixing in and polluting collections of authentic Fiesta.

More than twenty years ago, I paid fifty dollars for a bright orange tea pot a friend had found at a flea market.  I will never forget his excitement when he ran to tell me of the treasure he had found just two tables over.  It was perfect.  Continues to be the centerpiece of my collection.  I’ve seen similar teapots in collectables and antique shops.  Still priced at or about fifty dollars.  Everything has increased in value except Fiesta ware.  It’s too common now.  Too hard to tell the originals from the copies.  And copies are everywhere.  I think you can still buy full place settings on line.

Not that I would ever part with a single piece.  Those plates and cups and bowls mean too much to me.  They are prizes from treasure hunts long ago, when a cobalt blue saucer or bright orange teapot still made my eyes wide with wonder.  I carried those pieces home as precious heirlooms.  Wrapped and packaged them with great care through every move and transition of my life.  Discoveries have since become fewer and so much farther between.  I don’t think I’ve come across an authentic piece for years, at least not since arranging my colors in their current cabinet.

Fiesta ware was, I’ve been told, dinnerware manufactured for and sold to working class folk.  I have tried to imagine unknown sisters long ago bringing home full sets piece by piece.  Purchasing a plate out of this paycheck, a cup out of the next.  I close my eyes, concentrate, see families gathered around tables of color, children changed out of their school clothes, casseroles steaming atop trivets. I over hear conversations about factories and upcoming Fire House dinners and meetings of the PTA.  The sun is always still shining; it is summer.  It is always summer in my imagination, always summer behind the glass in my corner cabinet.

– – – – – –
Today’s free-write will be my final response to the prompts for Writing 101.  I’ve enjoyed them, but it’s time for me to get back to the journey …

Madness

They said she should go, so she went.  Every move she made had become someone else’s decision.  She tried hard to remember.  How long had it been?  When was the last time she was free to come and go and get angry or sad all by herself?

An unfamiliar landscape whipped past her.  Daunting shadows of memories and dread.  Her thoughts raced as terror seized her.  Escape became more necessary than air.  The car stopped.  Time stood still.  Opportunity pushed opened a door and she hurled herself and into the night.  Running.  Scared.

Briars tore at her clothes as she cleared the woods and stumbled into an open field. Every muscle ached, but she dared not stop for fear of she knew not what.  Freshly plowed furrows led her down to a narrow road where she forced her legs to carry her the full length of its winding.

The smooth sand of a deserted shoreline eventually opened up to welcome her.  She collapsed into its time-worn softness, sucked in the damp salt air.  Sobs broke their silence.  Tears spilled into the sea.  And then, without warning, laughter.  She rolled back on her heels and howled at the absurdity of it all.
turbulent sea

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The above is a fictional response to the Writing 101 prompt:
“What are you scared of?  Address one of your worst fears.”  

Clearing

gray skyThe cursor keeps time on the blank screen.  How many blinks before my next thought?  My next phrase?  This incessant blink blink blink taunts me.  Over these past few days, I have tried to respond to the prompts for Writing 101.  Words simply haven’t come.  I have sat poised and ready.  For long hours. Nothing happened.  Oh, I wrote a sentence fragment here and there.  Ended up deleting each one.  Some writer I am.  No.  I take that back.  I am a writer.  I breathe and think and laugh and cry and wonder and despair and write.  These experiences make up the whole of who I have come to recognize as me.  But I’ve always had difficulty writing on purpose and had hoped the daily challenges might coax me into greater consistency.  I was doing pretty good for the first two weeks.  I guess my enthusiasm waned.  That and I had a lot going on.

I was up and out early two mornings this week.  Off to doctors’ appointments.  One was a simple follow-up with my rheumatologist.  The other was a first time visit with a psychiatrist.  Don’t panic.  I am not crazy.  I did not end up in restraints that morning.  Nor was I carted off by the proverbial men in white coats.  Psychiatry carries a crippling stigma.  I’m not sure which makes my throat seize up more:  having to admit I am an alcoholic, or sharing that I am now seeing a psychiatrist.  My reasons for making the appointment are far from dramatic.  I simply felt an increase in my antidepressant medication would prove helpful and my primary doctor recommended I see a psychiatrist.  So, you see, I was simply acting under my doctor’s advice.  That and I figured one more attending doctor’s statement in support of my disability appeal surely couldn’t hurt.

It was really just a formality.  I’m actually doing quite well.  I celebrated eight months sober on the 21st, was asked to preside at a wedding of friends of a friend, and picked up a handful of preacher supply gigs over the next few months.  The opportunity to again step into the role of ordained minister has probably done more for my sagging spirit than any amount of medication or talk-therapy could ever accomplish.  It now feels like I’ve been having a bizarre out of body experience these past eight months and have finally landed back in my shoes.  Oh yeah, I remember now.  This is who I am.  The wedding was yesterday; a small gathering of family and friends on a lake shore.  It was cold, but sunny and the short ceremony went off without a hitch.  I could barely contain my happiness on my way home.  I was happy for the couple, sure, but I was absolutely ecstatic about my having officiated at a wedding.

And I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to sit down with Scripture and prayerfully discern a relevant message and then put on my alb and stole and step into a pulpit, let alone having the privilege to preside at communion again.  It has been a long time.  My joy is well off the charts and into the stratosphere.  It’s hard for me to explain, and, I suspect harder still for someone to understand.  But being called upon for these small favors has reignited the pilot light that fires up my passion for living.  All sorts of things seem possible again.  I am well aware caution is called for here.  It is dangerous to define one’s personhood by his or her professional standing.  I know I should be able to feel complete and whole independent of whether or not I’m “working,” but I’m indulging myself the luxury of lingering in this feeling of uncontainable glee for just a while longer.

So, anyway, back that infernal taunting of the cursor on the blank page.  Now that I’m typing full throttle, I may as well catch up my responses to the daily prompts.  I believe I can do that in a single sentence.  Here goes.   “Oh, my beloveds, I have searched the horizon beyond the darkening clouds of storm and night and found there a word for you, a word too enormous to behold and yet so easily captured with five swift strikes of the keys: faith.”  Granted, it is a rather long sentence, but I’m pretty sure it meets the criteria of Days 12, 13, 14, and 15 and, more importantly, is true.  Just beyond a seeming sea of despair, I stumbled again into the presence and love of God.  This pickled pastor might always be a pickle, but she’s always going to be a pastor too, and that realization is making a huge and holy difference.  All of time and space is sacred again.  Blank or otherwise.

I Wish I Knew Everything I Thought I Knew When I Was Twelve

1969The year was 1969 and my corner of the world was a small front bedroom on the second floor of a white-shingled frame farmhouse.  I couldn’t get away with much in those days.  My parents’ slept in the room next to mine.  But I did sometimes open the window and smoke cigarettes over the sloped tin roof of our porch.  That and listen to records on my portable stereo.  Its having a handle on top was about the only thing that made it portable.  I remember the contraption being quite big and boxy.  But it played records.  33s and 45s.  Despite the dire conditions of my isolation, I fancied myself connected to the world beyond the fields.  Music was my conduit.  I may have been too young to hitchhike to Woodstock or protest the war in Vietnam, but I played my music.  Loud.

Our house was anything but soundproof.  Even voices carried.  There were four rooms on the second floor built over four rooms on the first, with a staircase coming up in the middle.  In order to make the house livable, my parents opened up the four downstairs rooms into two and turned one of the upstairs bedrooms into a bath.  The kitchen was on the first floor, off to the side, in an addition built long before we ever moved in.  Most all of my time was spent in my bedroom, though; a bedroom I had originally picked out because of it had the prettiest floral wallpaper.  At least it did when I picked it.  All my pretty flowers got torn down when the walls were scraped clean in my mother’s zealous effort to restore the place to some sort of early American masterpiece.

The walls throughout the house ended up chalk white.  In all fairness, the paint color was “antique white,” but, antique or not, those walls were white.  The dark ink-stained-to-look-like-wood woodwork created a stark contrast.  The ceilings matched the walls, with a light fixture smack dab in their centers.  Each identical:  a tin plate-like thing with two flame-shaped lightbulbs sticking out.  Cotton draw-back curtains hung at the windows and kept out about zero light.  And the floors were the original boards.  Sanded and stained.  Partially covered downstairs with braided rugs and upstairs with rag.  There was hollowness about the place.  Underscored by my dad’s angry outbursts and the fighting that often kept me awake at night.  Although my childhood was, in most all aspects, quite ordinary, I understood, even then, that my mother had thrown herself into the remodel to keep her mind of the sorry state of her marriage.

For my part, I tacked up posters of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy.  My mother had a fit about my putting sticky tape on her precious white walls, but I did it anyway.  The pictures added some much needed color to what was otherwise an all-white nearly sterile room.   An old three-drawer dresser with a white marble top.  A twin bed adorned with a you-guessed-it white George Washington bedspread.  And an antique upright fold-down desk completed my mother’s assigned furnishings.  I kept my stereo on a comparably modern end table I salvaged from the stored remnants left over from our first house.  A heavy beveled mirror hung over the dresser and, thanks be to God, a full-length one was screwed into the back of my closet door.

I studied myself in that mirror every morning.  And, every morning, I saw the same face reflected back at me:  that of an awkward young girl who was desperately uncomfortable in her own skin.  I hated living on a farm.  More than anything, I wished we lived in a house in a neighborhood within walking distance of my school.  I wanted to be like other kids.  Instead, for whatever reason, I was exiled to a farm in the middle of nowhere, along a country road with two lonely yellow lines that stretched in either direction for as far as the eye could see.  I rode the bus.  Every day.  Same thing.   I woke up in the same room and checked myself a dozen times in the same mirror, the full length mirror on the inside of my closet door.  The one where I had, at some point, put bright little sticker in the top left corner.  A sticker that would come to symbolize my teenage rebellion against almost everything.  It read, simply, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Many years have passed since then.  I don’t so much mind getting old.  Getting old is necessary.  It is the price to be paid for my having been blessed to be alive in 1969.  ‘69 was, indeed, the year that changed America.  Or at least the year that changed me.  1969 was the year of the moon landing.  The Stonewall riots.  The summer of love.  Anti-war protests.   And Woodstock.    The 5th Dimension  promised it was the Age of Aquarius.  Iconic peace signs were everywhere.  And Monty Python’s Flying Circus first aired on BBC.  My father wanted to annihilate North Vietnam.  My mother tried to keep peace at the dinner table.  And I decided once and for all and forever:  I was not going to be like them.  1969 was the year I came into myself.  The year I claimed a future far and away from the farm where I grew up.

Everything made sense to me back then.  The “establishment” had nearly destroyed all that was good about America.  My generation was about to inherit a corrupt and broken society, but we would do so with determination and grit.  Everything was going to get better.  We would undo what was and create a world of love and peace, with a rock and roll soundtrack and Peter Max scenery in every background.  The stars were all lined up.  My generation was going to make a difference.  And I was part of it  Part of change.  Part of a psychedelic wave of wonder that would carry me to freedom.   I knew everything.  Could become anything.  Was poised for adulthood with an energy and eagerness I never experienced before or since.

None of that happened, of course.  I may have escaped the farm, but the world did not get better.  Something went very very wrong.  My generation ended up creating its own establishment.  Tie-die was abandoned in favor of neck ties.  A new cast of characters emerged.  Characters the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  The same boys who had once been too shy to ask a girl to dance in a school gymnasium, grew into men who sent their own sons and daughters to war.  Not to a jungle, mind you, but right into the eye of a desert storm.  We had our own disaster on our hands.  Terror reigned.  Buildings crumbled.  And public policy was being bought for a price.  Hope somehow got lost along the way and no one ever spoke of peace anymore.  The music may not have died, but something did.

I often think back to that little sticker on the top left corner of the full length mirror on my closet door:  “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”  It’s true.  You can’t.  Don’t do it.  By the time a woman gets to be my age, she’s seen more than one generation surrender the idealism of its youth.   I’m afraid that’s just the way it’s always been.  The Christians of the first century looked to a different future, too.  Christians are still waiting.  We all are.  As much as I wanted out of my twelve-year old world, with its too white walls and warring parents, I so wish I knew as much as I thought I did when I was twelve.  I may have been young and naive and ignorant about many things, but the world made sense to me in a way it never has since.  Back then, all things were still possible.

Happy Birthday To Me!

from Bing.com
I was an odd kid.  My favorite birthday cake was walnut.  With my mom’s incredible vanilla icing slathered all over it and coconut dusted on top.  I loved coconut.  Still do.  I maybe baked one cake in my entire adult life.  And that was from a box.  I am amazed how my mom used to bake.  Really bake.  Stirring up clouds of flour in the kitchen and making cut-out circles of wax paper that fit perfectly into cake pans that were anything but new.  My mom baked often.  And always for my birthday.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday cake.  Oh, I’ve had cupcakes and brownies, with a candle stuck in or maybe even a sparkler, most often in restaurants with friends.  But never a whole cake baked from scratch just for me.  Birthdays became decidedly fluid occasions.  Always with the alcohol flowing.  Fancy cocktails with shots mixed in.  Or, in later years, glass after glass of wine, poured from bottles brought as gifts but always emptied by evening’s end.

For about as long as I can remember, birthdays were just another excuse to celebrate.  Any excuse would do: because it was my birthday, your birthday, a holiday, the weekend, vacation, sunny, or pouring rain.  There was always something to celebrate, always a reason to drink.  Until reasons were no longer necessary, of course.  I drank at every meal and after and then alone.  Drank myself to sleep.  Drank myself awake.  Finally realized I was drinking away my life.

Today will be my first sober birthday.  Ever.  At least since I was a kid blowing out the candles and making a wish.  I have no idea what I might have wished for back then.  But I’m sure I didn’t wish to become an alcoholic.  Anyway, I lit a candle this morning.  Just to make a wish and blow it out.  Sorry, I can’t tell you what I wished for.  Then my wish wouldn’t come true.  But I can assure you I didn’t wish for a drink.  Not to celebrate my birthday.  Not ever.

Life is too good.  Today I am a one-year-older sober woman.  With a clear head and coconut dusted dreams.  Thanks be to God!  And happy, happy birthday … to me!

Three Perspectives (and a lot of flowers)

She enjoyed coming to the park.  On quiet days, when no one was around, when she could concentrate.  Just her and her knitting.  Alone.  Gratitude welled up within her.  It was spring.  The afternoon was still and warm.  She saw the couple coming down the path.  Approaching her.  Crowding out her aloneness.  She focused hard on the needles in her lap.  On looping the bright red yarn, as if, by sheer will, she could make any and every interruption evaporate.

The young woman had chosen her favorite khaki jacket to wear to the park that day.  He had complimented her the last time she wore it.  She so wanted things to be as they were.  Something was very wrong, though.  She could sense it.  Even as she stepped out onto the stoop and folded her hand in his, she could feel the distance between them.  They walked together like strangers.  He appeared oblivious to the beauty of this April afternoon, to the brilliant new colors of spring.

He was running late.  Again.  What else could possibly go wrong?  By the time he reached her doorstep, anger and grief were already catching in his throat.  There was so much he had to tell her.  When he was ready.   Certainly not on this otherwise perfect spring day.  He breathed in the air.  He tried to clear his head.  It was the sight of a stranger that tore him wide open.  Just an old woman on a bench blissfully knitting love into a sweater.  But he could not help himself.  He started to cry.


Today’s Writing 101 assignment was an exercise in perspective.  I was less than enthusiastic, but tapped out three short paragraphs, each portraying the assigned scene.  To compensate, I thought I would also share some recent photographs.  For better or worse, since taking Photography 101, I find myself a little picture crazy.  My most recent obsession has been with flowers. Enjoy.

Land and Sea: A Love Story

ocean (2)
Land was apprehensive.  Sea had always been so unpredictable; often merciless.

Reluctantly, he moved to embrace her wetness.  There was no denying it.  She  felt good against his hot sand.  For a moment, he allowed himself to soften under her sweeping caress.  Fully cognizant of her volatility.

Sea had hurt him.  Pounded her agenda against his shores; demanded he surrender to her destructive whims.  He had wanted to leave her for an eternity.  The sheer volume of her presence held him; convinced him, time and again, that he could not—indeed would not—exist without her.

Today was no different.  She came at him with a confidence that teased and terrorized.  As seductive as any temptress, she broke gently against his softening hardness, began again to mold him to herself.

“You know you want me.”

No!  How could Sea expect he could so easily forget her raging?  How she had stripped his dunes and cut away his sand?  No.  He could not—would not submit.  At least not without a fight.  Yet, despite his resolve, he could feel his defenses weakening.  His wideness aching for her salty touch.

“You’re sure of yourself, aren’t you?”  How dare you wash up again as if nothing has changed!  Everything has changed.  Look at me.  Look at what you have done!”

“Oh Land, your silliness amuses me.  You know I am your destiny.  You cannot resist me.  You will be mine.  If not today, soon enough.  Why do you fight me so?  We’re good together, you and I.   You know we are.”

Sea gathered her skirts and began to dance.  Her waves glistened in the sun.  She tossed bits of shells from her foam.  They shone like diamonds against his sand.  Gulls gathered to search among her offerings, begging Land to let her come.   How had they forgotten so easily?  Did they not remember how her tantrums had always sent them flying?  Obviously, they did not care.  Hunger can do that.  Rob you of your senses.

Land’s thoughts raced.  Sea came closer.  Her waves were up to his knees now.  Her scent consumed him.  He was helpless.  He knew it.  His defenses were slowly being pulled away by her tides.  All he could do was plead for mercy, beg her to be gentle this time.

Land opened his arms to receiver her.  Pressed the weight of his body into her aggression.  She felt good.  So good.  He wanted her.  “Be kind, my love.  Please.  Please don’t hurt me.”

Sea smiled the width of her horizon.  For today, she would hold back the fullness of her passion.  She did so enjoy these afternoons of give and take.  She wrapped a gentle wave around his pleading, curled up to his fear and whispered.  “Of course not.  Lay back.  Relax.  We have forever.”

Lost Child

The first thing you notice is her nose. It is large and pronounced, yet somehow suits her face perfectly.  She is an attractive woman.  No question about it.  Unmistakably Italian.  With that dark olive skin that tans black in the summer.  Her thick wavy hair is cut short.  Her posture, the way she sits cross-legged on the bed, all appear youthful, yet she reveals herself to be an older woman.  Probably about sixty or so.  She is haunted by too many memories.  Wracked by so much pain.

She forgets things.  You immediately recognize the lostness in her eyes.  She can be speaking to you one minute and then, suddenly, you can tell, she has no idea who you are or where she is or why a half-eaten shelf stable microwavable dinner is sitting cold on the table in front of her.  The room is cluttered with leftover food and trash.  You try to clean up.  It is difficult to discern the trash from her treasure.  Her things are packed in a half-dozen tattered garbage bags you know she has dug through a hundred times.

The entire second floor of the motel reeks of marijuana.  Not her room.  Her chemical of choice is vodka.  The cheap stuff.  Bottles is various stages of consumption are everywhere.  Hidden in plain sight amidst paper cups and pretzels.  You have come with fruit and lunchmeat.  Bananas.  Strawberries.  Ham sliced thin, the way she likes it.  She has told you this.  That she remembers.  Along with how much she misses the dog she hasn’t seen since she was picked up by the police the first time.

She takes another long drink of vodka.  The alcohol makes her crazed and weepy.  She does not care.  She speaks of it as her medicine.  It helps her forget her fear.  At least sometimes.  Sort of.  Every time I go, I tell her it is going to be okay.  The disability money is going to come through any day now.  Her social worker is lining up an assisted living apartment.  The facility allows pets.  She’ll be able to get her dog back.  She never believes me.  She calls me a liar.

I put away the groceries.  In the small refrigerator.  Stacked neatly on the dresser.  The colorful organized stacks look out of place in the madness.  We talk briefly about the familiar 80’s comedy that’s playing on the TV.  She saw this movie before.  She remembers.  But she has forgotten where she is again.  Who I am.  I remind her that the small red discs in the netted sacks are cheese, that the strawberries are ripe and sweet.  I wonder if she’ll ever eat any of it.  Or just throw it away.

She knows, instinctively, that I am about to leave.  For a long moment she is alive and grateful and sane.  Her arms open wide, inviting me into an embrace reserved for family and loved ones.  She thanks me for coming, for the food, for everything.  I have done so little.  Her pain is palpable.  I know as soon as I leave she will sob and rage and give up again.  She will drink her vodka dry.  Go out for more.  Somehow find her way back.  There is no stopping her.

I hug her long and hard.  I tell her again it is going to be okay.  She doesn’t believe me, but she smiles.  I can’t wait to get outside.  Into the air.  The sunshine.  Her life has become too broken and sad and desperate for me to breathe.  I move toward escape.  My car is waiting.  If only she could grasp hold of hope.  But she will forget.  She will wonder about the strawberries, where they came from.  And she will drink.  Vodka is the only thing she’s sure of.

You Have To Fight For Everything

A while back, I wrote a rather depressing post about my life getting worse instead of better in sobriety.  Among my complaints, were two developments that had significant financial impact:  One arm of my insurance company had terminated my disability benefits; another had denied coverage for treatment I had been receiving for my lupus.

As of yesterday, I have received notification that both of my appeals have been received and are now under review.

I would not have considered these appeals anything but necessary, had a friend not pointed out the obvious.  She reminded me, while I may lack the skills to stand up for myself in person or on the phone, I can am capable of writing a wicked letter.  It’s true.  My telephone conversations had gotten me nowhere.  I could hardly get past hello without becoming a sniffling weepy mess.  The good news is I didn’t give up.

I sat down at the computer and started writing.  I wrote a letter of appeal regarding the termination of my disability benefits and compiled a stack of documentation that, together with that letter, cost me over $8 to send certified mail.  Then I composed a moving diatribe about the severity of my physical ailments and how surprised and disappointed I was that my insurance company deemed medically unnecessary the only treatment from which I had experienced any relief.

I suppose, in both instances, someone else may have resigned themselves to his or her misfortune.  I know if my only option was to make my case over the telephone, I would have surely given up.  But, thanks be to God, I have been blessed with the ability to write.   And even in those cases where my letters were intercepted and most probably discarded by office staff, I was able to muster the courage to make appointments and deliver copies directly into the hands of my doctors.

It has been a full time job making these two appeals and I have to admit I am rather proud of myself in having done so.  I still have work to do.  I have one more doctor’s appointment from which I hope to have an additional attending physician’s statement submitted.  And, first thing tomorrow morning, I want to call the pharmaceutical company’s copay assistance program and request their testimony in support of my treatment.  For the most part, however, my appeals are complete.

Both matters are now in the hands of strangers in office buildings far and away from my home town.  I may lose.   But I will do so knowing I gave the good fight.  Then again, I might just win.  In which case, I will experience tremendous relief.  It’s a crap shoot.  I am, however, certain that my odds in both cases are far better than those of winning Publishers Clearing House’s $7,000 a week for life sweepstakes.

It can probably go without saying that my inability to open my mouth and speak up for myself troubles me deeply.  My nature has always been to back down and give up.  But I have now proven to myself that I can find the words.  Whether or not I will ever be able to translate them orally is a project for another day.  For now, however, I am just relieved that both appeals have been received.  I guess you do have to fight for everything.  I gave it my best shot.  No one can take that away from me.  Ever.