Eternal Spring

Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'

I believed then, that I would feel young until I was properly old. I knew without doubt that I would travel, climb mountains, ride horses from castle to castle and understand the intricacies of life. I would know interesting people, have close intimate friendships, and that together we would raise our kids and laugh over memories shared through photos of smiling bright eyed children. The holidays would be huge, children, aunties, uncles, moms, dads, old friends and new. My sister would be there. She would always be there and the sun would shine on our Easter egg hunts and we’d laugh, how we would laugh as baskets were filled with colorful eggs. In these made up sunshine memories I never worry about my hair or my makeup or the clothes I have chosen for the day. Bra straps never slip and the children are always happy. Happy just to be. Sometimes in the evening after dinner dishes are cleared away my sister and I  walk in the rose garden and listen to my son play something melodious and timeless on the piano, the sound drifting on a warm spring breeze scented with roses, lilac, and daphne.

I feel myself  take her hand and kiss her cheek and remember when the nurse held her up to the nursery glass so I could see my small baby sister, new and pink in the world. The dream house I live in is always stone. It is a mountain of foreverness, unmovable, unshakable, invulnerable to time and trouble. There is no noise save the music of Duncan’s piano, the warble of an evening bird preparing for sleep, the distant snort of a horse in a pasture far away. We walk unburdened by debt and time’s many troubles toward an evening that promises deep restful sleep and a happy tomorrow. And in the morning sweet spring wakes us with birdsong, the scent of fresh coffee seeping in under our bedroom doors until feet touch down on cool clean oak plank and we are up, wrapped in colorful robes, plaid pajamas, rosy cheeked and bright eyed from the rest, in truth, that only children know. In my dreams I am always young, always draped in bright cheerful colors, always surrounded by my beautiful loved ones. In my dreams I am happy.

 

The Caretakers

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The Killien Mansion during the Lauzon family ownership, circa 1935.

“The council agreed to send a letter of condolence to Mr. F. Killien, though no one knows what he was to be consoled for. Someone in his family must have died,” Gail of the historic society said, reading from the Lowell city council meeting dating from the 1930’s. “They don’t send out letters like that unless there was a death.” That would make a third, I thought, looking around the old home which had been built by Mr. F. Killien for his family in 1924. I hadn’t anticipated a death in his family.

I knew the Smiths (the home’s third owners) had lost a daughter, the Bevers (the fourth owners) had lost a grandmother but now a Killien had died, quiet probably in my old home. I felt the secret twisting under my rib cage as I said goodbye to Gail, the crowned queen of Lowell, the local town historian who has dedicated her life to preserving the memory of the old logging town and its people, three of which had been mourned in the very rooms I now occupy. Funny old house. I pat it like a friendly dog I hope won’t turn and bite. I haven’t told my son about the grandmother who died in the sun room or the young miss who died in the southwest bedroom and I won’t tell him about this unknown Killien either, this condolence that has yet to have a face or a name.

When we first bought the house, it was a tear-down. The roof was caving in, ferns grew from rotten soffits, and the gutters hung from falling fascia boards, no longer catching or moving water. Water is a constant in Western Washington, the rains fall for months without stopping. It undermines foundations, peels away paint, rots wood, and erodes mortar from brick. But the house was beautiful, it was stately. Even in its disrepair it was instantly our home. Set over three lots on a shy half acre it was priced at only a little over its land’s value. We’d have been fools not to buy it, fools not to invest in a growing urban area, fools not to restore the massive home known as the Killien Mansion. But the deaths hung on the home like a cold blanket that would never feel warmth. The home was unhappy and it need to be cleansed.

I lit a candle for the grandmother and a second for the young Miss. I stirred charcoal into the wax and left them to burn out. I said prayers for the dead and salted the windows and doors. I set holy water in a crystal bowl and prayed over it in the sunshine before blessing every window and door in the names of all who are holy. I lit sage and walked through every room, every closet, every hallway, letting the smoke and my prayers cleanse away the past. People have died under my roof and people have been born under it. Infants have grown into children, and children have grown up and grown old, having laughed, loved, and been mourned in their passing. I too plan to spend my life in this home. To live in it until I live no more and this knew condolence, this new passing will require a new candle. Who was she or he? What happened?

I know the grandmother made stew. I used to smell it when she came into a room. Sitting all alone the room would fill with the scent of beef stew and I would know that Mrs. (as we came to call her) was paying me a visit. Mrs. also liked the thermostat kept at 64 degrees. I like the house warmed to 68, yet every morning the thermostat was turned down to 64. My husband swears he never touched it.

Now that the house is cleansed it is lighter, happier, free in a way it didn’t feel before. The beef stew scent is gone and the cold blanket feeling has lifted.  I’ve done everything I can for the ones who passed here. I’ve cared for their home and I’ve cared for them, even if from the other side of where they now rest. And even without knowing who Mr. F. Killien received condolence for, I will light a candle for him or for her and pray they have found peace.

Mr. F. Killien standing outside the sun room of the Killien Mansion, Circa 1930.

frank killien by sun room2

Tanya

desert

We were six. You were a Navajo, and a black girl, my soul sister-more sister to me then my own flesh. I loved you. I love you. You were dark brown and your hair hung in glossy black ringlets. We read books on archeology in the library, we giggled over mummies and sphinxes, talking about the ruins we’d wander, the deserts we’d ride across on camel back. I’d hold your hand. You’d hold mine and say, “Shall we?” I’d answer, “we shall.”

Home was hard. My mama screamed, punched, kicked. Your mama drank, smoked, fucked your nameless fathers. Thank god for grandmas. Mine was an immigrant, dancer, nurse, a jitterbugging good time girl grown gray. Yours was a white haired squah, mother to many, once a reservation maiden sent to Indian school and beaten for speaking in her people’s tongue. We both lost our families to violence.

My mama brimmed with poison, spilling her lies into my ear for spite. “You need to know Eleanor,” she said, “Tanya is not black, and she is not Navajo, and there are no people  who will claim her. She has no people. Her mother is a bad woman and her life will be hard.”  I looked at my mother, the red-haired L.A. calendar girl, ex-go-go dancer, and nodded, my heart sinking in my chest because I loved you.

That week we stood in the sun watching your little brothers play, one Mexican, one almost white. “I got something to tell you,” I said, and I poured mama’s poison into your ear in a hushed voice, a loving voice laced with concern. “I need you to be brave,” I ended, “because mama say’s your life will be hard.” I remember how your big eyes held mine, how you nodded at me and said, “OK.”

I cursed you that day, my mama’s words working you over through me. Christ, how her lies laid thorns in your path. No one knew what you could be but mama’s words took everything. You and I…we were everything…until that day. I remember saying goodbye. Mama didn’t want me playing in your apartment because she’d asked your uncle where he was from and when he kept saying, “here, I’m from here,” she’d got angry. But honestly, where else could a Navajo be from but here?

Years later, when we were 13, I heard you got pregnant. You partied drunken like your mama, while I rode fancy ponies in pretty show rings in a tweed jacket and hunt cap. I was told you left school to earn money while I went to college to pursue my dreams. I became an angry person when the dreams fell through, ready to fight the man and the system. Did you fall into the system? I grew up, grew old. Did you get to be old too? I remember everything about you, the way you danced, how the sun lit up your hair. I remember that I loved you…never seeing your pretty color as anything but beautiful.

If I could take my white mama’s curse back, I would replace it with courage, with kindness, with the vision of us riding camels in the desert together seeking lost civilizations and buried treasure. If I could change the past I’d hold my hand out to you and say, “Shall we?” and taking my hand you’d answer, “We shall.”

Star Catching by Moonlight

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Beauty

Miss Rose lived in a white clapboard house set in a rambling garden where Tabby-Ginger hunted each day. Roses grew in tumbling hedges along her borders, guarding the gate of her frail white picket fence like thorned harpies, their long claws and green hair crowned with red petals. Of all the souls who visited there, Tabby-Ginger was more frequent, not because he was best liked or made welcome, but because he enjoyed the shade of her well established hedge. Whenever Miss Rose saw his ginger tail drift out into the sunlit furrow between the lawn and the hedge, she threw rocks. Miss Rose disapproved of interlopers in her garden; even girl scouts, neighbors and relatives were unwelcome. As for Tabby-Ginger, he did not mind her rocks. They mostly missed, so he mostly came to sleep away the day.

Miss Rose led a solitary life, a life without children, dogs or friends which suited Tabby-Ginger very well. He too enjoyed solitude, doing what he could to avoid worldly chaos. The cat and the old lady were a well matched pair, both unsocial, cantankerous and always opinionated on the subject of what was and was not proper. And so it was a strange thing to be woken one night by the sound of Miss Rose’s bare feet crunching through the browning summer grass, her body swaying in her pioneer night gown, its long lace edged sleeves and ankle length hem glowing with moonlight. It was a strange thing indeed to see the solidly rational old woman twisting and turning, eyes closed, hands outstretched, cupping for starlight just as a beggar cups his hands for much needed bread.

Rising to a sitting position, Tabby-Ginger shook out his dusty sun burnt fur, washed his front paws, and watched the distressing spectacle unfold. It would be wise to move to another garden with a different hedge, he thought. After all, one needs a respectable yard, free of commotion, in which to sleep. And yet unseemly as it all was, he remained transfixed by Miss Rose’s flowering madness. Never in her stone throwing sanity had she been so fascinating; unhinged, she was almost…yet being but a cat, the word escaped him. Miss Rose lifted her hands to the sky, her fingers plucking starlight from the air. Her silver hair, so long it ran in a river down her back, was lit with the light of a million galaxies that gleamed in the silver of each strand. In that moment Tabby-Ginger found the word he felt running through him. He understood the feeling and its meaning. It lived in the iridescent blues of torn butterfly wings, in the jewel-like-faceted eyes of a half killed dragonfly. Miss Rose was…beautiful. The cat remained mesmerized as the full consciousness of beauty swept through his feline soul. And yet even in the midst of his awakening a baser part of his brain asked, whatever will the neighbors think?

Tabby Ginger watched star-beams (those rarely seen silvered celestial fingers of light) kiss her hair, fill her cupped palms, and creep down her moon-bright arms to gather like an immaculate heart at her breast. Miss Rose drooped under her brilliant burden, her arms too filled with light sought, light caught, light held to stand the burden: her swaying soon became so unbalanced by the weight of her catch that she fell slowly, softly to the grass. Concerned, Tabby-Ginger walked towards her on callused old paws that made no sound. He needed to sit with her, to understand the magic that made his heart lift and then collapse under the weight of its magnificence. So he rested in vigil over the woman who threw stones and tended roses while he remembered.

Miss Lilac

He’d not always been a skulking no-man’s-cat. Once, he’d had a home and a garden all his own. It was filled with lilies and iris, daffodils and forget-me-nots. There were fewer thorns in those long ago days when he’d been sought after, searched out, and chosen from the box. A dozen brothers and sisters had mewed and bounced, hissed and swatted around him and yet from among the frolicking rabble Miss Lilac had chosen him. He never knew Miss Lilac’s Christian name. The Sunday cake lady called her Mrs. Joseph this and Mrs. Joseph that but Joseph wasn’t soft or feminine so he called her by the scent she loved best. Like Miss Rose, Miss Lilac was old and solitary and tended flowers. From her flowers she made perfumes to sell. For herself she made lilac. The scent of spring proceeded her through the darkest months, the snow months, the cold months when Tabby-Ginger’s coat grew thick and daylight hardly shown. Miss Lilac was an elder, an old one, a silvered lady so ancient in her methods that she could make lace even in her blindness, her needled fingers twisting the long white threads into patterns as intricate and gossamer as any spider’s web. This was her magic, her body swaying-star catching-magic, done with needles that spun whole worlds out of thread.

A cloud crossed the moon pulling Tabby-Ginger from his thoughts. In the sudden darkness Miss Rose glowed brighter, her starlight pooling across her chest. Is there beauty in every human being? Tabby-Ginger wondered, still struck by the woman before him. A young cat would run; a timid cat would hide. He thought. Only a mad old cat like me would stay to watch.

God Cake and Lace Magic

In the long ago years when he was fresh and new to this world, Tabby-Ginger knew a woman who arrived at Miss Lilac’s home each Sunday bringing God cake (that baked good made especially for those who forgot to go to church) and thread, (spun from the cradle of murdered caterpillars dropped before wings could spread into boiling water.) The God cake was set by without ceremony, but the thread was caressed and celebrated, gone over and described in such detail that even Miss Lilac could see its color through the touch of her fingers. The thread was so soft that it was the only thing Tabby-Ginger wanted to sleep on. But sleeping on it made Miss Lilac angry so Tabby-Ginger slept on her instead. During the day he would hunt through the flower garden, sleep under the full shade of the lilac, or wander into the house to beg milk. Miss Lilac had little but she always had milk enough to fill a saucer. Then, finding his place on a pile of scavenged magazines in the kindling box, he would watch Miss Lilac weave webs of caterpillar thread into table clothes, lady’s lace collars, and bedspreads sparkling with stars as big as a grown man’s hand. It was magic, Miss Lilac magic, but Tabby-Ginger didn’t know that then.

Looking down now on Miss Rose, he could see beauty’s hand decorating his life in hindsight. There had always been a beauty in his existence, yet before this night he’d never been aware enough to see it. Now, awake to her presence, Beauty spread her colorful palette across the remembered canvas of his life. He recalled the beauty in his mother’s whiskers, the sparkle of her large green eyes, the pink glittering touch of her loving tongue. He saw the beauty in Miss Lilac, in the twist of silver hair held high with pins to the top of her head. There was beauty in a warming fire, in sunlight poured through lace curtains, in intricate shadows cast across hand hewn wood floors, and in milk set out in a chipped china saucer. That was such a long ago time, he thought feeling his heart grow heavy. For where beauty’s power can lift a soul to exaltation, it will-in that same moment-weigh the heart with its absence. Every memory that formed in the old cat’s mind was transformed, made majestic, beautiful, before fading into the bittersweet emptiness of loss. What is this feeling? Tabby-Ginger breathed a sigh, his heart so heavy it was want to break. Before him Miss Rose lay unmoving, as still as death.

Going to the Gone

Miss Lilac died in the winter. Having outlived her husband and all her twelve children, she had no one to light a fire or keep her warm. It was a kind death, a falling to sleep and never rising death, a good mother’s death…still…the silence of it…the loneliness…had been terrible. Tabby-Ginger did what he could to warm her, fluffing out his coat, bushing out his tail, spreading his body over hers but he was only one cat, and being one cat his efforts were not enough. And so she passed away while he tried to warm here. What have you found in the secret place? He needed to know. Will I go with you? But Miss Lilac was no more than a husk wrapped in a worn counterpane and could not tell him.

Tabby-Ginger knew many things. He listened and he watched and he read the world as easily as the katydid read the weather. For a katydid knows more of sheet lightning, more of the long thirst called drought than the newspaper man could ever guess at. Tabby-Giger knew Miss Lilac had left for the place called gone; he knew this in the same way he knew the lady who delivered Sunday God Cake bought the lacework for less than its value. Tabby-Ginger knew this because he slept on books and magazines, newspapers and letters. Being a cat, he liked to be where humans were, to know what humans knew, and he knew that he’d seen lace stars the size of a grown man’s hands pictured on the paper. He understood what the blind woman could not see. And he understood that death, no matter how it came, was final.

But what comes after the last breath, after the stillness? Is death a beginning or an end? The questions persisted, but the answer eluded him. Every cat knows the well crunched vole never stirs but how can that rule apply to humans? Miss Lilac had not stirred, had gone to the gone, leaving him a no-man’s-cat which never felt right.

With Miss Lilac, he’d known comfort, kindness, and home. Without her everything had changed. A no-man’s-cat is friendless, homeless and hungry. His fur loses its luster and the cold of the homeless is so terrible that some winters it seemed wiser to give up than to go on hunting, seeking and surviving. Remembering the cold of winter made his coat bristle, is whiskers twitch. How many more winters could he survive? The question frightened him. Maybe that was why he watched over Miss Rose, counted her shallow breaths, and checked for the signs of stillness that led to the stillness that does not pass.

The Way Home

The last of the day’s heat drifted from the earth while the starlight chilled the garden with an otherworldly cold. Miss Rose lay in the grass; the starlight fading from her to light the walkway, silver the lawn, and frost the flowers. It touched the earth with its monochromatic tones, leaving the pale bloomless world looking hollowed and shrunken. Moment by moment Miss rose did not stir. Has she gone to the gone? Tabby-Ginger worried, rising to his feet to pace before her. She is still…too still… With a sudden panic Tabby-Ginger called her name, his deep feline voice breaking up the silence. “Meee…Rowwww…” He rubbed his nose against her nose and batted her chin with his paw. Though he was not hers and she was not his they had shared the beauty of the garden…the sparkle of spring dew on new buds…the light breath of a butterfly’s wing stirring the scented summer air. Besides, hadn’t she thrown rocks, and hadn’t he dutifully run?

No she cannot have gone to the gone, he thought, jumping onto her chest. Gently he caressed her with Eskimo kisses, nose to nose, whisker to cheek. Then, fluffing out his fur, and bushing out his tail, he warmed her with his ragged self and purred life back into her. When the stray cloud uncovered the moon, then cat and woman were fused in one pool of chillingly bright light.

“Mee…roww…” Tabby-Ginger called. “Mee…roww…” he called again, his broken teeth nipping at her chin. Then a movement, a breath indrawn, stronger than the last. Do not go the gone… Tabby-Ginger cried. Miss Rose opened her eyes.

Tabby-Ginger watched wonder and confusion dawn and fade to loss and sadness. Had the starlight been a dream dreamt on sleepwalking feet? Tabby-Ginger saw the question in her eyes and knew the magic of the night was fading in her memory. Humans, ever rational, demote magic through uncertainty; all the worlds wonder cast away in their ceaseless search for reason. Still, an indisputable knowing passed between cat and woman as holding him to her chest she sat up.

Peace

One surveyed the other with the respectful gaze of enemies made acquiescent by proximity. Without words each knew that their stalwart, well organized souls, were bound by the inexplicable events of the night. Miss Rose understood the sparkle of care in the old cat’s eyes and the cat saw the loneliness and confusion that shimmered in the woman’s pale blue gaze. Their memory of gathered starlight, whether dreamed up illusion, or miraculously reality, bound them.

When Miss Rose straightened her gown and rose from the lawn, Tabby-Ginger proceeded her in the same way he’d once proceeded Miss Lilac toward the house and up onto the porch; settling himself with proprietary ownership at the door. Miss Rose stared at Tabby-Ginger, her expression questioning whether her house needed a cat. But after the momentary hesitation she allowed him to enter.

For Tabby-Ginger, this was no small victory. This was a gain in earth, a movement of the ginger cat’s Maginot’s Line, his domain repositioned from the distant hedge and sunlit rose beds to the warmth of a homey house where no rain or snow could ever find him. Entering the kitchen, Tabby-Ginger spotted a pile of newspapers in the kindling box near the cook stove. Making himself a bed, he let his eyes close with feline contentment and purred the soft purr of the well housed cat. This is right. This is good. He thought. I will make this house my home.

Comfort led to sleep, and sleep led to dreams in which Miss Lilac spun a world, his world out of thread; her silvered lacework spread out from the place called gone to where he lay, luring him with its soft comforting warmth all silky, smooth, and inviting. The dream called his old bones to home, while his gentle knowing answered, soon…soon…I will rest with you soon. But the dream was broken by light footsteps and the sight of Miss Rose holding a saucer of milk.

When Henry Beeped

diving block

Henry BEEPED, the digital sound echoed through the pool deck so perfectly that the swimmer before him dove, a perfect arch of girl slicing through the water, streamlined, rising without breath into a free and furious stroke. The official raised his hand, the whistle blew as understanding dawned and the girl was removed, ejected, disqualified from her race. Henry had BEEPED, not the starter so the race was done.

“Not Cool!” a mother yelled, striding toward him, the sobbing rejectee running on wet feet to her coach. Henry felt the weight, the reality, the price of having counted down the time to start too quickly, of anticipating the buzzer, making its sound so perfect-yet imperfect because it fell in the wrong second, the before second, the quiet second when all the deck was still.

“I didn’t mean…”

“Not Cool” the mother repeated while his team mates glared.

“I didn’t mean. I was just…” but he couldn’t explain the counting or the sounds that happen in his head, the perfect rhythm of the world living in synch inside his mind to surface in involuntary noises; digital-analogue-mimicry rising from his cords without permission. So he stood, the girl cried, the team glared and the meet went on.

“Swimmers take your marks!” the starter called, “Ready-set-BEEP!” It was the free, the hundred meter free, not the fly or the back or the breast. Definitely not the breast. Henry dove, a perfect arch of boy rising, springing, slicing into streamline perfection to break not with arms extended cutting the water with the tearing strike of free but the prayerful, elbows bent motion of breast. Rise, plunge, rise plunge as swimmers past in blurs of speed. Rise, plunge, rise plunge, hands prayerful, extending, parting, colliding again into prayer.

Coaches yelled, the official raised his hand, parents shook their heads embarrassed by the boy whose actions no one could account for, understand, fathom. At one minute, fourth-two seconds, the whole pool waited as the last swimmer returned, focused fully on doing the wrong stroke, the punishing stroke, the prayerful stroke that cannot make amends for a girl’s tears or the accidental BEEP!

The Shame in Bare Shoulders: Part 16 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

Jenny, Eleanor and Zara (front row center)

Jenny, Eleanor and Zara (front row center)


On my seventh birthday my friend Zara gave me a sun dress with red, white, and green pinstripes. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever owned. I loved it the moment I saw it and wore it as often as I could. In my candy cane stripes and with my hair twisted into cinnamon-rolls like Princess Leia, I felt beautiful.

A heat wave hit Salt Lake City, driving the temperatures up well over 110. The heat made breathing painful. Each breath came like the drag of sandpaper over skin while the sunlight was so bright it blinded. I walked to school in my sundress under the shade of the box elder trees. I felt happy. The world was bright and warm and nature buzzed and shifted like a symphony around me. I walked into school, set my lunch bag in the bin and walked to my desk.

“Eleanor.” When I looked up my teacher was frowning at me. “Come here.” Rising from my desk I walked to her. What had I done wrong and why was she looking at me like that. “Girls are not allowed to show more skin then a tee-shirt reveals. You know the garments rule don’t you?” This last question assumes I’m Mormon, while questioning how I could have forgotten the LDS rules of modesty. I feel confused.

“I’m not a Mormon.”

“The garment rule still applies to you.” Her response is terse, her eyes sharp. “Mrs. Smith, please take Eleanor to the lost and found and find her something appropriate to cover herself with.” Mrs. Smith, our classroom aid takes my arm as if I’ll run away and forces me before her to the office. Inside the secretary rises, her eyes concerned. By the look on her tired old face I can see that my shoulders have upset her.

“Eleanor forgot to wear a sweater over her sun dress. We’re going to take something from the lost and found.” I don’t rise my eyes. I’m too ashamed. My little striped sundress with its pretty spaghetti straps is a humiliation. I feel too naked and too ashamed to look at the ancient secretary as she leads us into a side room labeled lost and found.

I watch Mrs. Smith sort past tee-shirts and hooded zip up jackets until she finds a knee length cable knit wool sweater. “Put this on and do not ever wear that dress to school again without a sweater to cover your shoulders. It is immodest and ungodly to show so much skin.”

“But it’s hot out.” I look at my feet, my voice imploring her to take pity on me. “Couldn’t I wear a tee-shirt over it?”

“No. You’ll wear this sweater. It will help you remember the garment rule.”

Sliding into the sweater I find it itchy and hot. Mrs. Smith buttons it down the front so that my shameful little sundress disappears beneath it. Not even the hem can be seen at the bottom. I watch Mrs. Smith roll up the sleeves before sending me back to class. When the bell for recess rings I unbutton the sweater and walk to hang it on the peg.

“Put it back on and button it up.” Mrs. Smith walks towards me, her fingers grabbing at the sweater, forcing me back into it.

“But it’s hot out.”

“Which will help you remember the garment rule!” I’m forced to watch Mrs. Smith button the heavy sweater up to its last button, the rough wool scratching my chin. Then I’m forced out of the air conditioned school and outside, but I can’t run and play with the other kids. I can’t even walk out into the heat. I stand at the shaded entrance, too sick with heat to step out of the shade.

“No loitering at the entrance. Come out please.” Looking up I see Mrs. Smith standing five feet before me. I walk to where she stands at the top of the playground stairs and try to keep my eye sight from blurring. I’m so sick with heat that it’s all I can do to stay on my feet during recess.

“Why are you wearing that heavy sweater?” A girl asks. She touches the sleeve, her fingers recoiling from the rough wool.

“The garment rule. My dress shows my shoulders so I have to cover up.” No one else talks to me that day. I’m shunned for breaking the rules, for being immodest while the reality that I’m not a member of the church sinks into more than one mind. When the final bell rings, marking the end of school, I try for a second time to take off the sweater but am told I can wear it home and return it the next day.

When I’m safe at home I am sweat drenched and covered with red scratches and hives. My mother stares at me in confusion the moment I step through the door.
“I showed my shoulders.” I tell her. “I broke the garment rule.”

“I didn’t know.” She keeps saying, too shocked to grasp what’s happened. “It was so hot,” she adds, still lost in the sight of my red roughened shoulders, “I didn’t know.”

The brightly colored pinstriped dress hung in my closet reeking of shame and licentious transgression until I finally outgrew it and gave it away. The dress is gone but I feel the shunning and the shame like I felt the hair shirt I was forced to wear on a 110 degree day; it burns, and it hurts to this day. So I cut the necks out of my tee-shirts. I wear bare shouldered gowns. I refuse to bend to self-righteous people who say that a girl who shows a shoulder is a bad girl and I won’t give an inch to buttoned-up self-righteous people who shame and injure others in the name of religious propriety. We are as god made us. We are glorious. We are women.

The Sanctuary of a Story: Part 15 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

green world

Everything is safe in a story. Stories have beginnings and middles and ends. If the storyteller is kind then the story ends well. Though not all stories end the way we want, a good story, a story worth the telling should leave you with something that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes you see the world in a slightly different way. The very best stories leave you awake, aware, nourished; feeling fully connected and alive. I know stories, I live in stories, I hide in stories when the world becomes too shrill, sharp and blinding.

I sit on the edge of the world. As far away from humanity as I can hope to go, while my shaking fingers twist thin willow switches into ornate braids. Today I am an ancient girl, a timeless nomad, making what I need from the bounty of a vast green country. The air is cold, fresh, and pure. I taste the wind, feeling it as it wriggles in the folds of my gown; its rough spun wool smelling of grasses and smoke and earth. I am a part of the earth. The earth is a part of me. Together we make beautiful things.

The bracelets I weave are a gift. They calm my nerves, help me to breath, and fill me with a silence that restores my peace. I take a smooth black rock from my pocket and place it in the middle of my braid, twisting the thin willow switch in circling patterns around it. When the stone is secured and centered I tie off the ends. This braclet is for my mother. I lay the strip of willow and black stone on the ground with the other two I have made.

Girls walk towards me. They whisper in low tones, their bright modern colors destroying my illusory peace. I’m forced to sit up, to smile, to act…normal.
“What are you doing?”
“Making willow bracelets.”
“Can we see them?”
“Yes,” I look down on the bracelets that lay on the grass where I sit.
“They’re beautiful. Can I have one?” The girl is kind. She’s always been kind. Her name is a memory I can’t catch. I lift up a bracelet with a pink stone and help her tie it around her wrist.
“Why don’t you come play with us?” Her expression is curious, not judging. I would like to play with her but just being forced to speak to her has constricted my breathing, sending my stomach into knots. I need to be alone, in silence…free.

“Thanks but I like being here.” The kind girl smiles softly, her right hand sliding over the pink stone bracelet like a gesture of understanding. I watch them walk away, whispering and wondering why I sit alone. I try again to remember what it was to be timeless, to be alone in rough spun fabric I made myself, to be unindebted to a world without center, but the time has gone. With the ring of the bell I am forced to gather my things and head back to class.

Kids run with soccer balls, girls laugh, skip and play. I walk with my head down, trying not to see all the colors, feel all the noise. My mind grasps at a vanishing blue sky, an endless, enfolding expanse. Wispy clouds call to me through aluminum edged windows as block walls separate me from my true self, my green self, my free self. The story I embodied retreats, is saved for later, buried deep. Yet its memory lends me calm in the riot of noise that only stills when the teacher calls the class to silence.