Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tasty!



This one will probably only be interesting to those who know and love Heidi already :)

It seems that Heidi has adapted to German weather pretty well.  Born in Alabama, raised in Florida, and vacationing in and around Italy, our puppy has always known some serious sunshine.  When we first moved to Germany last January, we went from sun to snow in a matter of hours, and our little lady wasn’t sure what to make of it at first.  What was this cold, white stuff she was forced to stand in to do her business?  The disdain was clear across her face as she tried to walk without letting the foot-deep snow touch her belly, and the cold was certainly something for Little Miss Sunshine to get used to.

Today, a bit over a year later, she added snow to her ever-growing list of delicacies.  I'd say she's come around.  While Chris and I were trying out our new snowball makers, Heidi was fervently gobbling up the small chunks of snow by our feet.  She ate not only as if she hadn’t done so in days, but also as if these bits of snow were concealing something as sinfully delicious as cat feces, one of her favorites.  Mature as we are,  we decided to offer her a perfectly formed snowball to see what she might do with it, and watched as she went from ginger nibbles to monster bites, savagely devouring the snow.  Our dog is weird.

If snow isn’t odd to you, try the Duraflame fireplace log Heidi snacked on this last week while we were out.  Really?  Duraflame?  She’s still with us, thank goodness for that, but her increasingly billy-goatesque tendencies are making us more cautious about what we leave within her reach.  But come on- Duraflame?  

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

a song

Isn’t it strange how in the midst of our current lives, busy and confused, we find comfort in the drownings of the past.  We know they’re drowned, because we were the ones who held them under until they no longer made us cry, until they no longer possessed the power to bring a wince across our face.  These things that are gone now, dead to us, we drowned for a reason, but every now and then, even the longest dead resurface for a moment.  I think we’re the ones who bring them up, maybe searching for something good we had only when we had that miserable part, too.  Maybe the comfort lies in the past that was good before it began to rot, before our eyes, under our noses, and within our chests.  Maybe that’s why now when that old song comes on the radio I don’t feel bitter, and I don’t feel sad.  Now, so many years later, it only reminds me of the reason it ever became so embedded in my heart.  That first love. 

That song used to make me smile until my face hurt, or my eyes flooded over with longing.  The words were suddenly mine, written for the first boy I ever fell in love with.  The music was the love I wanted so badly to make to him, flowing and pulsing in my ears and through my body.  I wanted everything then; love, promise, forever.  That song filled me with heavy amour to my ears until all I could hear was a distant beat playing under water.  That’s how much I loved him, and every time I heard that song, I drowned. 

Then that song abruptly turned from warm liquid to jabbing shards of ice.  It acquired the ability to cause me to vomit with just its opening notes.  Suddenly, that song became the poison that ate away at me, my broken heart and my embittered spirit for much too long.  That song became the anthem for loneliness and I hated it more than I hated him.  Even two years later hearing that song unexpectedly on the radio called for an instant reflex of channel change, like someone tapping your knee.

Now, sitting in my car with that same, old song, I’m comforted by what I had in that time, even if it did end painfully.  I let myself trail back to a time when I was na├»ve about the world, and my desires were so simple; a time when I had no scars to carry with me the stories of my life that cut deeply enough; a time when I didn’t understand how vulnerable loving someone makes you.  I long not for ignorance, but for peace and simplicity, and first love.  And I don’t miss him, but how my life was for a little while when it whirled around him, when I first learned what it was to lose myself to a feeling.  That song places me in shoes now too small and unscathed soles brand new.  That song lets me be her again, before the sky came crashing down; fresh, dreaming, and unscarred. 

 


It happened...

from 2000, days at UF


It happened.  And it was nothing like I thought it would be; but few things are, I suppose.  So many times I imagined seeing a certain face, saying certain words, feeling certain ways.  So many times, but so many times didn’t equal what actually happened.  In my mind, we’d be bitter, or we’d be cold.  In my mind, one of us would win and one of us would not.  It was always like that with this mind, the thinking behind the eyes that once beheld mine so carefully.  In my mind, I expected games.  In my heart, I expected a little stale pain left over from years ago when we still knew each other. 

It happened.  And it was nothing like I thought it would be.  I turned a corner and you left a building and there we were.  Three years since the catastrophe and two since I last saw your face and there we were, face to face.  Again.  My heart jerked from the surprise and I slowed without thinking, not sure what to say.  It felt like I’d found something I knew I’d run across some day but wasn’t quite prepared for yet.  The way our eyes traced each other’s two years aged bodies and faces… it was curious; it was interesting.  It was nothing like I thought it would be.  It was gentle and it was ambivalent.  It was strange.  We stared at each other.  The interest and the inquisitive gleam shooting between us were clearly visible and there was nothing I could do to control either one.  But I suppose there would have been no use in trying to contain such natural responses to resurfaced drownings of the past.   

It happened.  I saw the older face of a boy I once knew and he saw me, too.  We wondered with our eyes and asked not the questions that wanted so much to be asked with our mouths.  We remembered with our souls the pains we endured for and because of each other.  We, in that moment, experienced each other.  And it was nothing like I thought it would be.

Open Wound




I am an open wound.  But not in a bad way.  I’m freshly punctured, split open and exposed to more than I ever knew I didn’t see.  I’m full of fluid and blood running out of the corners of this slightly parted mouth, like tears out of the corner of your eye.  I’m crying because of what I see for the first time.  I’m bleeding and open and warm and here, and I feel so alive.  A fog of awareness lifts out of me and thins and clears as it disperses and absorbs into everything.  I am in everything now.  I see everything.  I feel it.  Suddenly every movement, every sound tickles the sensitive rim of my open awareness.  Suddenly, I am a hole hungry for more, gaping and waiting to be fed more, more knowledge, more feeling, more life.  I am curious and excited and terrified lips ready to taste everything I never imagined, anxious to kiss every experience square in the mouth.  I am sore inside, but only because of what I haven’t felt yet, sore because this is the first time I’ve opened so wide to accept the world I was afraid of for so long.  I’m sore because I’ve just been born in a way, and I’m bleeding, bleeding, bleeding to feel.  I’m overflowing with tears and sweat and excitement, waiting for it to begin, waiting to see all there is to see.  I’m here.  Finally.  Here and on my way somewhere even better, even more enlightened and liberated and flying.  I never thought I’d be on my way to where I’m headed, simply because I never knew it was there.  I never knew for the skin over my eyes, my shallow consciousness.  But now something has broken through and found me waiting beneath the surface, waiting to be set free.  Waiting to be touched.

I am an open wound.  But not in a bad way.

The Sandbag Family







The Sandbag family lived on an island

in the Mediterranean Sea.
And among them were nine Sandbag Sisters,
all of whom dreamed of what else could be.



Hannah dreamed of her own great house
perched upon a greater hill.

Megan dreamed of a working ranch

with plenty of land to till.



Tracy dreamed of seeing the world,
capturing it in prose and rhyme,
while Krista dreamed of saving it
one little child at a time.



Carol dreamed of sailing away
to discover an unknown place.
Jenny longed for her own island,
so she’d never lack for space.



Nelly dreamed of flying a plane
and soaring above the clouds.
Alice dreamed of having the privacy
to yell all her dreams out loud.



And last but not least was Elizabeth Sue
who wanted nothing but this;
to paddle away on her own boat of dreams
in search of the perfect kiss.




The nine Sandbag Sisters cried and complained
for they never got to leave home.
The oldest was twenty, the youngest just ten,
but all wished equally to roam.



So one fall evening, their father came in,
his hands all blistered and worn,
and told them he’d built a boat for each one
so all their dreams could be born.



The Sandbag Sisters cheered with glee
and named each vessel that day.
They tied them up tight, that very same night,
So they couldn’t drift away.




Days crept by, and turned to years,
but still those boats were bound. 
What good is it to have a dream
that’s tied and anchored down?






The Dragon Slayer: A version by Lindsey Keith



Once upon a time there lived a queen and her king in a great castle in a land overrun with dragons and thieves.  The Queen Lillian and her husband appointed committees to remedy the problems but each leader was either eaten or kidnapped and sold into slavery, and without a leader the committees faded back into the village outside the castle gates.  Both the Queen and King were naturally very protective of their only son, Conner, and never allowed him to venture beyond the gates of the castle, for fear he might be robbed or sold or stolen to be fed to the grumpy monsters that lingered just within the woods’ edge.  One day the King Dale came up with a grand idea.  He proposed that they should make it known not only to their village, but to neighboring ones, as well, that their son was of age to be married and that any suitor who should be able to solve the kingdom’s problems of dragons and thieves should be rewarded with their son’s partnership in marriage and the kingdom to rule.  Surely they would find a worthy wife for their son while taking care of the kingdom at the same time.  And so it was said and the word of it spread quickly to kingdoms miles away.
One Saturday the Queen and her King were told three suitors had arrived at hearing the proposal of the King.  The suitors were received by the Queen and her King, along with Conner. 
The first young woman who carried a great sword stepped up and replied, “My name is Jane and I’ve come 50 miles to rid your kingdom of dragons and thieves and take your son as my husband.”
“We will give you just one chance to do so, young Jane.  If you successfully rid our kingdom of dragons and thieves within one week you will marry our son on Saturday and there will be a great feast in your honor.”
So the young women were each taken to her quarters and Jane began to formulate a plan to win the prince’s partnership in marriage and the kingdom to rule.  She kept to herself and left every morning and returned every night tired and grumpy.  Each day she sought out dragons and fought each one with her great sword.  By the end of the week half the dragons had been slain but every thief remained. 
So the second young woman who carried a sack of rocks stepped up and replied, “My name is Mary and I’ve come 100 miles to rid your kingdom of dragons and thieves and take your son as my husband.”
“We will give you just one chance to do so, young Mary.  If you successfully rid our kingdom of dragons and thieves within one week you will marry our son on Saturday and there will be a great feast in your honor.”
So the young women each all went to her quarters and Mary began to formulate a plan to win the prince’s partnership in marriage and the kingdom to rule.  She kept to herself and left every morning and returned every night tired and grumpy.  Each day she sought out thieves and told them the rocks she carried were worth more than gold just across the sea and so was robbed of every rock.  By the end of the week half the thieves had left for sea but every dragon remained. 
And so the third young woman who carried nothing at all stepped up and replied, “My name is Grace and I’ve come from your own village to rid your kingdom of dragons and thieves and take your son as my husband.”
“We will give you just one chance to do so, young Grace.  If you successfully rid our kingdom of dragons and thieves within one week you will marry our son on Saturday and there will be a great feast in your honor.”
So the young women each all went to her quarters and Grace began to formulate a plan to win the prince’s partnership in marriage and the kingdom to rule.  She kept to herself and left every morning and returned every night satisfied.  The first day she sought out one thief and followed him to a lair where the ban of them gathered.  The second day she sought out one dragon and followed him to a cave where the dragons lived.  The third day she went to the thieves’ lair and told them she’d found piles of gold in a cave up the mountain.  The thieves pushed her out of the way and raced to the mountain and disappeared into the dragon’s cave.  By the end of the week every  thief had been eaten by a dragon and every dragon had died of eating a rotten thief.
The Queen and her King were overjoyed and cried, “You have successfully rid our kingdom of dragons and thieves.  You will marry our son on Saturday and there will be a great feast in your honor.”
And so there was and all  the kingdom was invited to celebrate the riddance of dragons and thieves, as well as the marriage of Conner and Grace.  Grace would be the kingdom’s new queen and Conner the king when the time came and the kingdom flourished, no longer in fear.
And they lived happily ever after.

I'm Inspired By Your Shirt

           November is my favorite month in Florida because where I live it’s not too cold but the heat’s mostly scared off by the threat of a seasonal change.  Sadly it’s always just a threat, for Florida knows no such seasons.  I remember sitting in my office staring out of my imaginary window and wondering what would happen if I stood up and threw myself down the aisle of cubicles screaming for mercy.  Would Harry poke out of his office and tell me to pack my desk up?  Probably not.  They’d probably just let me take a twenty-minute power nap in the new employee lounge and give me extra strong coffee.  That silly Garrison, they’d say, and then they’d all fall back into the drone of the day that sucks us dry from eight to five every day of the grueling work week.  I don’t know what it was about this particular day, but I decided instead of making a scene, I’d just leave.  My mother’d sent me a brochure on an artist’s camp only about an hour from where I lived where you could go and look at trees, I guessed, and be inspired.  I thought the idea of it sounded a little absurd, you can’t invoke the inspiration to create, but something about my very solid, white window made me consider using it as an excuse to find the time to paint and get out of town for a few days. 
            I’d been painting since I was in kindergarten like all kids with anxious fingers and anything of color thick and thin enough to work as paint, but I kept it going.  All the way through college I painted, even got a few girls to pose in my poor excuse for an apartment.  That night after work as I read over the brochure I realized I hadn’t even touched a canvas in three years.  Brighton’s Artist Hideaway:  We just give you the space and you fill it in.  Catchy.  It was a sophisticated kind of thing, as it appeared, where you were put up in a personal cabin, offered several workshops and classes from the fundamentals of oil painting and sculpting basics to yoga and tai chi.  I figured I could use the break and surprisingly enough, Harry didn’t protest mush to giving me a couple days off.  I think it was the lack of dilation in my eyes, but who knows.
            Friday morning I packed up all my painting supplies and a couple blank canvases and set out for Brighton’s.  I was twenty-eight and off to camp.  When I arrived I was checked in and supplied with all necessary information to choose any classes I wanted to attend, then tucked away into a small but quite comfortable cabin, of course nested right by the central lake.  I ended up signing up for a meditation class Saturday morning and Sunday, a human form sketch class.  But as for Friday, as soon as I tried out the bed I was gone, out cold until about seven o’clock in the evening.  It was spectacular.
            I woke and eventually dragged out of the cabin to take a walk around.  It was like a huge deep breath, being there away from offices and jamming fax machines and nasal voices.  I just walked around a bit, nodding a few hellos to fellow campers as I strolled down the wood-chipped path by the water.  I almost felt relaxed.
            Saturday morning I learned I didn’t know how to release my mind and the young instructor took it upon himself to enlighten me.  I was determined to get my money’s worth and damnit I was going to meditate.  At the end of the session I figured out how to forget myself, and it was amazing.  Still being early I rolled on down to the lake and found myself a nice secluded spot guarded by trees, and sat down to enjoy breathing into my stomach for the first time.  I must’ve dozed a little, for when I woke there sat across from me a woman with a tiny easel and canvas to boot, intently working a brush and ignoring me. 
            “Oh, hey.  When’d you get here?”  I yawned and scratched my head.  
            She merely shifted her eyes and slowed her hand even more, not speaking, but making me feel stupid enough.  She was stunning and suddenly I was awake enough to realize it.  “This is my spot.”  Her voice was clean and definite.
            “I’m sorry,” I shifted and sat up a little more.  “I was just –“
            “I really like to be alone when I’m here, so if you could…” 
            I was supposed to invite myself to leave at that point but instead smiled at her.  “I’ll be quiet.”
            She sighed and ignored me for the next two hours, but she let me watch her.  I’d strangely acquired a little backbone and some guts to go with it.  So I studied her brush strokes and watched her face tighten and relax as she blew life into the paint she spread across the barren stretch of white.  When I’d had my fill of beautiful bitch by the lake I simply got up and left.  She’s all I could think about all night and all I could try to draw.  I wanted to paint her.  Her.  And suddenly I experienced the worst kind of block – her.
            Sunday morning I brought a canvas, some charcoal to sketch and my paints to that spot again instead of attending the sketch class.  I’d become obsessed overnight and I had to get it out of my system.  When I got there she’d beaten me to it, so I set up quietly.
            “Beat me today,” I dared speak as I sat down.
            “Please don’t talk.  You couldn’t have anything terribly interesting enough to share.”
            I was shocked by the degree of rudeness, but it oddly only drew me to her more.  I began trying to sketch her there, seated and painting her own masterpiece.  She ignored me as the day before but after an hour broke her own rule and stretched her neck out to look at what I was doing.
            “Are you drawing me?”
            “Trying.”  I didn’t pause my work.  Something was blocking my hand from creating her form in charcoal, and I was frustrated.  I couldn’t find it. 
            “Stop it.”  She didn’t yell nor did she snap.  She spoke gently and softly, yet cold as a blade.  It was arousing and suddenly I wanted her to protest everything about me.
            “No thank-you.  I like what I’m doing.  And you’re beautiful.  So please, as you were.”  
            I could see her staring for a moment, slightly knocked off-balance, and then she did as I said, only after giving me something to think about.  “You haven’t got it.  It’s not in your face.”
            I looked at her.  How did she know?
            “Draw all you want.  You don’t have anything.  You probably work too hard to remember what it is to be driven by your own inspiration.”  And with that she was done speaking to me for the day and I was put to shame. 
            I stayed there nonetheless for another four and a half hours concentrating, sketching and erasing and smudging my version of this goddess with long blood-red hair and perfectly immaculate face.  I knew I could never do her justice, but I could hardly start.  I left when I could take the lack of it no longer and ordered some food, deciding I needed one more morning by the lake.  Harry wanted me back but relented when I started in on one of my rants about anything and everything that was going wrong and how badly I needed just one more day.
            Monday morning I got there first and just sat a while.  I didn’t open my paints or play with my brushes, didn’t even look at my attempt from the day before.  I just waited a while and let November soak in one last day.  When she came I didn’t look at her, didn’t say a word.  For an hour I sat quiet and stubbornly stared out across the lake.  I wanted to feel her presence and breathe and just be there.  After enough time I figured I may as well look at her one last time, absorb that intoxicating pheromone she must have been giving off.  When I turned my head and found her sitting with her canvas and paints, steadily detailing her piece, I found her there topless.  Completely.  I stared.  Blatantly stared and admired the utter perfection of her breasts.  She painted topless.  Did she always?  Was she trying to impress me?  I doubted that but what on earth was she doing?  I thought maybe it allowed her more creative freedom not to bind her, well, breasts.  After a generous period of genuine amazement she glanced at me from behind her canvas.
            “What?” 
            I looked at her lovely face and felt the overwhelming drive of inspiration to paint her exquisite perfection on a wall.  “I’m inspired by your shirt.” 
            The hand of God might’ve reached down and given her a little tickle because she cracked a modest smile.
            “My name’s Annie.”  

Mrs. Delaney

They took Mrs. Delaney away last Wednesday for carrying around a dead baby.  They didn’t take her to jail because she didn’t kill it, but they did take her to Stafford State Hospital because she carried it around all day.  The strange part of it, aside from the very core of the event, was that the baby wasn’t even hers.
            I actually saw Mrs. Delaney and the dead baby that afternoon.  She smiled at me as I passed her sitting at the bus stop, holding a limp body in her lap, its head resting comfortably against her chest and its arms hanging.  I assumed Mrs. Delaney was babysitting and I assumed the baby was sleeping.  Apparently, so did everyone on the bus that day, as well as in Appleton’s Candy Store, the Osh Kosh B’Gosh outlet, and up and down Starbury Road. 
            Our town isn’t small.  That’s why nobody who knew Mrs. Delaney really thought twice about not recognizing the baby in her tight arms.  It could’ve been family.  Maybe a neighbor; Mrs. Delaney was always helping people out that way.  And our town isn’t big, either.  That’s how so many people happened to notice Dear Old Mrs. Delaney that day.  She read to the children at Campbell East Library every Saturday morning at ten.  She also led the Single Seniors Sunday School class at Calvary Methodist.  She lost her husband at thirty-six, she once told me, to some freakishly acute case of testicular cancer.  After he died, she said she could never love another man.  So to make up, I suppose, she loves everyone else as much as she can.  Mrs. Delaney gave me piano lessons until I turned thirteen and decided I’d rather play soccer.  She was a wonderful pianist and sometimes if I were mad at my mother, I’d find myself wandering four houses down to sit and listen to her play.  I think she got lonely sometimes and liked the company.  I liked listening to Beethoven and she always had a bowl full of butterscotch candies by the piano.  Mrs. Delaney was sixty-two when they took her away.
            Most people who know Mrs. Delaney I think tend to have the same, loving opinion of her.  She’s always been a friendly and outgoing woman, lunching with Lucy Bridges who manages the Osh Kosh B’Gosh store in town, or Margaret over at Sally’s Beauty Salon quite often.  I hear she even dated Mr. Appleton of Appleton’s Candy Store back in her younger years.  They went to school together, anyway.  Mr. Appleton said she was in that day with the baby, talking to it sweetly and telling it how good the pecan cookies were.  He said it was a busy day and he didn’t get a chance to speak to her, although he did wonder what she was doing with a baby.  Knowing her, he’d said, a young mother had a job interview or a doctor’s appointment and good Mrs. Delaney was doing her a favor.  Joanne Aberle, who also happened to be in Appleton’s at the same time, said that Mrs. Delaney seemed to be trying to entice the sleeping infant with candy and cookies, oblivious to anyone else shuffling around inside the little candy store.  Mrs. Delaney left without buying a thing, just waltzed right out of the store with a sigh.  Apparently, the baby wasn’t hungry.
            Lucy over at Osh Kosh said she saw Mrs. Delaney, too.  Mrs. Delaney and the baby.  They came in around lunchtime, just as Lucy was on her way out.  Lucy was late for a lunch date with her attorney and so didn’t stop to chat, but called a hello and waved as she left.  She said Mrs. Delaney smiled as always, waved, and went on with her browsing in the infant section.  A girl working the register later said that Mrs. Delaney never put the baby down, but quietly asked its opinion of several miniature outfits, picking through the racks.
            Mrs. Delaney carried that baby around with her the entire day and no one said a word to her about it.  It wasn’t until she stopped in at a new pet shop on the corner of Starbury and 5th that anyone noticed this little baby was sleeping much deeper than anyone imagined.  Jim Mitchell, the owner of the shop, was in checking on business when Mrs. Delaney wandered in looking at the puppies in the front.  He said she cooed and giggled, pointing with her free hand at a beagle puppy that was out in the playpen for customers to pet.  According to him, she didn’t say anything to anyone else in the store until she wanted to pick up the puppy to show to her shopping buddy.  She asked if she could pet the dog and if he was nice around babies.  Mr. Mitchell told her of course and before he could assist her, she carefully laid the sleeping baby down on top of a dog food display in order to free her hands to pick up the dog.  He first jumped forward to catch the baby, assuming it would stir and roll right off, but stopped short when it didn’t make a move.  As Mrs. Delaney leaned over to pick up the beagle, Mr. Mitchell stepped closer to the baby, watching its belly.  It wasn’t breathing.  When he reached out and touched its arm, the cold bit his hand and he jerked back in disgust.  Only then did he realize it was dead and began to yell for someone to call the police.  Mrs. Delaney became very upset and when she tried to grab the baby an employee restrained her.  They said she became hysterical and kept calling out, “Daisy!  Oh, Daisy!  My baby!”  When the police showed up and the sheriff, who was also her brother-in-law, told her that the baby she’d been carrying was dead, she hyperventilated and passed out.
            The coroner’s report assured that the baby had been dead for two days already and that it had died from suffocation.  It was only a week old.  They questioned Mrs. Delaney but soon found she wasn’t in her right mind.  She kept insisting that they let her go, and that they bring her child to her immediately or she was going to press charges.  This was an outrage.  The sheriff came in and explained to her that the baby couldn’t have been hers because it was a week old and she hadn’t been pregnant.  “But I was pregnant, Roy,” she cried.  He asked her where she got it and she kept right on insisting that it was hers. 
            By Saturday she’d been questioned enough to satisfy the inquiring minds of the authorities of our town.  Sheriff Wright gave a statement to the local TV station, saying that Mrs. Joy Delaney who had been found carrying a dead baby on Wednesday was now at Stafford State Hospital and that police still didn’t know where the baby had come from.  He asked that if anyone had any information regarding the week old infant to please call the local police, and so on and so on.  That same night, Sheriff Wright and his wife were over to our house for dinner, seeing as my mother and Mrs. Wright sold Avon together.  At our house, Sheriff Wright said that Joy, his dear sister-in-law, apparently had suffered some post-traumatic stress episode and convinced herself that the baby was hers.  The therapist and investigator who worked together to get anything they could out of her at Stafford said she went into a crying fit at one point, saying that all she wanted to do was make Daisy happy, but she didn’t want candy and she didn’t want dresses.  All she wanted was to make her happy.  She wanted Daisy to forgive her.  Forgive her, I asked?  Sheriff Wright sighed and gave my mom a look, one of those, ‘it’s such a shame these things that happen’ kind of look.  From a jumble of hysterical rants and sobbing wails that somewhat resembled some kind of step back in time, the investigator was able to piece together that Mrs. Delaney did have a baby at one time… something about money being tight, then something about the abortion leaving her in bed for two weeks, passed off as the flu.  Apparently she never told her husband, but here Daisy’d come back and all she wanted was to make her happy so that maybe she’d forgive her for what she had done to her so long ago.
            Mrs. Delaney stayed at Stafford and we all went about our regular lives.  They never did find out where the baby had come from, but gave it a proper burial anyway.
               
             

The Giant of Support Group 103

“For a long time, I used to go to bed early,” said the only man in the room.  Not only was he the only man, but his height was staggering.  He spoke without looking at me and clenched his jaw shut as soon as the words were out.  

When I first arrived I hadn’t noticed him sitting in the back of the room, but once I did I recognized the uncomfortable posture of nearly every woman there.  There looked to be about thirty chairs in the small room, arranged in six neat rows, and roughly twenty of us.  The man in the back, without meaning to, had kept a buffer of empty seats around him.   

It was the second meeting and I sat where I’d sat the first week near the front of the room, consciously keeping my head from turning around to peek at him.  He reminded me of Paul, the way he hung back away from everyone.  That, and they had the same color hair.  I loved Paul’s hair, its peculiar color of what I can only describe as rusty chocolate.  Paul was a very tall man, too, and this man, the man in the room with us, still appeared a good five feet tall, seated and hunched.

At seven o’clock our group leader, a woman with short, dark hair stood before us, hands clasped loosely in front of her and a relaxed smile smeared across her face.  The first meeting, she’d begun with a crisp, Good Evening, and then proceeded to give us a synopsis of her method of emotional healing.  We hadn’t begun by introducing ourselves like you usually do at these kinds of groups; we first paired up to tell just one other person exactly why we were here.   She’d said it was an exercise of trust and that she was sure we would all see the benefits of such an introduction to one another later on.  We’d spent the whole two hours opening up in partners and I was surprised at how easily it happened once I let it.  It was cutting open our wounds and airing them out, that’s what we were doing.

“Good evening, everyone,” said our so far nameless group leader.  “Last week we made some really good progress and I’d like to start there tonight.  We’re going to get right back into it, so don’t be shy.”  And then she gave a subtle nod toward the back of the room, a private signal meant for just one. 

I looked back and he was staring right at me as if he’d been waiting for me to turn around.  I held my breath for a second and then quickly turned my attention back to spotting my partner from the first week, one who didn’t so closely resemble my ex-husband. 

Her name was Gloria and she’d only been married a year when she left her husband.  She’d shown up to our group seven months pregnant and seemingly ready to put the past where it belonged.  I envied her courage; I couldn’t imagine carrying not only the burden of my painful past, but the life of a child inside me.  Gloria didn’t understand why I’d stayed with Paul for so long, and the truth was, neither did I.  As soon as we had our chairs pulled over to one side, Gloria excused herself to visit the restroom before we got started, the curse of the pregnant woman.  I sat and watched others greet each other, smiles not as forced as last week and wide eyes all around.  A little bit of hope mixed with a lot of anger and pain.  You could already feel it in the air, the anticipation of the coming flow of stories and their still bleeding wounds.  
 
“For a long time, I used to go to bed early.”  I hadn’t even heard him approach.  Immediately I searched the room for our group leader, but she offered me nothing but a soft but quick smile before returning her attention to her clipboard.      

I didn’t know why he was speaking to me, in fact, I didn’t even realize he was speaking to me at all until I noticed a few other people staring at me, awaiting my response, I assumed. 

“Excuse me?”  I suddenly felt pressured to maintain my composure under the not so subtle gazes of the other women in the room.  I straightened my skirt in my lap and had to crane my neck to look him in the eye, though he wasn’t looking back.

“I said that for a long time, I used to go to bed early.”  His eyes, from what I could tell at such a distance, were strained-looking and sad. 

I looked at a woman near me for help, not sure what to do with this information, not sure what to do with him, but she escaped me by continuing her conversation with another group member.  I learned quickly how helpful this support group really was then, and made a mental note of whom it was that left me stranded in a giant’s gaze.  As I looked around the rest of the room, it seemed everyone was at once immersed in conversation, unwilling to come to my aid.  Cowards, I thought.

“Is that so?”  It’s all I could think to say.  Surely, he wasn’t here for the same reason that I was, that we all were.  He was a man.  I wondered if he was some kind of guest speaker, some kind of doctor, but that still didn’t explain why he was telling me about his sleeping habits.

As I stared up at him, massaging my palm with the opposite thumb, something about him made me hold back further questioning.  He seemed to sway a bit, his arms hanging as heavily as thirty-pound limbs readying themselves to fall from their trunk to the hard ground below.  His forehead crinkled and his jaw seemed to sink upward into his head, pushing his bottom lip into a swollen pout.  Suddenly unaware of where I was, I watched in horror, unsure of what was happening, terrified he was about to throw into a rage and tear me to pieces.  My muscles tightened instinctively.  I turned my head to see how far I was from the wall, how hard I would hit at this close a range.

But his arms remained at his sides, his fists left un-balled.  I stared up at him, afraid to move, as his shoulders rose toward his ears and his eyes disappeared into an exaggerated squint, revealing the very same left cheek dimple I’d once found so charming in Paul.  The man was crying. 

“Come on, why don’t you sit?”  I stood and motioned to the chair beside mine, where my partner had been just a minute before.  “Come on, sit down,” I coaxed him stiffly, this man gasping in tiny convulsions that jerked his shoulders even higher. 

He didn’t make a sound, other than gasps that seemed too delicate for a man of his substantial size.  It was as if he was afraid to make a noise.  He opened his eyes and looked down at me, tears now dripping from his chin.  When I saw his eyes I felt it was okay to touch him.

My partner reentered the room and saw what was happening.  She joined another pair.

I tentatively laid my hand on his forearm, fingers spread and reaching, and nodded.  At first his skin jumped under my touch and eyes widened enough for me to see something wild in them, but then he took in a breath and seemed to relax.  Suddenly he was a child in need of encouragement.  Still wary of who this man was and what his reasons were for being among us, I kept my distance despite the physical contact.  He took small steps without lifting his large feet toward the uninviting metal chair, then moved his arm free of my hand to steady himself in order to sit.  The chair held him, but barely, creaking beneath his weight.  His convulsions had quieted to hiccups and sniffles, his hands folded in his lap.  He hunched and stared at his curled fingers.

“Now what were you saying about going to bed?”  I could feel their eyes on me but ignored them.  I felt sorry for him more than I feared him at that point.

“I’ve never done this before, I’m sorry.  I don’t know how to do this.”

“To do what?”

“Talk about it.”  He glanced up at me, but only for a split moment.  “I used to go early, to bed, I mean.  To hide.”  He didn’t look up.

“Hide?”

He waited before answering, as if unsure about the information, himself.  “Yes.”

I was confused.  Was he slow?  “Do you mind if I ask from what?”  I watched his facial muscles twitch as he spoke so quietly, it was almost a whisper. 

“From her.”  His face spasmed for a moment but then recomposed itself.  “From her anger.”  He paused again, now looking up, looking for something.  I suppose he found it, for then he continued and actually spoke in longer sentences.  “She always got so angry, at her boss or at her mother, and when she came home she would just scream at me.  Every night.  Yelling and hollering at me for all the things they did to piss her off, and I didn’t know what to do.  Then she’d get so mad at me for not doing anything, she’d start to hit me.”  His voice cracked and his shoulders bounced up.  He sniffled and fought off another facial crinkle of a cry.  “I’m sorry, this is really hard for me to talk about.”  He took a deep breath.  “She punched me all over, and sometimes she’d hit me with the rake or beer bottles, or shoes even.  Whatever was lying around.  And all I could do was stand there and take it.”  He stopped, this time making full eye contact with me.  His eyes were suddenly very large, very round and clear.  He turned over his hands, palms up and showed them to me.  “Look at these hands – if I’d have swatted at her I would’ve knocked her clear across the room.”  Then he returned his gaze and his hands to his lap.

“She beat you up?  But you’re so big.”  I immediately felt sorry for what I said, but more so when I saw how his hunch deepened.

“That’s what she said, too.  But I was raised to understand that I was different, and that I wasn’t allowed to fight back.  I could really hurt somebody as big as I was.”  He paused to look at me, then looked right back down to his hands.  “I got picked on at school, you know how kids are, and there was this kid, Danny Pullen who wouldn’t leave me alone.  One day I couldn’t take it anymore and the next time he tripped me I got up and I hit him.  They had to take him to the hospital because he’d hit the ground hard enough to get himself a concussion.  My mother bloodied my lip for that, and I never fought back after that.”

“So that’s why you’re here?  Because you’re actually a battered spouse?”  I couldn’t grasp how someone of my size could possibly abuse this giant, whether or not he hit back.  It didn’t seem possible.  I noticed other conversations had either hushed to whispers or stopped.  Everyone was surprised.    

“Of course, what’d you think?”  His eyes met mine again, but only for a moment.

I didn’t answer.  “If you don’t mind my asking, is she still around?” 

His eyes rolled around the room before he replied, “No, but only because I moved.  It’s been almost a year now.  When I tried to move out she’d threaten to hurt herself and I’d go back.  I had to go far enough away so she couldn’t track me down.”

“Did she hurt you, badly I mean?  And couldn’t you have at least protected yourself, being so much bigger?”

“You don’t think I tried?  I blocked as much as I could, but she was relentless.  Broken ribs, a black eye once or twice when she got me on the ground and could reach.  One time, someone else at work got the promotion she was gunning for.  She was so mad that day.  Sometimes I knew there was nothing I could say to calm her down or make her feel any better, but she took a chair to my back when I tried to walk away.  She never let me walk away.”  He started to cry again, his shoulders jerking with every tiny gasp.

I felt rotten.  What had I thought?  Well I’d thought he was a guest speaker, a therapist or perhaps someone writing an article on the center and the support groups held therein.  Maybe he was a counselor in training.  It’s what everyone thought, I think.

“You said you went to bed early, why?”

Through his hiccupping whimpers, he replied, “Because… if I was asleep when she got home… even if she was drunk… she’d leave me alone…  She’d holler at me to wake up, and when I didn’t move… she’d eventually just go away… slamming things around the house instead of at me…  Sometimes she’d sit… and watch TV and drink… until she fell asleep.  Either way… it was better if she thought I was unconscious… which… eventually I was… having gotten used to going to bed early.”  At this point he was outright sobbing, wiping furiously at his running nose.  “I never thought… I’d be able to talk to… anyone… about any of this.”  And then it almost sounded like he laughed in the midst of his sobs.  “You just look so much like her!”

I reached out instinctively to touch him again, to comfort this shaking man, but when I did he flinched and actually yelped, jerking away.  Startled by his reaction I pulled back, holding my own hand, bitten by his rejection.  I only wanted to comfort him.  And then I realized why he had hung back at the beginning of class, why he hadn’t spoken to anyone before class and why our leader probably hadn’t called attention to his presence tonight.  Now I understood that wildness I’d seen in his eyes when I first touched him:  Panic.  He was afraid, afraid of us.  We, the emotional, bruised women who had come to this group to vent our frustrations, to voice our fears and cry about our triumphs in overcoming spousal abuse together had scared the daylights out of him.  We were angry women.

It seemed the knowledge passed on from me to the next woman watching in silence, then to the next, and the next.  We looked at one another and in some kind of ache to help this poor man, surrounded him.  He peeked up from his hands and seemed to cry harder when he saw the bodies suddenly so close.  His sobs grew louder and deeper and I worried the chair might collapse out from under him.  I pulled in a deep breath, braced myself for his weight and strength, and reached for him.  There was something so helpless in him, the mother in me couldn’t ignore the urge.  I gently took hold of his wrists, too large for my fingers to halfway surround, and pulled his hands from his face, exposing his shiny, red cheeks.  His eyes squinted at me; his hands trembled.  Scooting my chair right up close to his so that I was almost directly facing him, I pulled at him.  His whole body stiffly rocked forward as his arms were locked in bent fear.  He resisted at first, but then surrendered to the comfort I was trying so carefully to administer and fell forward.  I flinched but didn’t move, ready for the impact. 

His forehead floated delicately to my shoulder, his nose resting at the top of my left breast, and he seemed to deflate.  His arms lifted from my grasp and threw themselves around me, so that he actually cupped his own elbows as he shook.

“Why me, then?  If I look like the woman who hurt you, and you’ve never talked about it before?”  I asked before I realized it might not have been the best moment.

But he answered.  Without lifting his head, he replied, “Because she was the only one who ever listened to me.  Even though she hit me, she was the only person who made me feel important.”  And then I felt a subtle tightening around me.

So there I sat with this great man leaning over to be held by me, hardly a quarter his size.  The other women slowly inched closer until someone finally reached out and placed a hand on him.  And then, one by one, the hands fell softly onto his back, his shoulders, and his head and we were all holding him.  My shirt felt suddenly wet with what I could only assume to be snot and tears, but I ignored it.  In those moments he was nothing more than an injured, tiny soul, and we were the great arms about him, letting him empty himself, letting him air out his stale wounds.  In those moments, I was the giant holding him in my great big hands, and he huddled into them, completely swallowed.  He shook and wept for over an hour, and we, well, we just stayed until he was through, I only moving occasionally to pull at my shirt to keep it from sticking to my skin.