I Tasted Death


 

 

 

I tasted death
on the lips of the woman who bore me.
I kissed her cheek.
I held her hand.
I took the candy from her very last breath.
It was sweet and I was surprised.
I sang her to The Gates that night
on the lyric of a song she taught me
long before she forgot my name.

 

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

 

She is standing by the Rock with her feet in the River,
charming that Gate Keeper with her jokes
and whistling for Eula Mae.
They watch Jeopardy
and know all the answers.
She spins her Wheel of Fortune
and Ed McMahon waits,
with a check made payable in her name.



The Best Sermon I Ever Heard…


Before I became Catholic, I was a Presbyterian, and before that, a Baptist. But after 40 years, I grew tired of Protestants, tired of their protesting, tired of their reforming, tired of myself and my own small wit trying to make the whole conflagration cool enough for the privilege of my presence. So I gave up and turned to the Mother Church where I now sit in the pew, kneel at the altar, eat the body, drink the blood, confess my sins twice a year and call it good. I can’t make the Church better with my lying, cheating self, so I hope to be made better by Her. So far, I’m not sure it’s working.

 

One of the things I grew to loathe about Protestant churches is the sermon. A 30, 40 sometimes 60 minute long exercise in self-important blathering on the part of someone who thinks his thoughts are original because he went to seminary. Catholic priests don’t really preach. They give a homily that, even if they’re long-winded, lasts 10 minutes. Then it’s on to the main thing. The Supper. The Last One. Every mass is a recounting of those three crucial days we Christians celebrate big at Easter time – A little dinner with friends, a little death by frenemies, a little taste of the glorious resurrection. Afterward it’s a bottle of wine and a Sunday ham, and we’re off to Monday to start it all over again. Frankly, this is why I like being Catholic. Just get to it, you know? Keep it moving. Life is short and donuts are waiting on the patio.

 

One sermon, though, before my Catholic conversion, almost permanently secured my spot in the protestant pews of Church-dom. It was the best sermon I ever heard.

 

It is January 2005, maybe a week after the Indian Ocean tsunami that wiped out more than 250,000 people at once. Everyone everywhere is undone, and all the big questions are colliding in everyone’s heads like plastic bottles in a furious, littered sea. How could this happen? How could God let it? Did God let it? Is God powerless to stop it? Is there a God at all, because if there is, he clearly lost his nerve some time before the turn of the 21st century or he surely would’ve prevented it, right? When questions with no answers like these get bandied about, sooner or later someone gets blamed – usually George W. Bush. But the fine churchgoers at Bel Air Presbyterian aren’t big on Bush bashing, and they haven’t as yet concluded that there is no God. They do wonder in earnest, however, how their loving, peaceful Deity could allow to happen such a horrific thing, with such horrific death on such a horrific scale.

 

“Why?” is the question on everyone’s mind as they await the beloved Protestant sermon from their beloved Protestant pastor. Though a visitor here, I want an answer too, as I’m no longer inclined to blame Bush for the world’s woes, yet not cynical enough to conclude there is no God. “Why?” indeed.

 

Pastor Brewer reads from Luke 3, a New Testament scripture quite unpopular amongst warm fuzzy Christians. To paraphrase: Some folks are inquiring after Jesus as to why a group of regular ol’ people minding their own business sweeping their dirt floors just got rounded up and pounded to death. An appropriate scripture for the day, I’m thinking. The people asking the question in this passage are religious and expect to hear Jesus say something like “Well, they were taken out because they have offended God! They’re getting what they deserve! They’re paying for their sins! But Jesus answers with just one word: “Repent.”

 

Oh he’s a sly one, that Jesus.

 

“Repent” repeats the pastor. I sink my head into my hands. Here we go. Here we go with the proselytizing. I can sort of take it from Jesus, but not from some modern day, BBQ-bellied pastor in a Hawaiian shirt. The Bible lays unopened on the pew beside me, next to it a short pencil with no eraser, the kind I used to scribble with as a kid as I listened to my daddy preach The Gospel all those years ago. A plastic communion “shot” glass lies empty on the floor at my feet, likely missed by an usher from the 8 am service.

 

“I don’t mean to sound callous,” says the preacher “and I know you all are looking for an answer. You want to know “why,” but I think we’re asking the wrong question,” he says. “Did you know that more than 150,000 people die in the world – every day? I hate to break it to you, but we’re all going to die. Some sooner, some later. The question is not “why?” but “are you ready?“

 

He does not launch into any kind of accept-Jesus-in-your-heart-or-burn-in-hell altar call. I think maybe this particular protestant preacher may actually, in good evangelical spirit, be talking to the cynics in the crowd, who upon hearing such Christian-ese would just walk out the door. Cynics like me.

 

“Kay”, I hear someone say from the pulpit, I swear I do, as a fog comes over the sanctuary and razor-sharp clarity steals my breath. “Do the people you love know you love them? Have you forgiven your parents? Your friends? The lovers who used you, scorned you, left you? Have you made amends for all the shit you pulled? Did you say thank you for the sunrise this morning? For your double espresso and your organic half and half? For your marvelous daughter and your steadfast husband? Did you tell the truth when you wrote those poems, or were you just looking to please everyone? Because if you haven’t and if you didn’t, and if you were, I suggest you get a move on and make it right, because you’re gonna die one day. Maybe soon. Maybe today. And to go to your grave with the people you love wondering if you really loved them, while still holding those grudges tight in your fist… To go to your grave with your truth untold, well that’s a particular kind of hell for you and everyone who loves you, now isn’t it?”

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” begins the Doxology. The plate is passed as a wave of sorrow crashes over me and sun light from the north window clears the fog from my brain. Everyone stands for the Mandate; heads are bowed for the Benediction. It isn’t until the sanctuary is empty that I feel Tim pulling at my arm. “Come on” he says. “We have to go get Esther.” I walk down the steps and out of the sanctuary without a word, my eyes wide open like glass, my heart torn asunder for the monstrous love I’ve left unspoken, and for the vast love murdered and maimed by a deep, cruel, disinterested sea half a world away, sunk in finality at the floor of the Indian Ocean.

 

Yep. That was the best sermon I ever heard. I don’t much ask “why?” anymore when something awful happens in the world. I light a candle for the dead and the mourning, and wonder, when it’s my turn, if I’ll be ready.

 



A Beautiful Brain



I’m writing a book of letters to my daughter. On the eve of Esther’s 9th birthday, here is an excerpt.

 

Dear Esther;

 

Yesterday, just before you drifted off to sleep, you asked me why it is that everyone in your class is so much faster than you are, why you are so slow getting your work done at school. This question hit me hard. It’s the first time you’ve verbalized any knowledge that you are different than your classmates, and I was worried that you might be starting to doubt yourself and your abilities. So, let me explain something.

 

It’s a little more complicated than this, but basically, there are two sides to your brain, the left side and the right side. The left side is… well… it’s black and white, it moves left to right, it’s logical, orderly, and analytical. The right side is in full blooming color. The right side moves in circles, wanders around a lot, and finds answers outside the lines. The right side dances with tree frogs and paints with a spoon. The right side is magical and knows you’re a part of everything and everyone. The lines on the right side are squiggly and blurry but sometimes there just aren’t any lines separating anything from anything else. Life on the right side is open and boundless and hops on one foot from gumdrop to marshmallow. You, my little cabbage, are a right-brained girl.

 

Now it just so happens that you go to a left-brained school, which, frankly, sucks. I mean, it’s a really good school; it’s just not a really good school for you. Most schools are left-brained, and the schools that are right-brained usually cost a lot more money than we have, which is a bummer. If we had the money you’d surely be attending one, but since you’re not, you’re having to fight quite an internal battle to get the right side of your brain to do stuff better suited to the left side. You’re the square peg, sweetheart, working to get into that pesky little round hole. So, the truth is you are NOT slower than the rest of your class. In fact, you are likely working a million times harder than the rest of them and your brain is going a zillion miles a minute. You’re thinking about 25 things while they’re thinking about one! And that’s why it’s so hard for you to concentrate on just the one thing your teacher asks you to. Besides, you’ve got far more interesting things on your mind than writing the answer to 341 minus 267. I mean, who cares about that when there’s infinity to ponder and a unicorn prancing on a rainbow right at the edge of your eyelashes?

 

You also happen to be a very bouncy girl who hates to sit her bottom in a seat, so a classroom chair for you is like prison. You’d much rather be jumping rope and doing cartwheels and handstands to backbends, right? Well, you put that right brain together with your bouncy body, and doctors and teachers and psychologists like to call that ADHD, and they like to call it “disordered” and they like to “medicalize” it and medicate it and make it out like there’s something wrong with you. But there is nothing wrong with you. You just don’t fit into their left brained, black and white, orderly, logical world. Did you know, Esther, that your mommy is right-brained too? Did you know that when I was little they didn’t understand people like us at all, and that my 2nd grade teacher actually called me stupid? Isn’t that the silliest thing ever? I knew you ‘d think so…

 

I’ll tell you what else, Esther, right-brained people are the ones who make the world beautiful with paintings and poetry and purple pixie lipstick. And we don’t care about time. What is time, anyway, except an arbitrary boundary some left-brain people decided to place on our planetary experience? For you and for me there is no time, there is only right now. So how are we supposed to solve 50 multiplication facts in 15 minutes? What does that even mean? I’ll tell you what it means. It means nothing. Nothing at all. We can solve those problems, no doubt, but what’s with the clock? Why is that important? Why are only the ones who can finish in 15 minutes called smart? Why can’t we take 3 earthly days to finish? Why does that make us stupid? I know, Esther. I don’t get it either.

 

So remember, sweetheart. You are not slow; you are timeless. While others live bound by subjective time restraints, you live in infinity, so you’ve got forever to ponder 12 times 9. And when you finally decide to write it down, you’ll do it with your favorite markers and make the answer come alive with every color the world’s palette has to offer. You’ve got a beautiful brain, Esther. And one day, you’ll realize not only how lucky you are to have it, but that left-brain people envy you for it, and are awestruck by it, and wish they could be like you.

 

Love you, honey…

 

Mama.



Everybody’s An Expert


 

Everybody’s an expert.
Go to a surgeon,
he’ll tell you to have surgery.
Go to a hairdresser,
she’ll tell you to get a haircut.
Go to a bankruptcy attorney,
he’ll tell you to file.
Go to a priest,
he’ll tell you to confess.

 

If you ask me,
I’d say
worry,
sing,
write,
announce your arrival;
then have a pint of beer
and get over yourself.



The Long Goodbye


 

“Mommy?” she asks, taking my hand as we walk our afternoon ritual to the pool. “When people go to college, do they take their stuff with them when they go?”

 

“Yes” I say. “They do.” She stops in the middle of the street.

 

“Everything? Even their beds? Even their toys and their clothes?”

 

“Yes, sweetheart, everything. Now, keep walking. Don’t stop in the middle of the street.” I pull her along as I always do, trying not to rush her out of her thoughts, which frustrates her beyond measure.

 

“Well I don’t want to do that when I go to college,” she says, slowing down, hopping on one foot. I let go of her hand and let her hop. She’s happy when she hops.

 

“I’m guessing you may very well want to when you get to be that age.” I reply. She stops hopping, runs to my side and buries her face in my belly after poking it with her index finger a few times.

 

“No mama. I never want to leave. I always want to be with you. Always. I love you toooooo much. I could never leave you. Never.” She unwraps herself from my body and opens the pool gate. She runs for the water and I watch as she leaps.



Little Words



 

I thank God for little words
which, when strung together by brave souls,
can bring tears over the brim of my eyes
and waves over my flesh where no ocean lives.

 

Once to my ears, and only for a moment,
they are quakes in the core of my heart
and music to the dead of my bones.



The Imposition of Ashes and The Hope for A Little Hope…


 

Today is Ash Wednesday. I could get all technical on you about what that means in the Catholic Church, but I think I’ll stick to what it means to me. It’s the beginning of Lent, the 40 days before Easter, the day after Mardi Gras, a time which serves to remind me of my faults and shortcomings as a parent, a wife, a friend, a human being. It causes me to take stock of my life, be mindful and, in short, do something for 40 days to keep me mindful. Ideally, however, it causes me to place my focus back on the hope brimming at the horizon.

 

Today also happens to be the day that, after mass, Esther is to be awarded as Student of the Month. I knew this was coming, but she did not, and I was very excited for her. I wanted this day to be happy, special, and joyful, from the moment she opened her eyes. This, to me, would be a little Easter for my Esther, a little bit of life and hope in the midst of an ongoing struggle, too many days where I know she has felt hopeless. She has been working very hard in school to overcome some minor learning, vision, and sensory issues. She’s made a lot of progress and I am terribly proud of her. Esther is also terribly hard on herself and more often than not expresses with a grief no child should know at such a young age a sense of failure about her inability to do what the other kids seem to do so easily.

 

I woke her up, stroked her little face and snuggled in bed with her as I do every morning. I told her how much I love her and how today is going to be such a good day if we can all stay focused and work together to get ourselves ready. She smiled at me, as she does every morning, and said how much she loves me.

 

With a bit of prodding, she got dressed in good time and sat down to her breakfast of choice – waffles with an ice cold glass of milk. While at the table she found a piece of her religion homework that should’ve been done last night, but could easily be done while eating breakfast. No cause for alarm. No morning derailment. It was about the meaning of Lent, of course, and why we give something up or choose to do something nice for the period of time before Easter arrives. This led to us talking about the meaning of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Here’s her interpretation: On Ash Wednesday, people who were fat on Tuesday give up eating for 40 days. Clearly, we’ve got some work to do. She then rather suddenly announced with fear and welling tears that she didn’t want to get ashes on her forehead because they would never come off. I tried to explain that they come right off, but the ship had already left the dock. In an instant the time was gone. I was not dressed, her lunch was not made, and my husband was irritated that I told him he needs to put more peanut butter on the bread for her sandwich. I am now irritated with him for being sensitive about peanut butter sandwiches. But we are silent. We are always silent. And the tension grows. The blissful morning I had hoped for is now done for. Is it really too much to ask for a school-day of sunshine for my girl? The makings of a good memory, something to get her through the next few months until her carefree summer arrives? I guess it is. Her teeth are not brushed and her hair is not combed and now she is crying because she has been prodded and rushed and scurried out of her comfort zone. And we are late.

 

By the time I was able to attend to myself I, too, had been prodded and rushed and scurried out of my comfort zone. Now there is no time for a shower, no time for makeup, and barely enough time to brush my teeth. My own hopelessness sets in. Nothing will ever go as planned, no good memory will ever be made. Nothing I do is right. Why should I bother? Doesn’t anyone see how hard I am trying to make my daughter’s childhood better than my own? Doesn’t anyone give a shit?

 

We are silent in the car until Esther speaks up to say that she feels like she ruined every thing because she is a crybaby. Now, how do I respond honestly here? Do I tell her, ya, you did ruin it by being a whiny-ass 8 year old who is totally ungrateful for everything you have? Or do I placate her, hope for an in to a happy moment and tell her no, you are not a crybaby, everyone has bad mornings and you are as good a little girl as they come? I opt for something else entirely. “Esther” I say with resolve. “We all have a choice to make when we wake up in the morning. We choose to be happy or we choose to be grumpy. We choose to see what good there is or we choose to see the bad. You can’t ruin my day. Only I can ruin my day. And you are the only one who can ruin yours. It’s your choice.” Hmmm… perhaps this is a bit too heady for a second grader. I know it’s too heady for me at the moment, since in my head I am blaming a litany of people on the planet for my existential misery. “Yes, mommy. I understand,” she says. I think she says it just to get me to shut up. I think I’ve scarred her for life.

 

 

We arrive at church and Esther runs to sit with her class. Tim and I hesitate about where to land, and wind up sitting ourselves on the sidelines with The Blessed Virgin and an insanely loud child I would very much like to discipline seeing as his mother is not interested in doing so. I settle and stare into space, lamenting that this day is not what I had hoped for. My heart sinks a mite further and I feel the sting and water rise behind my eyes. Here they are. Finally. My hopeless tears. My husband is right next to me but feels a million light years away. Why doesn’t he say something? Put his hand on my arm. Comfort me. Something. A thought flashes through my head – why don’t I comfort him? Why don’t I reach out to him? Maybe he’s crying too but doesn’t show his tears…

 

I stand to see Esther receive her ashes. She sees me, points at her forehead and gives me a big smiling thumbs up. She did it. I hope she is not ruined for doing so, given her fear that they’ll never come off. I think twice about receiving the Eucharist. “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” the Mass says. Truer words have not rumbled through my bones. If there’s one thing I’ve learned you DON’T do in a moment of darkness, it’s deny the light. And so I get in line behind the 4th graders to receive the Host.

 

 

 

 

After mass, the principal stands at the lectern to announce this month’s honored students. This is the moment. “Second Grade: Esther Klassen.” Applause. Applause. Applause. I watch her face break into an incredulous grin and she bounds for the altar. There it is. There’s the joy, however fleeting… Sweet, sparkling, bubbling over… She stands with the other kids holding high her certificate and beams at her daddy and me. She puts the certificate in her mouth and gives me an “I love you” in American Sign Language. I sign back to her “I love you too.” Tim turns and smiles at me and puts his hand on my knee.

 

Well, whaddya know… Perhaps there is a little mercy in that Host we just received, and in our willingness to muddle through the morning. Perhaps this will be a good memory for Esther. Perhaps a day that started out badly, will turn out well. There is the hope brimming on the horizon, and the day has just begun…

 

 



A Clown To Entertain You…



 

I am crude among the artists
Petal fallen from the bloom
Neo-con amongst the Libs
The elephant in the room

 

With the skeptics I am Jesus
A thorn in both their sides
I am the whore among the Fundies
The beldam with the bride

 

I am stained among the sainted
On a cross of my own making
A believer with the atheist
A martyr at the staking

 

I doubt among the certain
My finger’s in the wound
My stammer’s in the speaking
I’m a lyric with no tune

 

I am the black sheep in the barn
I know where I belong
A clown to entertain you
With a poem and a song

 

photo/artwork by Vanessa Lemen



Math


Another “write like you talk” piece. It’s good to be back in writing class.

 

I was never good at math, and not being good at math definitely made me think I was not very smart. It sucks to carry that around your whole life. I can trace it all the way back to second grade, which I’m sure is why I feel so anxious about my daughter’s second grade year in school. So much happens to us when we’re young, stuff that forms us, forms our sense of our selves for a long long time, if not forever… Anyway, I remember second grade. My teacher was Mrs. Hoanig. She had a beehive and horn-rimmed glasses. She was tall and kind of thick in the middle. She always wore a dress, with stockings and low-heeled pumps. I guess all the female teachers wore dresses. These were the days before girls could wear pants to school – even public school, which is where I was.

 

I think I had been out sick for a week or something, and I was behind in math. Maybe 20 pages behind in the workbook. It seemed insurmountable to me. Pure dread. And what is true now, was true back then. You can’t push me to do something. If you do, I’ll stand firm in my tracks and I will not budge. I guess Mrs. Hoanig was trying to push me to catch up, and the more she pushed, the more I resisted. My dad came in to have a meeting with her and after going around in circles with her for a bit, as he recalls, he finally demanded that she just “get off my back.” I don’t think it was a friendly meeting. The next day during math, Mrs. Hoanig asked me to open up my workbook and proceeded to tear out all the past pages I had yet to complete and rip them to shreds. I guess that was her way of getting off my back. A week later my dad had me moved to Mrs. Van Dyke’s class. I liked her. She was nice, and I didn’t seem to have any more problems in school, except that nagging sense that I was no good at math. I’m not sure how I found out, but somewhere in the chain of events it was revealed to me that Mrs. Hoanig thought I was a daydreamer, unfocused, lazy and, the pièce de résistance, “mentally retarded” – as they said back in 1969. That was confusing to me as a child as I didn’t really know what she meant. As I got older, it became very clear.

 

In retrospect, I was a pretty good student. My teachers liked me. I got A’s and B’s, but I never fancied myself smart. In high school I took honors Algebra because my mom, who taught English at the school, wanted me to have this particular teacher, John Richards, who was hailed as the best. Because I was getting a B, I begged Mr. Richards to put me in Algebra A/B, which was the “remedial” Algebra class. He refused and said I was doing well, that a B was good. He just wanted me to show my work. That’s the thing. I couldn’t. Algebra made sense to me on an intuitive level and I couldn’t always show my work. I just figured out the answers in my head. But not showing your work could lead a teacher to think you’re cheating, so I understandably lost credit for some correct answers I couldn’t prove.

 

I did badly on the SAT’s, I mean really badly. My combined score was something like 775, and a perfect combined score was 1600. I think we can all do the math on that one. Nonetheless, I got into USC based on my GPA, my writing ability and an audition for the BFA acting program. Thank God for acting or I never would’ve gone to college. Still, I hated the lower division core classes. Hated them. I tested poorly and didn’t do well under pressure. All I wanted to do was play, and acting was playing. I loved my sophomore year. It was all Shakespeare. And I had a huge crush on two of my acting teachers, one from whom I had the privilege of getting a very popular STD, but that’s another story… So let me just say that I freaked out 3 days into my junior year (my first full fledged panic attack), walked off campus and never returned. That was it. A full scholarship to USC and I trampled on it; looked that gift horse right in the mouth and walked away. What a fool.

 

When I was 30, I decided to go back to college and see if I might get myself a degree. With so much time having passed since I’d walked off the USC campus, I’d have to take algebra all over again. I don’t have to get an A, I thought, I just have to pass. I mean, we’re all impressed when someone graduates from Harvard, but really, does anyone ask their GPA? No. So… I enrolled.

 

I took an evening class designed for terrified adults who’d been scarred by math in one way or another and it was nice to be in a room of people just like me. Ann Carroll was the instructor. I will never forget her. She loved math. I mean she REALLY loved math, in a way that only genuine geeks could love it. She saw its beauty and thought it transcendent. She got so excited when she had the chance to share with us more over-arching mathematical concepts and the joy in discovering absolute truths. I loved her for this, and I loved this class. There were no timed tests. There was no pressure placed on grades. She wanted us to love math. She wanted us to settle in, be thoughtful, and contemplate. I looked forward to Wednesday evenings, and eventually I lost my fear of weekly quizzes. I got it. Finally, I understood.

 

At the end of the semester, Ms. Carroll gave us a practice final, and if we did well, we didn’t have to take the real one. I was hoping to do well, since not taking the final meant I’d get out of school two weeks early. I felt like a kid all over again, eager and impatient for summer vacation. On the day of the practice final, I came into class, sat down, and waited. My hands were clammy. Even after all these years as a grown-up, I was still nervous… and a little sick to my stomach. I hate tests. Hate them. Especially finals. God, they just sound so… terminal. Ms. Carroll handed each of us one sheet of paper with 10 questions. “Begin” she said. Breathe, I thought. You can do this. Go ahead and show your work even. You know how to do it now. The classroom was full and stuffy and had a nervous feeling about it. Fluorescent lights flickered above, the clock buzzed on the wall and the sound of pencils held in the hands of my classmates began to scratch on paper. My seat was hard plastic held to its metal legs by four cold steal rivets. The desks reminded me of grade school – pale green metal with a wooden top you could open to store your books. It felt good when my knees touched the underside, like an ice pack on my body in the heat of a fever. Ms. Carroll was at her desk in the front of the room, with that quirky, perpetual smile on her face. She had rosacea, which made her cheeks and nose look red and swollen like WC Fields. She wore the same thing she always did, an over-sized white blouse, khaki pants and Birkenstock’s. She had large floppy breasts and her bras just weren’t quite working for her. I could probably help her with that. but how in the world does a person broach that subject? Anyway… The chalkboard was empty. No equations, no scribbles, just a lone, unused eraser sitting on the tray of the board. My pencil rolled off my desk and fell to the floor. I picked it up and started to work.

 

About an hour later, I was done. I checked everything one more time, then got up to turn in my test to Ms. Carroll, who graded it on the spot. When she was done she stood up, interrupting the class. “Excuse me, everyone. “ I started to walk back to my seat. “No, no. Stay here, Kay” she said. I stayed, but started to get a little nervous. What on earth was she about to say, and oh God I hope I haven’t done something wrong. “I just wanted to let you all know” she said, “that in my entire teaching tenure, I have never had a student earn 100% on every quiz and every test and the practice final… until today. I think we all need to give Kay here a round of applause.” The students put down their pencils and applauded me as Ms. Carroll gave me a hug. “You’re free to go“ she said. “I really don’t have to take the final?” I whispered. “Nope. You’re done. Great job.” I smiled and thanked her. I didn’t know how to thank her enough. I went back to my desk to get my things as the class went back to their tests. I put on my back pack, walked out the door, and burst into tears.

 

So, Mrs. Hoanig, I guess you were wrong. I am smart. I’m not bad at math. And I’m not mentally retarded. It only took me 25 years to undo what you did. But, finally, I did. Whaddya think of that?



My Regular Self


I wrote this as part of an assignment in a writing class. I’ll not bore you with the details of the assignment, except to say that this is not a polished piece of writing. It is “stream of consciousness” as it were, with run-on sentences and all. Sometimes the essence of something is lost when you try to clean it up too much. And the essence of this, it seems to me, might be worth tripping over a few clods of dirt.

 

Yesterday at mass, the priest was telling a story about Jesus. Well, that’s a big surprise, huh? Anyway… I was busy trying to get my kid to settle down and stop talking and stop drawing on the pew cushion, telling her to wait to talk to the priest until mass is over (she always wants to talk to the priest in the middle of the homily, raising her hand, calling his name, like some teacher’s pet in Freshman English.) I was trying hard not to swear, as I tend to do under my breath when frustrated with my kid, but you know, front row at the family mass… not a good place to be saying things like “Goddamn it Esther, please be quiet I’m trying to hear the homily” or “Jesus Christ Esther, can’t you see we’re praying?” Wafting in and out of my ears I hear a few of the words of Father Kurt (our resident Hippy Priest complete with Birkenstock’s and ponytail) about how Jesus wants us to be totally ourselves, full of life, joyful etc., and that Jesus cares so much about this he’ll pursue us into the depths of hell (if that’s where we are) and even hang a while to convince us to step away from the dark side (Ya. Darth Vader references and all) although he won’t hang forever because you have to actually want to leave hell yourself. You can’t be taken without permission. You have to want to get out to actually get out. Anyway. He kind of lingers on that notion for a minute and I’m thinking about donuts, wondering when I can go outside and get one and, most importantly, find my husband to take Esther for a minute so I can eat my donut in peace.

 

Then my daughter tugs at me, waking me from my donut dreams, and says “Ya, Mama. I don’t want to be there.”
“Where?” I said.
“Where the priest said. In that place.”
“In hell?” I whispered, incredulous that she was actually cognizant of the subject matter.
“Ya” she says. “I don’t want to go there. I just want to be my regular self.”

 

I just want to be my regular self. I just want to be my regular self. Jesus. This gem of wisdom from my five-year-old. I squeezed her so tight she whacked me. Right on the cheekbone.

 

That’s all I want too. I just want to be my regular self. I have been wanting to be my regular self now for about 45 years… and that, my friends, is long enough to forget who your regular self is.

 

I think I’m in that place my daughter doesn’t want to go. Have I really been here that long? Oh my god. I have no idea how to be my regular self.