Thursday, May 22, 2008
Sunday, May 18, 2008
The starry,twirly lights were strung on a potted plant wedged into the corner.
The house had dwindled from four feet and twenty paws to two feet and eight paws.
Piles of gifts sat around the tree, not in wrapping paper, but all in gift bags.
They didn't have tags, but yellow post-it notes.
'Mother.' '12 year old girl.' '10 year old girl.' '6 year old girl.'
I kept hearing the sound of little jingle bells & thought I must be going crazy.
The phone kept ringing, but I didn't want to answer it.
I followed the sound of the jingle...it always seemed to be coming from around the corner or just on the other side of the wall.
I answered the phone once.
I looked in the bathroom & the kitchen.
I answered the phone a hundred times.
I looked in the gift bags and on the front porch.
I unplugged the phone.
I looked in the trunk and on the floorboard.
The phone stopped ringing.
The little brass jingle bells continued to ring.
In my world, the collectors stopped calling & the holiday spirits rang on.
Five months later, I plugged the home phone back in and went to bed.
I awoke at 4:22 am to the faint sound of jingle bells.
I went back to sleep, finding peace in the jingles.
At 9:02 am....r-r-r-ring, r-r-r-ring, r-r-ring.
The Collectors & the Peace Keepers.
Artwork by my beautiful sister,Singleton of The Hippie Parade & Just Give Me Peace.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Part Two...Part one begins on May 4 Post
I imagine, it was the path she preferred & probably thought I always took.
I'm sure she really had no idea that there even was a 'cut-through' way, at least until she got the phone call from that whistle-like-clockwork mother of Dennis'.
My mother was the type of woman to pick her battles well and who believed that children should be children. She accepted that this meant that sometimes we did things that adults didn't do, but more often than not she chalked it up to lesson learned. On the few occasions when she got concerned, maybe even irate, phone calls from parents, teachers or neighbors... I could hear her on the red phone in the kitchen... 'Ahuh, Ahum, Yes, I See, Alright, I understand, Ok, Thank You for Letting Me Know.'
'Paige....did Miss Diedre give you a dollar?'
'Did you tear it up in her yard?'
'Honey, that offended her...she worked hard for that dollar. Why would you tear it up?'
'I tore into tiny pieces & balled each little piece up & watered them, then I dug a little holes & buried them. I'm gonna grow a Money Tree. I'll share it with Miss Diedre when it grows.'
'Paige...were you playing with matches today?'
'Are you sure?'
'The neighbors said they saw you in the bushes starting a fire.'
'Yeah, but I did that with dry leaves and a magnifying glass...they just smoked.'
'Paige...do you know what marijuana is?'
'Marijuana...do you know what it is?'
'Did you tell Miss Vicci she should roll her own cigarettes?'
'Oh, because her husband told me it was cheaper, but that she didn't understand.'
'Paige do you know where Cut-Through Road is?'
'Paige did you go walking in the woods by the high school today with Dennis & Lara?'
'Do you ever go into those woods alone?'
'Honey, let me make this clear to you... You are to never go into the woods with Dennis or Lara again. In fact, you are to never go into those woods again, at all. Most importantly, I don't want you to ever, ever go into those woods alone.'
'I received a phone call from Dennis' mother, she was most upset. You children are not to ever venture into those woods again. Not together, not alone...never again. Do you understand me? That trail is not safe'
'Yes, but why? It's cool there Momma...why?'
'Honey, this bothers me terribly... did you make Lara go potty in the woods in front of Dennis.'
'She said she really had to go & was crying. I told her to go behind a tree. Dennis was our look-out. It was no big deal.'
'Well it was big deal to Dennis & Lara's parents. They think that type of behavior is dirty. And that trail is not safe! They may not even let them walk with you in the morning!'
Up half the night, flipping & flopping on my lop-sided bed ( it only had one support board, placed at a diagonal) I found myself haunted by thoughts of confusion, betrayal and anger. Usually after my momma had received a phone call, she would question me, talk to me & then enlighten me. This time she did more. She shamed me & it didn't set pretty in my spirit.
Sometimes, not too often, but sometimes, Dennis would join me for my walk home from school on the 'cut-through' path. We usually found an adventure or two, short-lived, but something we would never discover on the sidewalk home. Once we found the mother of all anthills. It must have been crotch-high. We speared it with a fallen branch and watched as a gazillion ants climbed that branch. The rest of that walk home, we found ourselves hunting out anthills, looking for one to top the mother. If they weren't big enough to get speared, we marked them. Dennis drew a lightning bolt through those he found and I drew an X. Claiming and marking anthills wasn't too uncommon for us.
We liked to think of ourselves as the Lewis & Clark of this off-beaten path. Another time we found a huge beetle the color of gasoline on water & we called it the Magic Beetle. We imagined it to a beetle that had not yet been discovered by the rest of the world & thought about collecting it to take to school as a specimen of our discoveries, but opted to let the Magic Beetle stay hidden in the woods.
Once we found a note, written by a high school girl to a boy named Tommy, torn into shreds. We plucked rain & dew-stained pieced up from the pine straw carpeting & out of sticky bushes. We crouched down, knees to chin and booties to ankles & re-assembled the note. In it, the girl talked about hoping to meet the recipient at their 'secret spot.' As Dennis & I read this, he looked at me...'This is our secret spot, isn't it Paige?'
'Do you think it's theirs too?'
The note went on to talk about how she felt betrayed by some girl named Rosie, who had apparently told everyone all of her business. She said in the note that she wished she had never shared anything with Rosie, most especially their secret spot & she hoped that Rosie wouldn't come. She said it didn't matter if Rosie flirted with him, because she believed he truly loved her & only her. It was signed 'Celeste' with beautiful stars and a moon.
We wondered why Tommy would tear the note up & leave it in the woods for us to find. Maybe Tommy & Rosie had a thing going on & Rosie tore the note up herself. Maybe, Celeste found out that Tommy & Rosie had a secret place of their own and tore the note up before she even gave it to Tommy. In the world of maybes, anything was possible.
'I like how Celeste signed her name.'
'I sign my notes to you with a lightning bolt.'
'I know, I like them too.'
'You sometimes sign yours with peace signs'
'Those should be our secret signatures & that way we don't have to sign our names. If we ever lose a note, no-one will know who it's from'
'Cool. I can handle that.'
Well, it didn't take Dennis long to pop my bubble on this one. A few days later, Lara, a mutual friend of ours, told me Dennis had given her a 'football.' A 'football' was a note folded & folded again until it was shaped like a tight little triangle that could be punted with a finger across a table, or even across the room. Hmmm....Dennis always gave me footballs, but I didn't know he was giving them to other people too. 'He signed it with a really cool drawing he did of a lightning bolt. ' I guess the lightning bolt and peace sign wasn't our secret signature, but more like his signature and mine. I found that as the school day wore on, it began to crawl up me that Dennis had taken what he had said was 'our secret' and shared it with Lara.
At the end of the day, I opted to bee-line for the cut-through road...I was down-right mad at Dennis for his misleading me into believing we had our own 'secret system' of signing notes. My brow furrowed under the high sun as I thought about Celeste, Tommy & Rosie. As I meandered my way into the shady wooded path, my mind drifted on to my mom, my dad and his girlfriend, Iris. I made a mental note to ask Mom if Lara was a flower. About 30feet to the right of the beaten path I saw a school of mushrooms, which I don't think had been there they day before. They were on the shady side of a fallen tree I sometimes would balance-beam walk across. I ventured over to check them out...soft and gray with a faint ring of peach at the edges. Quite pretty. I sat on the fallen tree & plopped the head off of one & inspected it's tightly ribbed underside. I wondered if it was poisonous.
About then I heard, laughter & chatter, so I froze just as I was...with my shoulders laying across my knees and my arms reaching down like an orangutans to the mushrooms. More chatter, then some whining and I knew exactly who I heard coming. The feeling seared through my body, as if that mushroom was poisoned with toxic adrenaline and anger and I had eaten some. But I hadn't eaten any mushroom and it wasn't poison. It was pure anger. Still, I didn't move. I wanted to blend right in with the woods.
'Yeah, she thinks this is a secret!Hahahaha'
'I think it's kinda scary.'
'It's not scary. Lots of people come through here.'
'We haven't seen any people'
'Yeah, but look how wide the path is...it's wider than the sidewalk.'
'Maybe it's where the bears and wolves...and werewolves walk.'
'Don't be silly. It's cool.'
Dennis! And Lara! That idiot! What was he thinking bringing little miss prim and clean through here! Every so quietly I picked up a fallen pine cone & I tossed it into the path before them. Lara jumped and screamed, while Dennis laughed and ran to grab the pine cone.
'Don't leave me.' she whined. Laughing he hurled the pine cone into the woods to the left.
'It's just a pine cone. They fall from the trees.'
'Yeah, well, maybe it's a sign. I've never seen a pine cone just fall like that.'
My adrenaline was racing...I was now furious and entertained. I stretched my long skinny arms out a little bit further to reach for another fallen cone and got two. As they walked passed me, with her whining & him re-assuring her, I wondered if he was questioning his own sanity for bringing her down here. Then I tossed another cone, lightly. It crashed into the path right behind them. Dennis looked a little shaken by this one and Lara was on the brink of tears, but they ventured on with their pace picked up quite a bit. The speed with which they were moving surprised me and before I knew it, I hurled the third pine cone as hard as I could.
It smacked Dennis right square in the middle of his back. He jumped, yelled & turned around...little, white fists drawn and Lara... she crumpled to the ground in tears.
My entertainment and anger quickly gave way to guilt, as I realized that not only was Lara in a fit of tears, but Dennis had tinkled himself...his faded Wranglers had gone dark blue in a ribboned reflection of his moment of fear.
Before I had time to think about what I was doing, I was calling and crawling out from my depth in the woods...'Hey you guys! Calm down! Its only me!'
All the anger I had felt ten minutes earlier was now directed back at me ten-fold. Dennis was livid. His face paled with fear, turned red with anger. Lara's tears turned into sobs and her whole body convulsed as she stood up from her crumpled position.
'What the hell were you thinking Paige?!'
'I was just playing around! What were you thinking Dennis?!'
'I didn't know what the hell was going on. You scared us! Lara's crying and I...'
'I know! I see! I didn't mean for that to happen! Maybe you should have gone to the bathroom before leaving school!'
Lara's sobs turned into words....'I-yi-yi neeeeeeed tooooo teeeeeeenkul'
Ugh, now my guilt was quickly reverting back to anger and was getting coupled with frustration. I should just kept the pine cones as my own damn secret!
'Go squat on that log so you don't pee on yourself too!'
'Yes, you can!'
'W-w-will you go with me?'
'C'mon. Dennis, you stand guard & don't look!'
'Ive never peed in the woods before.'
'Yeah, well Lara, there's no bathroom here.'
'What do I do?'
'Squat on the log, pull your panties down and tinkle.'
You would have thought the child had never stepped on a log before... as she began to squat down, she said 'what will I wipe with?'
'First of all Lara, stand the other way so that your tinkle falls on the ground behind the log...not on the log or it will splatter all back up on you and secondly, you wont wipe.'
'I can't do that. That's gross. I can't. I can't. I can't.'
'Ok, well then if you can't then let's go...but don't blame me if you tinkle yourself on the way home like Dennis did!'
Lara tinkled for so long over that fallen log that even I felt relief.
I never caught Dennis cheating and taking a peek. Despite being covered in urine himself, he seemed to be taking pride in his position as 'guard.'
The three of us walked the rest of the trail pretty much in silence, after Lara went pottty.
At one point Lara said 'This isn't so scary after all.'
'Dennis should have never brought you here.'
'It's not your secret place Paige' she piped off like little miss dignity.
'That's not the point Lara.'
'She's right Paige...lots of people come here. Look at the path, it's well worn'
'Again, that's not the point Tommy...I mean, Dennis'
Before I could answer Lara's question, Dennis told her 'It's a secret.'
And so these are the details that are behind my mother getting phone calls from 'concerned parents' and me ultimately getting shamed, warned of the dangers that lurk in the woods, shamed some more, warned about walking alone, more shaming & ultimately a night of rocking my bed in fits of confusion and anger.
For whatever reasons, the next afternoon I took the 'sidewalk' home.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Being a 'latch-key' kid of a single mom in the mid-1970's was kind of cool... in a cutting edge way.
While other kids had a schedule with which they expected to adhere, I could kind of make my own as long as all was good & done by the end of the day.
This sometimes meant watching Gilligans Island while Suzie did homework or playing in the hose while Dennis got whistled in by his momma for supper.
Every now and again, I would chase the ice cream man down the street with change stolen from my mother's jar.
I was a 'walker.'
Sometimes I felt like walking with Sabrina and she lived in the complete opposite direction. I would walk her home, eat whatever snack her mother handed out & then I would scoot on home.
Usually, I liked to take the 'cut-through.' I am not so sure that it was any less distance than any other way, but it was typically more peaceful & therefore the path I preferred, unless I felt like company. In the 'cut-through' path, I would venture out the side exit of the school building and cut through the fields that ultimately fed into the local high school. There, at the high school, I could walk the lap around their track and sometimes, I would venture into their expansive halls. Halls that had big-kid things...like lockers and vending machines. In the ominous halls, I would daydream about one day having a spin at their potters wheel or wearing wooden shoes that would echo down the hall & out to the world...'I am big!'
On the far side of the high school campus was a slightly worn path that cut through the woods and fed out to the street about five doors down from my house. I liked this trail, because I could walk leisurely & stop along the way... saving rolly-pollies, chasing butterflies & sabotaging massive anthills with sticks found along the way. I rarely saw other folks on it...occasionally a high school smoking. Looking back, I guess the desolate nature of this path was why Dennis & Lara told me that their mother's didn't allow them to take the 'cut-through' even though Dennis had taken it more than a time or two with me.
Rarely did I like to take the sidewalk. But if I was busy jabber-jawing and wanted to walk with friends, this was the route I would take. Solid sidewalks...from the main entry of my elementary school all the way to my house. It was also the path that almost all of the 'walkers' on my side took. To me, this meant getting stuck behind someone slower or having to cut-off into someone's yard or the street. It also meant having to either listen or talk to some folks I would just rather not deal with. This was the route that my mother had pointed out to me when we relocated there. I imagine, it was the path she preferred & probably thought I always took.
~~~To Read FullStory, In Order, Read Post Above Now, Then Continue Below~~~
For whatever reasons, the next afternoon I took the 'sidewalk' home. But I wasn't jabber-jawing and I wasn't walking with friends. I was walking alone in a swarm of kids. I was trying to be patient & not pass anyone in people's yards or the street. To slow my pace, I looked down & focused on the ground before me & not the kids in front of me that were walking too slow. To entertain my attempt at patience, I decided to step on every single crack in the concrete. Man-made cracks every three feet & crumpled up cracks from bulging tree roots...I stepped on them all.
With sirens faintly echoing off in the distance, I heard a familiar voice bark out at me "You trying to break your mothers back?"
I stopped and leered at Dennis, who had come up behind me..."No-oh, I don't believe that stuff."
"Yeah...but what if..."
Picking up my pace & still leering over my shoulder at Dennis, I started to say something rude and instead said "firetruck."
I could see it down our long stretch of road... a good 6 blocks off but coming our way.
Dennis turned and looked at it real quick and then piped off with 'Probably going to your house, since you been stepping on all them cracks."
"Don't say that Dennis"
"I'm only kidding"
"I know...but still."
The trucks passed us, turned up ahead & sirens disappeared.
Dennis joined me & we both picked up stride, passing the masses...not that we felt pressed to get anywhere. It's just what we did when in the herd-mentality, we liked to be at the front, even if we knew all the kids would be at home before we got to our final destinations.
At the four-way stop sign, where Dennis usually took to the left and me to the right, we stopped for a moment. Plopping our books on the concrete ditch coverage we sat over the world below and talked. We talked about car washes for money, the neighbors bunny farm & about how snobby-nosed Abbie thought her cousin looked like the Fonz, which ultimately made her as cool as sliced bread.
Finally, we heard the whistle of Dennis' mom.
Dennis headed off to the left & I took to the right.
My head must have been down to the ground, because at first I didn't see it and I know I should have.
Black smoke. Not gray, not blue...black.
Rolling, tumbling, lapping like the parched tongue of a dog in the dead heat of the summer, the smoke made it's way through the trees and into the sky.
I picked up my pace, thinking 'Oh yeah, there were firetrucks.'
Two more houses down, my stomach jumped to my throat, my heart sank to my groin and I dropped my books in a mad dash.
Then, I froze in my tracks...in the middle of the road and I let every doubt and every belief and every fear and every day dream I had ever had, every crack I had ever stepped on leached out of me in a scream....."DENNIS!!!"
Somehow, in an instant everything in my head placed blame on him & everything about me needed him more than ever.
Two doors down from my house, Dennis sat on the curb with me, as the firemen did their job.
"You should tell them."
"No, not yet"
After the fire was extinguished and the yellow tape was drawn...Dennis & I ventured closer to the house. The doors were gone, the windows were gone, the white brick was crumbled in some spots and was charred black & gray all over. Through the saturated & stained rumble I could see straight into the kitchen & hanging from the center wall was our phone ... a red wall-mounted rotary phone. It was stretched out to the floor, numbers in circles spanning two feet... like me, melted in its' place.
"You gotta tell them before they leave."
"See my phone? What am I gonna do? I was waiting to call my Mother first."
(Paths Home, Step on a Crack & Fireside Friends is from my imagination, not my past...a first for me here)
Today, the phone hangs, all five feet of it, like artwork from the kitchen wall.