Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sitting in the Rain

"Well, I called your father up a day this past week and said, 'I gotta get outta here. I've worked my butt off today and I can't go home and just sit down.' My legs wanted to, of course, but my mind was on the prowl. I had to get outta this constant doing the same thing over and over. All I've seen and thought about for days is shrimp. You'll never know the amount of shrimp I prepared today. Seven par sheets. Seven. Well, you don't know what that means, of course, but take my word for it, it's a lot." My mom works at the local Red Lobster where, according to her, all the stand-up comics in town work there for minimum wage. She means, 'stand-up' as in 'on your feet some twelve hours non-stop' and 'comics' as in 'who else but a comedian would get laughed at this way?' She's worked there for some six, seven years, since she left my father and got a place of her own. She's had three raises in those years. "A dime a piece. Tell me if that's not laughable!" She reminds me this every Sunday morning we talk on the phone, our weekly check into each other's lives, in case I could have forgotten.
            She continues in a pant, "You have to split them down the middle while you're deveining them.” Now she’s back on the shrimp par sheets again. “And our shrimper is broken, so this all has to be done by hand, and then you have to pound them, I mean, flat as a pancake, and then pass them on to the breading table. And with the new laws, the shrimp can be out on the sheets only so long before they have to be put back on ice, so you're under such ungodly pressure, all the time you're working, and the managers walk past non-stop, checking, you know. And, like I've said before, I never get a break. Never. You stand there upteen hours working your butt off without breaks. I don't even eat lunch till I get home most days after six." She pauses here and I hear her lean over and talk to her cat like I'm not on the line at all. "That's a good boy, no, no, I'm on the phone. No. No. Go away, Shaker. Go on now." I named her cat Shaker because he’s black and white, like salt and pepper. She wanted to call him Sheba after the expensive cat flood she feeds him and I put my foot down. She didn’t see the problem with gender twisting with a cat. With me, it was another matter. It took her some time to accept my lesbian ways, especially when I showed up at the first family reunion with Madeleine. It went very well, much to Mother’s relief. Dad didn’t care as long as Mother was sufficiently mollified.
            She breathes heavily into the receiver and I think she's talking to me again when she says, "I've fed you already. You can't be hungry." But then she says to me, changing her tone slightly, as though she suddenly remembers she’s on the line, "Maybe he knows what the word 'shrimp' means, you suppose?"
            I've learned to wait. It's the timetable of our history together. I've learned to wait until there's a pause long enough for me to say something. Sometimes this never happens. But I'm lucky today because she doesn't pick-up for a whole second or two, so I say, "I think it's more likely he smells  the shrimp, Mom."
            I see her shaking her head side to side. "I took a bath before I called you," she says, exasperated, as though my thinking she might not bathe after she’s worked in a seafood vat all day should be repulsive to both of us. "First thing I do when I get home," she adds as a trailing thought.
            "Mom..." I start but then wait while she rushes on. I don't figure out her pauses more often than I'd like to admit.
            "You know the song about washing the man outta your hair? Well, I try to wash my work outta everything! It's impossible to get that fishy smell off your skin. I've even used Clorox." I remember well how Clorox was the wonder chemical for everything in our house while my siblings and I were growing up. She clears her throat and then says, "Anyway, you don't want to hear about my work."
            And then, without skipping a beat, "So I just called him up, your father I mean, and sometimes he's really good for this, you know, we always could travel together and enjoy it. It's one of the things we did best together."
            "So where'd you go?" I interject, thinking they may have gone for a small over-night trip like they used to.
            "You're gonna laugh, but we went to El Reno."
            "El Reno?" I can't fathom this at first. El Reno is twenty miles
north of Oklahoma City, forty from where they live. But it's the only place on the planet where you can still get greasy hamburgers six for a dollar. When my brother Teddy used to visit from California, before he got married and had kids, going to Johnny's diner in El Reno was his last departing act with us before he hit the airport. He'd buy two dozen hamburgers with fried onions, mustard and pickles and carry them in his lap on dry ice in a styrofoam box back to his freezer in El Cajon, California.
            "You went for the hamburgers, am I right?" I ask Darlene.
            "Well, eventually, yes. Remember what Teddy used to say about those? 'So little you either bite over or under 'em and either way, you miss!'" She laughs.
            "I did eat a couple and I shouldn't of," she says, "They almost killed me. I never learn. Fried onions probably.” Or a quarter can of Crisco, I’m thinking. “But actually, we didn't end up in El Reno for that. By the time Vern came over, I was waiting in the parking lot. I walked up to his car—I don't know if you know this, but he sold his truck and bought Kat's car before she left for Portland. Well, when he drove up, he rolled down his window and said, "What's up?" I guess because I didn't get in the car right away. He's bought himself some new glasses, I imagine because after I left, he didn't have any he could use to read the paper with. And you oughta see what he got. They're thick rimmed and almost white, for God's sakes. Where he got 'em I'll never know, probably from the Salvation Army Thrift Shop. They make him look like he's watching a 3-d movie. But he's got his own mind now, so what the hell."
            "Say that again?" I managed to say.
            But she disregards this, if she hears it at all. "'See that over there?'" I ask him."
            "’What? over where?’" he asks craning his neck around to where I'm pointing. This always irritates the hell outta me. He's always done that, the least amount. He always answers me the least amount. So I just stand there and I wait for him to get outta the car and take a look at where I'm looking, which he did after he saw my face and knew I wasn't gonna get in the car till he did.
            "Once he was standing beside me, looking in the direction I was, I said, 'There," pointing at this big black rain cloud. "I wanna go there, where it's raining. Where do you suppose that is?"
            "Well, about at El Reno," he says, taking his ball cap off and scratching his head.
            "Okay," I say back to him. "I wanna go to El Reno and sit in the rain because I wanna go where something is happening."
            "And this is one thing I like about him--it may be the only thing I like about him, but he doesn't ask boo-nor-baa-nor-kiss-my-behind. He just grins a little and says, 'Well, we can do that, if that's what you want.' And so we drove over to El Reno. We didn't say one other thing all the way over there. Blessed silence, you know? So I say to him, 'Wake me up when it starts to rain, okay?'
            "I just sat back with my eyes closed waiting till I thought I smelled the rain and pretty soon, he says, soft-like, like he doesn't want to wake me, ’It's the El Reno turn off, Darlene. We're almost there’. And then it starts to rain, against the windshield in little pitter-pats, and that struck us both funny, like it was raining on cue. But by the time we got in town, it was coming down so hard, he couldn't see where he was going, so he drives into this church parking lot and we sit there with the car running awhile, the air-conditioner on to keep the windows from fogging up, and the windshield wipers flapping back and forth at top speed."
            "This is nice," I say finally. "Why don't you turn the motor off."
So he does. And we sit there in the rain, just listening, the windshield wipers in an up position, but it doesn't matter cause it's raining so hard you couldn't see your hand up in front of you anyhow, well, if you outside, of course. He looks over at me once or twice, but keeps quiet. He rubs his legs up and down with his hands the way he always does. He's good this way, though, about waiting, letting me say things.
            "Then before I know it, I'm cryin. I just can't stop. Tears are coming outta my eyes before I know it, and I just sit there bawling like crazy. And your father just sits there, looking at me, then looking outta the windshield into the rain, back and forth like that. The rain was coming down so hard I couldn't even hear myself blubbering away, which was both our salvations, I guess. Finally when I'd had my cry, he says, "What's going on, Darlene?" He says this like he did when he drove up and saw me waiting in the parking lot at the apartment complex. I think I mystify this man. He doesn't know what the hell to do with me most the time. He hasn't a clue. I mean, not a clue."
            I hear her blow her nose and I wonder if she's crying now, but her voice has a lilt when she says, "So I put him off like I usually do, you know. I said, 'Oh, hell, it's too many hours on the shrimp boards or something like that, and he shakes his head and lets it be. We sat there, listening to the rain for, oh, I don’t know an hour or so. It was a while.
            "Oh, we got a half dozen hamburgers and a couple of Orange Crushes before we left. Ate those out in the car in front of the restaurant. The inside of Johnny’s is always so smoky, you can't enjoy what you're eating inside."
            "They still sell Orange Crush in El Reno, Mom?" I ask, wanting to be a part of this. I wanted to hold her, like a child, my own child-mother.
            "Naw. I call anything I drink that's orange an Orange Crush. They probably stopped making those years ago. It was a Slice or something. I just know you have to have something wet and sweet to get all that grease down your throat. It's that and the fried-all-to-hell onions—what Vernon calls em."
            I sit still, not moving a muscle on the other end of the line, when she says, "After a couple of hours it started to get dark and the rain wasn't going to stop, so he started up the engine and we drove back home. We didn't talk most the way back. I just rolled down the window and let it rain all over me. So when we drove into the parking lot at my apartment complex and he killed the engine, I said," she says this so quiet, I almost can't hear her, "'Vernon, I just can't keep workin the way I am. It's killing me. I have to find another way and I was just wonderin if I could come back and live with you again. I was wonderin what you would say to that?
            "Well, you know your father, Caroline. He just looked at me so long I really thought he was going to say no; but then he said, 'You wanna come back home, Darlene, I don't mind. That's okay with me.' I didn't like too much how he said 'home,' like that, because you know how I feel about being hemmed in again and you know how he is, his jealousy and all. But I just don't know what else to do. But then he said, 'I'll do anything to help you that you want me to. You want to come back and live with me, I'd like that.'
            "So I tell him what I need, what I have to have in order to live with him again. I say I have to have my own place, maybe the back part of the house, you know? Like an apartment out of the extra bathroom and the two bedrooms to the back and side of the house. And I tell him we can eat together, if that's okay, but we aren't gonna be married so I don't intend to wait on him hand and foot like I used to. And I tell him, that I shouldn’t’ve done it back then. You know I thought he’d give me a hard time about some of this because I’m the one who left him, insisted we get a divorce and the house be left in my name. So I lay out all the ground rules and he sits there rubbing his legs and pushing his ballcap up and down over his head and saying, 'Sure, I can do that,' and "That's fine, Darlene, if that's what you need.'"
            She takes in her breath on the other end of the line and I know that it's my turn. I wait a second before I say, as even and soft as I can, "It sounds like he means it, Darlene. He's not been drinkin for years and he's had his own life for awhile. It sounds fine."
            I hear her breath come out in a rush, "I said 'yes,' not to him, not out loud right away. But I think I'm really going to, Caroline. It feels like I should."
            "Well, I declare," I try to sound like a distant relative, like I'm just hearing some gossip, "I can't wait to tell Kat about this! or you told her already?"
            "You can tell your sister if you want to, that's all right, I suppose," she says with a sigh. "But don't tell your brothers yet, okay? I gotta figure out first what I'm gonna say."
            “It’s Kat that you’ve got to convince. I know that Teddy and Timothy were upset with the divorce, but Kat was livid, Darlene. She’s going to be the hurdle you’ll have to jump, you know?”
            “One step at a time,” she says quietly.
            I know how hard this is. She’s told everybody he’s a jerk. Now she has to live with the jerk and not just like it but be grateful. It’s a handful. “One step at a time,” I say, thinking how many times Vernon must have thought and said this during his recovery.

The Ticket

"Well, how are ya?" my mother's voice rings out. It’s our weekly call, her turn.
            "Fine," my voice sounds flat. Sometimes it’s a chore to talk. The topic is usually her troubles at work. I have enough of that on my own during the week. I need week-ends to re-coop. I work a high stress job as an art therapist to severely emotionally-challenged children and young adults in schools that are overpopulated and under-staffed because of the economic recession. It’s all I can do to manage the day-to-day overload.
            "You don't sound very fine," she says. "What's wrong?" When I pause, she attempts a more casual tone, "Anything wrong?"
            "Not really. I'm just tired. What's going on your way?"
            "Well, I got another speeding ticket. What I mean to say is that I almost got another ticket. Coming back from Chickasha yesterday. It's just ridiculous."
            "You gotta watch it, Mom. You have a red car and you're an older woman."
            She snorts defensively, "What's that got to do with anything?"
            "The police don't want to stop these young guys with gun racks and big monster trucks, Darlene. They gotta get their quotas somehow. You’re an easy mark."
            "Well, basically that's what I told him."
            I groan. I seem to do that a lot when I talk to my mother on the phone. "You told the policeman that you suspected he stopped you so that he could fill his quota for the day? Darlene...."
            "Not exactly that," she interrupts. "Well, I guess I did say as much. More actually. I didn’t say I suspected him of anything. I told him directly he was doing it."
            "I'm sure," I say barely audible, then wait. I just can’t take her on this morning.
            "I picked Vernon up because I had to get out of town. I had worked my butt off this week.” My mom works at the local Red Lobster as a food preparer, is divorced from my father but goes to his house—her old one with him—and does her laundry while they cook and have suppers together at least once a week. Occasionally, they go out on dates—my view, not theirs, at least not hers—picnics to the park, dining out at the Pizza Hut or some diner or cafeteria, day trips to Lexington Wildlife Area and state parks, shopping at the Salvation Army, Homeland Grocery or browsing the library for loaners and sharers. They are married in every way except for the sex and living quarters, and I’m not certain about either of those. “We had a Christmas in July special on seafood, and I peeled more shrimp this week than I care to count. I was exhausted so I just wanted to take a drive and get out in the country for awhile. So I called Vernon up and asked if he would like to go with me to that little diner in Chickasha we sometimes go to, he likes that, you know, so we went out there to eat and on the way back, this black and white stops me in New Castle."
            It wasn't in Oklahoma City like before, I thought. "Lucky," I say with a grin.
            "Oh sure. Right! Well, he makes with the flash—he came up from behind or I woulda seen him in time to hit the brakes—well, anyway, he stops me and comes over and leans on my window, peering in. You know Vernon. I looked over there and he was hunkered down in his bucket seat. This cop says to me that he has to see my license and all that stuff. Then while he's holding it like he's never going to give it back, he starts saying to me in this monotone about how I was doing excessive speeding etcetera, etcetera. So when he gets done, I ask him in a very civil tone, 'Can I say something to you?' And he says 'Sure.' So I say, 'You know if you drive the speed limit out here you can get killed? Nobody, I mean, nobody is driving 55 miles an hour on these highways and you guys know it. How the heck am I supposed to drive the speed limit without these people coming up on my bumper and riding my gas tank while they're waiting to go around me?'
            "So he squints over at Vernon, then back at me and says, 'I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to tell me here because I've never seen a report in my life that states that somebody ran over another driver because he was going 55 miles an hour.' Caroline, I want you to listen to that: 'Ran over another driver.' I say to him, 'Of course not. That's not what makes going 55 risky. It's these guys who want to go a 100 miles an hour behind you when you are going 55 miles an hour who are willing to take chances when they pass you. They're the ones who’re gonna make you a statistic.' Then he says to me, 'That's exactly what I am trying to do. I'm trying to keep you from becoming a statistic.' 'Don't make me laugh,' I'm thinking, but I say to him instead, 'My going 55 is going to
keep me from being a statistic, huh?' Caroline, all at once I was so mad at the stupidity of this conversation, I just thought, 'I'm not afraid of you guys, by God.' They think that because they wear these uniforms and have the power to write out tickets that they can say anything to you and you have to take it even if it's stupid and untrue. Well, I'm not about to take that kind of stuff anymore, so I said, 'What is going on here?' And you should have seen him look at me. I was very polite and all but I decided to just tell him the truth because if he decided to write a ticket he might as well be writing it after he heard what I had to say. 'You know as well as I do that everybody, I mean everybody, out here is driving 75 and 85 miles an hour.'
            "'You were going 70," he says, smiling a little.
            "’I beg your pardon’," I say back, ‘I was going 65. I know because I keep track. I look at my speedometer often, and you know what? These people are going around me like I'm standing still. I just had a guy pass me before you stopped me that had to be going 80 or 85. He just now passed me. I don't see how you could have missed him. He cut me off because a car was coming up on the lane he was in when he was passing and Vern and I were just talking about it. So I'm not going to sit here and have you tell me that I'm going way over the speed limit and nobody else is. These people are driving around Oklahoma City on the by-pass 85 and 90 and you know it."
            "I'm from New Castle," he said with a smart-alecky edge to it, and
I was furious!"
            "I bet," I interjected even though I didn't need to.
            "Yeah," she said, revving herself up. "Liars. All this lying everywhere. It's just a goddang game with everybody anymore. It's just like at work. My manager, Larry Castleberry, forgot to write down the date and time like I told him to when I fell in January on their slick floor that I’d told them about twice already and I got the 'yeah, yeah, yeah' response. Now, their insurance company doesn't want to pay so according to contract—it was an accident due to their negligence—well, now they have to pay; and Larry's supervisor is really upset with him for not writing it down, plus not taking care of the slick floor problem. So here they both come to me, the supervisor driving all the way from Del City see, asking me when 'the accident occurred,' and 'what time I accidentally fell' they want to know, when it's their job, not mine to keep track of these things when they're reported. I can't remember now and I did the right thing when it happened so I say they can live with it. You can't believe how nice the manager is to me these days. Hooooo. I get the right hours, and lots of them, and you know how I had to fight like hell over each and every hour all summer and spring in order to make ends meet. It's all a goddang game and I'm sick of it. Do they think I'm stupid or something? So I say to this cop, 'I know you're from New Castle. I see it on your arm!’
            "Good God!" I say.
            "No, wait," she says to me, "he laughs. He laughs. At least it broke the ice. Then I say, 'Look at my car. I want you to really think about what I'm telling you. This car has a 120 mile-per-hour speedometer. Why is that? These cars are made to go fast. All these commercials on T.V. have them speeding around on racetracks or on Salt Lake or in and out of those obstacle courses with mud flying in the air and that's why most people buy them, because they're built for speed. Even the little ones, like mine. Now I bet if you looked it up, you would find that most congressmen are attempting to keep the speed limit at 55. I know because I listened to the whole oil embargo thing when Jimmy Carter was president back in the 70s and he lowered it to 55 for everyone. Now that the embargo is over with, only a handful of states are threatening to raise their speed limits. Why do you think that is? I don’t wait for an answer. I tell him. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Detroit and the government are in cahoots over this one. The car makers get to keep on making the cars they can sell—everybody wants one that goes way, way over 55—and the police can keep issuing  tickets on this kind of set-up any time they want. The government tries to tell us these lower speeds are all for our own safety and the national interest but it’s really just to help with states revenue, so they don’t have to give so much federal funds to help the states.' Well, his smile was gone now. I saw that he was getting a bit ticked again. Hey, these guys don't want to hear the truth, you know. So I said, 'Look I hear what you’re telling me and I will try to watch it, but...." And he slides in there real fast and says, 'That's what I want you to do. I want you to drive 55 miles an hour.' 'Well, okay,' I say, 'but I don't know what you all are going to do about this exactly because you need to take a look at how this is working out for us out here on the road. The people driving are the ones losing out in this one because we’re caught in the middle, between the police and the car manufacturers.' He just sort of smiled and told me to wait right where I was a minute. Well, I turned to Vernon and said, 'Where am I gonna go? Take out down the road at 85 miles an hour like I'd like to do right now and leave New Castle standing there?' And you should have seen Vernon. During this entire conversation, he sat there moving back and forth in his seat, grunting an 'uh-huh' sound here and there like 'yeah, that's right,' every time this policeman said anything. He was scared half outta his mind, you could tell it plain as day. So when New Castle comes back he hands me my license and says, 'Here's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to give you a ticket or anything. Not even a warning. I'm just going to talk to you. It is my job to see to it that people out here are obeying the law. The law is that you’re supposed to be driving 55 miles an hour. I saw you disobeying that law and I am telling you that I want you to be safe by obeying that law. Speed kills.' Caroline, I thought I was going to throw up. I know it probably does kill; though I have to tell you there’s lots of talk about how this isn’t true. I know because I’ve read about it in the paper and watched it on TV. All these states that are challenging the national speed limit law are doing research because they want some leverage to combat this ridiculously low 55 speed law. So getting this lecture from this cop was more than I could take. I wanted to say something like 'You got to be kidding,' but I knew I would get a ticket if I did, so right here, this once, I stayed quiet. Then he leans through my window and looks at Vernon and says, "I think you know what I’m talking about," and he nods his way, like they have this male thing between them. And Vernon nods back real big like 'Yes I sure do!' I tell you, I could have slugged him. So then the cop looks back at me, held my eyes with this slick smile on his face, slaps the window frame of my door several times with his finger, like he is tapping a pencil on a pad, like I need a big reminder, right?, and he says, 'You folks have a nice day now.' And I said, 'Thank you,' big as you please. And then he says just before he leaves, 'Thanks for the input.' Can you believe that? Thanks for the input. Wonder if he will take all that input to his chief?"
            I laugh. "You know, Darlene. This is a lot like the reaction of the sheriff who handled your case when you got arrested for going into that old abandoned house and taking that stuff, you remember? Wasn't that in Chickasha? Wasn’t Chickasha the seat for your court hearing?”
            "Rush Springs, yeah. My God, I haven't thought of that in years." She laughs. “And Vern and I were on our way back from Chickasha when the New Castle cop stopped me. That’s hilarious, really.”
            "You talked your way out of that one too, remember, and the sheriff's reaction was very much like this cop's. It's like you get them to listen to what you have to say."
            "I'm telling them the truth, that's why. These cars are going around me out there like their tails're on fire. New Castle knows this. Oh, and I told him that too. I invited him to get in my car and take a drive down the highway with Vernon and me."
            "You said that to him? You're kidding! Why?"
            "No, I'm not kidding. I said to him, 'If you don't believe what I'm telling you, get in the car with us and go for a 55 mile an hour drive down this highway here and watch the cars speed by me. I can even go 65 miles an hour if you let me and you still will watch them speed by me. Course," I said, "you will have to take your hat off so they don't see you're a cop.'
            "Darlene, you're something," I say. She doesn't even know her magic. Of course that's what makes her work, I thought. If I said these same things to this cop, I'd be in jail in New Castle overnight.
            "I knew he wouldn't get in the car with us, of course. Probably figured we'd run him in the brush and slit his throat or worse," she laughs good-naturedly. She pauses a beat, then asks: "So you think he stopped me because I'm old, huh?"
            "Not old, exactly, Darlene," I said, feeling tender. "But with a little red car built for speed and with a guy like Dad by your side, he figured he had at least one tag for the day. It's not all his fault, you know. I wouldn't want to stop these guys out there either. They get in their big cars and trucks and they get mad anymore if you just want to make a left-hand turn. They think you're in their way. I'd hate to be the one to make them obey the rules! Remember that cop outside Oklahoma City who stopped us when you were coming off the by-pass ramp? He had his hand on his gun when he held his flashlight on the trunk while I opened it to get out your purse you'd left there and forgot to take it back out when we got in the car. We had to get it out of the trunk in order for him to see your license. He was nervous and rightly so. I was mad, Darlene, actually for the same reason you feel that New Castle stopped you this time. I could've had a gun in there and blown him away, you know. He was a kid. A rookie probably. It's a hard job, really."
            "Okay but when they stop me instead of the guys with the Tonka trucks they don't have to get off on it, you know? What is that? This cop getting himself a ticket for the day with an older woman that he tries to intimidate. Not right."
            "There are days," I say to her then, "when Thelma and Louise seem a reality just around the corner for me."
            She giggles and says, "They want to play games, we might just change the rules around on them one of these days. My kind of thinking, exactly!"
            "Say hi to Dad for me," I joke toward a close.
            "Tell him yourself, if you want to. Right now I'm not wanting to hear his voice or see his face!"


Snow fell. His feet were getting very cold. He was practically covered now, in down, drifting feathers insulating him from the bitter wind.  During the battle, one night he had slept in a bathtub in an abandoned farmhouse without windows in a featherbed like this one. When he had fallen now, his gun had been thrown from him. It had discharged in a sudden burst. A deer nearby had bolted, leaving tracks no longer there. The gun was leaning oddly against a tree as though he’d placed it before lying down for a rest.
            As light faded he knew he had to get up but his body lay thickly inert. He could not see himself. When he looked down, he saw nothing but the cold, white blanket gathered in lumps where his body should have been. He could only move his neck in a small circle. He was resting on a pillow, studying where he was like children do when they first awaken in their rooms.
            Looking around he saw the faintest small place between the trees. The place moved in a rhythm that wasn't connected to him. It breathed in and out like some living image he should recognize but couldn't so he watched it rise and fall beyond him. "It is only space in the branches of the trees," he thought. But the life there suggested more.
            He lay transfixed, watching. The life-place grew brighter the longer he watched. It was coming to meet him in those intervals between the trees and himself. But then it retreated, advancing and retreating with his breath. It was a living thing suspended there, fluttering with wings about to take flight.
            He must have slept, his neck stretched out, craning toward what he had seen there in the trees, because when he awoke the snow had covered him, so
that he had sunken deeper into his pillow of leaves and dirt. Its starched fabric covered his cheeks. He took his hand and brushed the stiffness from his face. He could no longer see or feel much of anything outside his mind. His body was somewhere in-between his thoughts and the world swirling around him, a billowing shroud. When he was hungry, he chewed on his shroud. When he was thirsty, he stuffed it in his mouth my the handfuls, where it melted and slithered down his throat.
            He faced the life-place again and again, breathing in and breathing out with the swaying of the trees. Then after resting the night, he opened his eyes and saw that it was gone. He suspected that it was no longer there because he couldn't see the outline of the trees for the snowing. The entire panorama before him was white light. Maybe he was blind or maybe he was in it now. Maybe the life-place grew into him.
            He must not sleep anymore, he thought. He must get up but he couldn't because he had no feet or body. But he did sleep and when he awoke, the trees were there in front of him clear and alive. The snow had stopped and the sun had turned the world green. The grass swayed and sorrel and anemone lay just beyond him, dotted with dew. A fawn came, smelled his face, his hair and left. He heard the sound and smelled the breath of it long after it had fled.
            When he was finally found, he saw one of the young soldiers walk past him to the gun leaning against the tree. He lifted his head enough to see the space between the soldier’s body and his bending arm. The space there expanded into light as a shock drove his body deeper into the bed where he had been lying. He was being moved or perhaps finally flying away to the trees.
Weeks later in the hospital, when the doctors came again and again asking him to talk about it, he said nothing.
            "You can’t give up now,” they would say. “You must fight on. Nobody could survive what you have without a sense of destiny.” He said nothing
because he had nothing to say to them. He lay without moving, simply watching the comings and goings around him. It seemed they were children playing with life in their dollhouses.

“And how are you today," they said over and over weeks later, patting his hand. "You'll be fine," they would say, looking into his eyes gently with thin smiles. “You are recovering beautifully.” What they meant was that all his body parts were being restored. But what he understood and they did not was that he grew too cold there in that place where his life lives on.

The Final Cure

Dolls. God, I hate dolls. Why do people give kids dolls? Kids, shit! Why do people give girls dolls? Ever see a boy playin with a fuckin doll? Those freckled-faced boys ya see on Post Toastie boxes don’t play with dolls. They play with airplanes that shoot half way across the livin room when ya pull em with a rubber band or they play with those painted frogs that click ya get outta Cracker Jacks.
            God, I hate people who give me dolls. They give me dolls because they think I oughta play with em. And that’s it, isn’t it? They think I should play with dolls. They know I don’t want dolls, but they’re afraid of what that might mean. That something’s wrong with me.
            This one story I’ve heard over and over till I could puke: about when I was little, this one Christmas, how my mom and dad bought me this doll, the one I’ve wanted to strangle the most, and a crib with a little closet full of hand-stitched clothes that my Aunt Sally made just for it, and me, too.
            My momma says to anybody listenin, “Her Auntie Sally spent months, ’positively months,’ sewin for her and her doll.” She’s talking about the matchin outfits. What the fuck do you think was behind all that? I’m sure I don’t have to tell ya.
            Well, as this story goes, they put this fuckin doll and her crib in the dinin room where it was dark as molasses so that when we all came home from church Christmas Eve, I wouldn’t see it right off. This way, they got to switch on the light and yell “surprise,” and ever time they tell the story, they tell how thrilled they were when I ran to the crib just “squealing with delight!” Well, my dad had made a fatal mistake. On his way home from work Christmas Eve he’d seen this football in the winda of a hardware store, went in and bought it, and threw it in the crib as a joke. It was the football I was so thrilled to get. He tells this laughing to my uncles and my mother like it just seems impossible. But the part of the story they never tell is how all day that Christmas, they followed me around pointing out how cute “the baby” was in her “little crib” and didn’t I just want to hold her or rock her or somethin? I wanted to say “Hell, no! Let her cry her eyes out,” or “Why don’t you give her a bottle if it bothers you so much?” They were upset with me, I could see that plain enough, but what was I supposed to do? They wanted me to lie to them?
            What if I’d said what I really wanted was a Little Red Ryder B-B Gun, a year’s subscription to Captain Marvel comics and some of those thick books like the boys had in the neighborhood that they bought with their allowances, The Black Stallion or The Adventures of Tarzan? What then? I’da never heard the end of it! It’s been bad enough as is. For years they’ve been handin me this doll’s hairbrush and sayin stuff like “All you little girls are lookin pretty messy, ya know. Don’tcha think ya oughta fix their hair up? Company’s comin.” Then they always go over a little ways and stand and watch to see what I’m gonna do about it.
            And of course, the fuckin dumb broads these dolls are, they keep right on being themselves, with their glassy-eyed stares and eye lids that click up and down and hair that feels real but looks like shit because I never brush it.
            So then, finally when I’d had enough, I didn’t do like I usually did. You know, gather em up and take em back in the house past my Momma’s smiling face and throw them in a wad next to my bed when she wasn’t lookin. This time, I grabbed Beverly by the back of the neck and told her, “it’s over, our little momma-daughter thing” and I pulled her head right outta her shoulders and jumped all over her pretty dress. And then I mangled Shirley and Doreen along with her.
            Now, for the past two Saturdays, I get bathed and dressed like I’m goin to church but they take me instead to the doctor’s office in the Medical Building in Oklahoma City where I look at dozens of strange pictures and tell them what I think they mean and finish hundreds of sentences this stupid doctor starts and stops. Then he puts a bunch of boy and girl dolls in front of me and has me play house and family and doctor while he asked me questions about what I’m doing with them. Sometimes I just stare at him for most the time and he sighs and says, “You don’t want to play today?” When I shake my head and stare some more, he finally says, “Well, maybe next time.”
            Now Momma walks around at home between visits, dabbing at her eyes with her hankie. I keep telling them all over and over that all I wanna do is play football and read some comics, but nobody’s listenin. All they wanna know is stuff like whether my babies cried or not when I killed em.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In the Wee Wee Hours

I follow her in and snap the door closed. She walks ahead of me, her heels making sharp tight tapping sounds on the hardwood floors. I see right away that it’s a 1950s kind of place, white blonde furniture with rounded edges. Something like a buffet in the living room catches my eye, but it’s hard to make out much in the dim nightlight of the hall. It’s not a big apartment but feels light, airy. I don’t want to but I allow my eyes to search for the bed when she’s not looking. Her dark shape takes familiar form only after she clicks on the lamp and she turns to face me, her hands behind her back; they seem to hold her out toward me as she leans against the wall. She stands there like this for far too long. I can’t look away—that would say far too much about me so I stand there, trying not to swallow or breath out loud. She runs her shimmering nails through her long hair, as though releasing some inner tension in us both, but I know I’m the one that’s nervous.
            "What can I get you?" she asks, turning toward the small kitchen I see now through the archway. The refrigerator hums with an oscillating regularity. I hear a clock chime somewhere upstairs. There are stairs, I reflect, so the bed’s up there. That’s miles and miles from where we are now in the kitchen. I’ll give myself away long before making those stairs. My eyes settle on the swaying arch of her backless dress, and the back and forth movement of her thighs. From there I follow the gentle line of her stocking seams down her leg to her ankles and the long spiked heels of her feet. "Never trust a woman with thick ankles," I remember someone advising me once but I wasn’t about to trust this one, thin though as her ankles are. Anyway, not yet. Everything about her is dressed for me when I was in high school, wanting to be Rita Hayworth as Miss Sadie Thompson with Aldo Ray. But it wasn’t the Aldo Rays I wanted it for.
            She pulls the Shelvador’s handle out and lets it snap back without turning around, blasting white light on the outer edges of her dress as she bends over slightly to peer inside. "Oh God," I think, "Take me soon," but I say instead, "Oh, just anything."
            She turns around, says, "Just anything?" A smile's on her face, mocking me.
            "Well, not really. Something strong. Anything strong," I say too loudly. I smell the perfume of my martini in my nose, the one—or was it two—I had only an half hour earlier at the bar. Does she bring everybody she meets—I stumble over my thinking word choice—to her home? Not “meets.” “Entertains”, that the word I looking for.
            "Of course. I don’t serve ‘weak,’" she says, almost laughing, and turns back to the refrigerator, pulls out an ice tray, noisily jerking the handle so that ice cubes clatter onto the counter and fall to the floor. With curved fingers, she picks up several from the counter and drops them into two glasses, two heavy glasses with long beveled sides that immediately begin to bead and sweat.
            I reach down to pick up the cubes on the floor, one very close to her leg and it's then that I notice the barely discernible budge, a small, hard line around the muscle of the back of her leg that throws the black seam of her silk stocking slightly off before it reaches her ankle strap.
            I reflexively reach inside my trouser pocket—I’m all gussied up like Hepburn from another time and place, just like she is—and I finger the large gift condom I've taken from the basket at the door as we left the bar. I don’t know why I take them. I do, I guess, because I think they’ll come in handy sometime. Perhaps. You never know. But they sit in my chest of drawers in my bedroom, waiting. Every time I go out, I tell myself, I’ll do what I’m to be doing now, what I think I’m doing but I never admit I’ll do it as I dream I will. I sigh silently and hold out my hand to take the glass full of gin with two olives.
            "Come," she says with eyes meeting mine. "Let's get to know each other."
            In the living room she sits down on the couch, slipping her skirt belt off with one movement. It whips past me like a striking snake. She releases the side zipper slightly, and sighs. "You go to the bar often?" she asks with her lips on the edge of the glass.
            "No, no," I lie. It was true that I didn’t go to that bar often, actually never before. "I, uh, just went tonight because..." I sit on the opposite side of the couch staring at her. She stops drinking and puts her glass down with a clank on a blue coaster on the end table. "I don't know why I went actually," I say. "I never do."
            I start to go on, thinking that I will invent along the way, but she says, in a liquid, throaty voice, "That's true. I've never seen you there."
            "Well, it's my first time," I say, and watch the gray glitter of her eyes flicker. "I mean, at the bar. The first time at the bar." I take a long swallow that burns my throat. Then, "This bar," I add with false courage.
            "How come you’ve never been to this bar?" she asks easily, her hands open, palms down by her sides. The thought crosses my mind that she just might push herself up and ask me to leave.
            "It's hard...for go alone. I don't know anybody....who goes ..who’s there." I stumble along.
            "Uh huh. It's difficult coming out where you’ve gone regularly, you mean."
            My heart is pounding and my breathing is not flowing in and out like I want it to. “I'm not coming out. I said going out alone, that’s what’s hard.” I rush on, “I go other places but not often. I really don’t know anybody, anywhere… not really.” I place both my hands by my sides, now ready to push myself up and out of what I think I might be sinking into.
            She toys with a strand of hair that gives her suddenly a youthful air. Then she stops abruptly, flips her hair back with her hand and finally clasps both hands together with great flourish around her knees. Her fingers are heavy with rings. "That's all right," she says, her voice deepening. "We can do it, of course," she pauses, then laughs, "whenever you like, as you like." and her laugh tumbles easily out toward me. “But I do have a question. Why this bar, luv? I mean, it’s an openly gay bar. Surely you knew this?”
            She’s trying to find out if I’ll keep lying so I tell her the truth. “I knew but usually I’ve found…well, I thought there would be some lesbians in those bars…gay bars…some times. I mean, you were there.”
            Her laugh is breathy, open. “Diesel dikes are what you were looking for? I’m hardly that.”
            “I know, hell, I don’t know. I’m just looking.”
            “Shopping. Like trying to find that something you’re hungry for at the grocery store but you don’t know quite what you want.”
            “Maybe,” I say again. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
            “All that’s thunder in your head, honey. You know.” She reaches out and touches my leg. “Look, it doesn’t matter. Try on as many coats as you need to in order to find the right fit. I did.”
            “Are you happy?” I ask stupidly. Where this comes from I’ll never know. I’ve drunk a lot. But perhaps better this stupid than the one I’m terrified of showing.
            I think she isn’t going to regain her composure. She is laughing so hard she’s bent over and back again until I think she’ll break into. I don’t feel upset with this. I’m mesmerized by her gorgeous demeanor. I can’t help but smile, laughing a little myself. Finally, she takes a tissue from the end table nearby and wipes her eyes. “Oh Lord, girl. You are refreshing as a summer shower.” Her accent is deep and slightly southern, which I hadn’t noticed before. She searches my face a bit and says, “You mean, how can I be happy given all the camouflage?” I start to protest but she holds up her hand and actually lets her wrist flop down.  “It’s the purchase I’ve made. I’ve worn this coat for a long time and I’m comfortable with it. Everybody I know and even some I like and love aren’t comfortable with me in it, but that’s true regardless of what you wear out there. I’m not living anymore for anybody else.” She taps her finger in the air around the room. “All this and this and that are things I enjoy. They aren’t props for show, though in a way they are, but then that’s how I see all of it. A stage we design and the actors we pick to play with us on it. What I want to tell you since you’ve asked—and by the way nobody asks because I think they assume I’m not happy, gotta be conflicted if you’re like I am, you know—but I’ll tell you this, I like to play and so many people don’t.” She pauses a moment. “You know something,” she says scooting over closer to me on the couch, taking my drink, leaning over and putting it on the coffee table in front of us. “I used to be a sales clerk at a clothing store for men. I was good at it because I was…good at sales. But I wasn’t happy. Now,” she holds both arms up in the air for a moment before taking her hands and running them through her hair, “I’m much, much better at selling this than I was at selling clothes.” She leans over and kisses me long and full on the mouth.
"Never trust a hair flinger," I hear that same someone in my head advising me, but what I say to her is, "I’m buying” And then I ask, “Could I try on my coat now?"
            The walk upstairs was easier than I thought. Maybe all those drinks helped but I didn’t just dream it this time. And I didn’t have to bother with my condom. She was prepared. So my first lesbian experience was with a guy. Go figure.

How to Iron a Shirt

I learned how to iron a shirt when I had a nervous breakdown that sent me back from California, another one of those moves I’d made in the sixties to get out and away from home. The breakdown brought me right back from where I’d started, but this time everything was a bit darker and less solid. "Like a hole that's a tattoo," my mother said, not asking, telling me like only she could know what I felt like. These little aphorisms sprinkled here and there were her idea of putting me back together again. How a hole was like a tattoo I wasn't exactly sure yet, but I knew she would be sending the meaning along during the length of my stay.
            After a few days of allowing me to oversleep and mull around the house in my slippers, eating only saltines and a little cheese, she came into my bedroom one morning and announced, holding my breakfast steaming in her hands, "This hole you are in is really just yourself. You gotta get out and start doing something. You need to look around you, see that the world hasn't caved in with you." She put my breakfast on the night stand to my side. I didn't even look at it. I knew the message wasn't over, "Do you think Albert Schweitzer worries about the things that worry you?" This time I took her on, mainly because she brought me breakfast, "Okay, Momma, what am I thinking that's so hard on me?" I asked.
            "Yourself," she said, picking up where she'd left off. "You are just caught up with yourself. You know, it's like you walk around with this mental thermometer that you put up your butt every few minutes and pull it out and get a reading. "How am I today? Did that hurt? Am I today as bad as I was yesterday?" And she jabbed me one with her elbow as she sat down on the bed next to me. She laughed lightly, "You see what I mean?"
            How could I tell her about what was really happening to me? I didn't know. What was I going to say that would convince her that this hole she saw me in was not some tattoo on my arm that she thought I was wearing around?
            This morning while I nibbled at my toast, smearing some thick, hot oatmeal over the top, making a mess she was choosing to ignore, she said, "I got to thinking, you know a lot of women work now and they don't have the time to do their laundry, so why don't we take in laundry and ironing? It will be some way to get your mind off yourself and at the same time earn a little cash. What do you say?" This may sound downright silly now but back then before laundry services were offered in every town with a population of over a thousand, this wasn’t so out of the question. My bafflement wasn’t over the idea. It was over the notion that I’d actually participate in such a thing.
            "Laundry ?" was all I could come out with. It sounded like a croak to me.
            "Why not?" she said. "In the state you’re in, I don't think you can sit there thinking it's too low a job for you to do. Just look at yourself. Go on. Go to the bathroom right now and give yourself a good look. It's scary what will be staring back at you."
            I knew what would be staring back at me, so I declined to take her suggestion. I said instead, "Not that I will do this, Momma, but how do you propose we get the customers?"
            "We'll advertise, of course."
            "In the paper?"
            "Sure. Oklahoma City even, I was thinking. Those rich people up in Nichols Hills probably aren't going to come all the way down to Moore to give us their laundry, but people in the south part of town might. Del City. Midwest City. They’ll even drive up from Norman, it’s only ten miles, after all; I mean, all those professors’ wives? Well, they’re professors themselves, aren’t they, at the university? They don’t have time for laundry. And let me tell you, these people will love hand-iron clothes, a real pressed look, instead of that overly stiff and creased shirts and dresses they get from wherever in the heck they get their laundry done, if not by their maids. C’mon, this’ll work. You'll be surprised."
What I heard was the operative word, “work” and felt like running and not looking back. But instead, I heard myself saying,
            "Well, okay. Let's say I say okay to this. I don't know beans about how to iron. I iron for myself, of course. But I don't know how to iron a white shirt or a fancy cotton dress for somebody else."
            "I know. But I thought it would be nice to teach you. I know how to iron anything, remember. I worked when you were in high school in that hospital laundry not far from the school actually. Don't you remember when you got the cramps so bad that one day at school and you came in the laundry and we had to take you to emergency where I had that big argument with Dr. Chandler about
whether you should take estrogen or not? They brought you into your room on a gurney and I was almost hysterical and he tried to convince me you should have these hormone treatments? He pushed for that at a time when I was so desperate and scared about you. I was so mad at him when I finally gathered myself enough to realize what he was trying to talk me into. I looked at him and yelled, don't you remember, how I told him he was just like the morticians. Doctors are always trying to get you anymore for their experiments just like the morticians are always trying to get you to buy the biggest and best coffin, when you’re so upset you can’t see straight and don't know what you’re thinking. Listen, I'm on to these guys, was even back then."
            "Okay, Momma," was what I got in to stop her. "But you ironed on mangles at the hospital. Ironing with an ordinary iron isn't like ironing on a mangle and besides, you did flat stuff like sheets and operating room covers and ..."
            "Oh, we had our share of uniforms and all; but I know what you mean. But, look, I know how to do just about anything with an iron. You see, when I first married your father, I wanted to be the perfect wife. I used to iron the pillow cases and sheets, not to mention the tea towels. I even lightly ironed our underwear. With a cool iron, you know. And not just your father's boxer shorts but my bras and underpants, can you believe it? While I listened to Stella Dallas and Whispering Streets. I probably could still do a Doan's Pills ad word for word if I had to."
            "Your bras?"
            "Crazy, huh?"
            "Yeah, I'd say so." I ate another piece of toast smeared with oatmeal.
            "Nobody does that anymore but back then our days were filled with ought to's like that. Ordinary tasks seemed somehow elevated by this kind of attention and work. Course your father never noticed unless I couldn't get to it. Then he'd make some coarse remark about what did I do with my time anyhow, just listen to the redio?" She said "radio" like "redio."
            "I don't know, Momma. What if I breakdown in the middle of all this and can't finish my share. That's providing we get a lot of work."
            "Why don't we come to that when we get there, okay?"
            Mother had tried things to get me out of myself before. One of the hardest times was right after I came home from Germany, when I left with Horst to Spain and then took that job in Cologne for International Ford in their manufacturing plant there. I came home in a basket because Horst got scared of me somewhere between Spain and his hometown, and dumped me on this job, where I couldn't understand or speak German enough to know what the hell anybody was saying or telling me to do. When I came home from this, Mother let me sleep a week or two and then tossed me out of bed one morning saying, "Look sunshine, it's getting up and out of yourself time." I was numb and felt the nearest to crazy I'll probably ever feel and she said, "It's hard, baby, I know, but you gotta do something and I've been thinking. Here's the plan. We’re just gonna start driving out in the country every day. Just taking a drive, that's all, but it will get you out of the house and into something else that's going on out there."
            And that's what we did. We drove around. We just went out in the country and drove around. Every day for hours. She'd talk to me sometimes like you do to a little kid when you want them to learn things about what's around them. "See that over there," she'd say. "That used to be a garage where they repaired cars, you know. Now it's a restaurant. Can you believe that? How the heck could they get all the grease and exhaust smells out of there to make it into a restaurant? Beats me." When she talked to me like this, she never waited for an answer at first. She just went from one thing to another talking and talking away. Looking back on it, I can't figure out why she didn't get on my nerves. Maybe I was just too numb to care. But I remember getting into it, you know. I'd look out the window and listen to what she was saying and think about it. And after awhile I'd embellish what she was saying, add to it in some way or disagree with it. Mother would reach over and pat my leg every now and then and say, "That's good, honey" or "That's great."
            One afternoon after we had been driving around the countryside for months and months, I begin to notice the change in the seasons, not just because it began to get colder and we had to wear heavier clothes in the car and turn on the heater, but I began to notice how the color of the sky looked different, how the grass faded in spots and how the bark on the trees grew darker and tougher in appearance. Mother was remaining quiet more as I just looked out the window. I said to her this one afternoon, "Life is so multi-colored and changing. I mean, the natural color of things changes and the whole atmosphere surrounding us never stays the same. Why don't you think we notice that except in the most superficial ways most of the time?"
            "Well," she said. "I think I don't do that. Sometimes I just let all this slide past me like most of us do a lot of the time, but really I have to tell you, that even as a little girl when I played out on our farm, I loved going past the same trees and into the same fields every day, and I noticed changes, even day to day. Some differences, even hour to hour. I loved the animals and their way of just being there. It seemed to me as I watched the birds and squirrels and groundhogs as well as all the farm animals, they had a sort of being into things that we humans lack. A tree changes without….this sounds crazy."
            "No," I caught myself saying, "I find this interesting."
            "Well, it's like things in nature, if we leave them alone, just don't try to do or be anything other than what they are. They are, you know? And it makes me part of that if I get out a little each day and stand and let it come into me and I just am in it, you know what I mean?"
            I made some approving sound, because she got quiet and let me look for myself again. After an hour or so, I realized we had gone far past the perimeters of our other drives and I asked her when we were going to go home. "How would you like to go to my home place?" she asked.
            "Drive to Shirly?" I asked in a kind of panic.
            "Yes, why not? You’re comfortable, aren't you, and you’re with me and it's only an hour or so longer. Why not?"
            "Won't Dad worry?"
            "Oh, no. Besides I can call him up the road on our way. I've done these meanderings for years. Once he found out I wasn't doing anything illicit or illegal and that I always returned, he started making his own supper, reading the paper and going to bed."
            "I don't know if I can..."
            "Honey, you need to relax and trust what you will see and do or you will be at this a long time, this time around."
            I didn't say anything but the anxiety was growing in my stomach. "All right," I said quietly.
            "Good," she said, stepping on the gas. "We will be there in no time."
             As we walked in the fields that afternoon, she told me stories about how she learned about birth and death, about planting and harvest, about sex and love. She told me stories about how she met my father, about her father and his drinking and anger, about her mother and her fear of being alone at night in the darkness on the farm. We stopped to take small twigs from the trees to identify later, snapped dried milkweed pods that showered the afternoon air with white fuzz, and before we left I scooped into a can two handfuls of powdery red shale from the driveway.
            "Stains everything when it's wet," Mother said. "We used to make blood out of it when we played."
            On the way home, we stopped at a small diner in a little town where the waitress brought our hamburgers on thick plates and we drank our coffee from heavy cups. That night, past the reaches of the stars, I slept in the car seat the rest of the way home.
            "I'm not sure why you want to do this again for me, Momma." I said about this ironing proposition.
            "You're my daughter," she said. "I love you."
            "Well, I know. But it's like it's starting all over again. Each time it happens I feel more scared and uneasy. I think I get past it and here it comes again. I never know if all these efforts will add up to anything."
            "But that's the important part to understand, Caroline. You missed something the other times around. You just didn't get it all, you see? So each time you have to go back over it until you get to the part where you are stuck and try it another way."
            "I don't seem to get past it though. Whatever it is. I feel like I'm back where I started again."
            "Oh, but you aren't. Look how quickly you got through this first part this time. You were up and around in days, not weeks; and it took you only a few days to start walking around outside and going with me to the store for groceries. You are shopping downtown now already. It took months of driving in the country the last time before you felt comfortable out of the house, remember?"
            "Momma, what's wrong with me? I'm a grown woman and I can't simply live."
            "You are afraid, baby."
            "That's crazy. Why do I keep falling apart like this? Why can't I just be like other people, just go out there and do things without suddenly falling apart? It's like a disease. I feel like I suddenly have this terrible something come over me, like an aching, a fever. A terror is what it is. And I can't go on. I have to die like this each time before I can go on. I need to go to a doctor or to a crazy house."
            "No, honey," Mother said, sitting down next to me. "You're just mixed up a little yet. It's getting better, surely you see that. And you need to go through this until you don't have to go through it anymore."
            "What I need is a doctor, a shrink."
            "What do you think a doctor will do for you that you can't do for yourself?"
            "Tell me things. Show me things, things I can't see, I don't want to see."
            "And what might that be?"
            "I don't know, Momma. That's the point."
            "More like putting ideas into your head, I think. They did mine."
            "You’re just afraid of doctors because you’ve been through this, and you think they didn't help you."
            "They didn't help me."
            "Okay, but maybe things are different now. They know more now."
            "You can go to the doctors if you want, Caroline, and you might get help there for yourself. I didn't, but maybe you can. But this I've learned, it will always get back to the laundry. Always."
            "The laundry?" I’m groaning inside.
            "It will always get back to everyday things, living an ordinary life. Those who don't are usually running. And those who do, well, they can be running too. It's how you deal with your ordinariness that matters."
            "Like everyone has to do their own laundry, is this the lesson for today? Like we can't take it to someone else to do?" When she didn't say anything, I said, "Then why are we thinking about doing other people's laundry?"
            "It's not the laundry, like the laundry, washing clothes, you know. It's learning to help yourself, to do for yourself, learning to be in the world alone, for yourself. It will take a shrink a long time to take you to an ironing board and show you how to do a shirt, and that's what you need to learn now."
            I felt like screaming and almost did, "I need to learn to iron a shirt to make this craziness stop?
            "You need to trust that when, when is an important word here, Caroline, that when you are ironing a shirt, you need to trust that this is what you are."  
            "Oh, my God, Momma. You are crazy. You are crazier than I am. You’re telling me I have to be Donna Reed?"
            She just smiled at me and said, "Caroline, bring me the ironing board from the utility room and go get two of your dad's white shirts out of his closet. And then I want you to go and get that red shale you took from the driveway of my home place that you keep in that can in your room. First I'm going to show you how to iron a white dress shirt step by step and then I'm going to show you how to get a stain out in a way that you will never see it again."