Tag Archives: reflection

Stride

old slide

 

There’s a park in my hometown that I frequented a lot as a child. It’s old but well-maintained. Most of the play sets are constructed out of heavy wood and steel, and the metal bridge spanning the ditch from the parking lot to the play area has a little heart scratched inside the green paint. Inside the heart it reads “J.K. & H.A. 1967.”

This place seemed gigantic when I was little. Journeying from the play sets to the baseball field by the road felt like an honest hike. Splashes from the pool carried like noise from some distant highway. The ditch beside the parking lot required careful climbing if one wanted to collect the tadpoles that always swam in the green puddles after a rain.

I could cross the entire thing in less than two minutes now, without the slightest effort. I’m taller than the jungle gym that used to feel so dangerous to climb. I used to sit at the top and daydream that I was King Kong.

There’s a “nature trail” that leads through some trees in back. In this small town, “nature trail” means that you can just barely see the houses through the bushes on either side. Here I remember the thrill of autumn games of flashlight tag, and noticing with excitement as the sky turned dark and the moon began to shine. On those nights, when you had an hour of night before the park would close, the dark figures behind the flashlights could be anyone you wanted them to be.

I walk along that trail now, and there’s nothing here beyond my ability to control. Rustles in the leaves are simply scared chipmunks. The trail is now paved, and comfortable to follow. Children no longer issue cryptic warnings about things seen in the brush. They see me for what I am: a grownup, separate from whatever threats lurk in their imaginations.

This expansive land shrinks beneath my footsteps as I walk it. I can’t pretend I don’t hear the sounds of sprinklers and power tools behind the foliage. Once limitless days are shortened and frittered away. Sweet crushes have become lost loves, or, worse, just forgotten.

I walk to my car. It used to be a hero’s journey to enter and leave this sandy, leaf-strewn land. I climb into the driver’s seat. I am in the street and headed home within ten seconds. Later, it will take me longer to do the dishes than it did to stroll the length of my childhood continent.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Mist

trees in the fog

 

I’m smoking on the front porch. It’s cold out and misty, and the mist seems to give the chill a quality like needles. The porch is a barren concrete slab adorned only with the aluminum folding chair I’m sitting in and a mason jar I flick my ashes and old butts into. I can feel the skin on my arms goosebump beneath the terrycloth shirt I’m wearing. Steam rises from a vent in the crawl space, and against the neighbor’s porch light it shines and wavers, an effervescent belly dancer.

“I want you to know I haven’t forgotten about the assistanceship,” my old adviser told me earlier. He stopped by my job to pick up a coffee and recognized me. We’ve only ever communicated by email the last three years. I tell him I’m grateful and I mean it. The university doesn’t strictly require work experience for their graduate program, but with so many applying you don’t stand a chance of acceptance if you don’t read the phrase de facto between the lines.

Just a few weeks earlier, he and three other former profs of mine filled out an emailed index, telling the university how much of an asset they believed I could be. The university emailed confirmations to me, letting me know each response had been received. The trick now is to ensure my file doesn’t become a small tomb in the registrar’s office. Indolence sounds a lot like the burr of a coffee grinder to me.

The professor I’ve been emailing at the university tells me she’s excited at the idea of me joining her program, though she isn’t shy about admitting that my rather sparse work experience worries her. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in college, up until and during graduation. My GPA shows it, as does my four-years-and-running coffee making career afterward. I’ve kept up with my habit of emailing researchers whose work interests me, including the professor at the university I desperately want to attend. Thus I at least have a show of interest on my side, despite the flaky decade in my rear-view mirror.

At home, above my desk, there’s a plank of framed cork board adorned with applications for programs and scholarships I either never completed or never mailed off. I look at it whenever I need an existential kick in the ass for motivation.

When I got home earlier I checked my email. One story was accepted, to a popular podcast that can’t afford to pay its contributors. Another, one I’m much more proud of, was rejected by a professional magazine, on the grounds that the characters weren’t likable enough. No comments regarding quality are made. The submission guidelines encourage writers to be bold, but I’ve noticed that every purchased story follows the same general structure. Out of spite, I resubmit it, entirely unaltered, and then go outside for a smoke.

The woman I love has called me a couple times today, but I was working so all she could do was leave voicemails. One tells me she’s driving down to visit family, and wants to see me. The other tells me she just misses me, and wants to talk. I hit the callback button. Her phone rings four or five times, and my call goes to voice mail.

“Hey, it’s me,” I say inanely. What else do you say to those who know you better than you know yourself? If I’d told her my name just now it would’ve felt like a white lie. “I just wanted to tell ya I’m excited for your visit. I don’t have any plans, so shoot me a text whenever you can. Love you. Talk to you soon.”

The plans I’d already made are wiped away from my mind. I hang up and take a drag on my cigarette. I think of the school my adviser mentioned, out in Arizona, which he says has a marvelous student aid program. Arizona is a bit of a hike for someone whose parents may, at any time, need a ride to the hospital.

The muffled grunt of an engine wafts over from…somewhere. Streetlights bleed into the mist. I huff out a last mouthful of smoke and drop the butt into the Mason jar. I stand and stretch. The paperwork I’ve been avoiding will become concrete as soon as I step inside. The neighboring houses fade gently down the road. If it weren’t for the trees, this mist would go on forever.

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Comfort

bed of nails

I have a weird habit of sitting on the floor. I enjoy overstuffed recliners as much as the next American, but I’ve noticed that even if I’m the only person in the house, I’ll usually opt for sprawling across the carpet when I feel like getting comfortable. Walk into my place unannounced, and you’ll catch me stretched out across the living room, all three of my cats resting comfortably on the couch above my head. They’ll probably look at you and shrug. Hell, don’t look at us. We don’t know what his problem is either.

I once drunkenly missed a come-on because of this habit. Given the choice between a friend’s loveseat and the carpet after a night of drinking, I opted to pass out on the floor.

“You sure you’ll be comfortable down there?” the girl I was sharing the living room with asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

She propped herself up on the couch she’d taken and leaned over me, her face close to mine. Her breath still smelled of the moscato we’d passed between ourselves for an hour, after everyone else had gone to sleep. Moscato, and a few of the cigarettes she’d bummed from me. “This thing folds out into a bed, you know…”

Naaaah,” I said, like the drunken idiot I am. “I’m fiiiiiine.”

Annnd…sex didn’t happen. Suh-prize.

***

This habit of mine is so regular my longtime friends don’t bat an eye when I abandon my Laz-E-Boy to sit cross-legged for hours on the linoleum. Given the option between park benches and the ground, I’ll usually opt to saturate the ass of my jeans in grass stains.

At parties, if there’s a dog or cat in the room, I’ll drop to knee-level and sit until the little critter curls up beside me. Despite the risk, I’ve managed to avoid what would seem like the inevitable, punishing rain of beer slosh and cigarette ash this course of action would lead to. At a shindig in the woods once, I petted a fox after chilling in the dirt for half an hour. A toad the size of a thumbnail hopped on my knee and bellowed surprisingly deeply. A mantis crawled over one shoe, walked across some leaves, and crawled atop the other shoe. For a moment it looked at me, then seemed to turn its head to the circle of chairs by the fire. It looked at me, looked at the chairs.

Seats are over there, fella.

And then it was gone, its wings chopping the air like helicopter blades.

***

My cat’s a rescue, or at least seems like he should qualify as one. He was born feral, but at six months old he was hit by a car and suffered a broken hip. We saw him dragging his hind legs and brought him inside. The vet set the bone, gave him a shot or two, and told us all we could do was wait for him to heal.

He was wary of us, so we kept him in a little cat bed beside some food and water, and put a litter box in a close corner. Even with the injury he immediately took to the routine, and so he spent his convalescence hidden in a calm and quiet back room.

Sometimes when I’d pour food or water, or scoop his box, I’d reach out and let him sniff my fingers. Sometimes he’d lick me, or rub his nose against my knuckles. I started petting him on his head when I came and went, and it took a while for me to notice that he’d started to purr when I came into the room. I’d sit for longer periods of time, stroking his back, until he’d doze off or start cleaning himself. Then I’d leave for the day.

A few weeks into this routine, I was leaving the room when I heard a sudden thump behind me. I turned and there he was, following me, dragging his hind legs like luggage. I crouched down and stroked him behind the ears, and he lied down and started to purr.
He fell asleep, and eventually, sitting beside him in the hallway, leaning against the wall, so did I.

***

I spend many a weekend night at a married couple’s house, which sounds unsavory except that I’m friends with both of them. A few other friends are usually there too. There’s drinking and laughing, and somehow I always end up with food stains on my clothes, even if I never actually eat anything.

By two or three in the morning we begin to drop off. I usually volunteer to take the couch. It’s leather and cool to the touch, and shifting position on it is like adjusting a pair of silk boxers. By that I don’t mean to say it’s easy to masturbate with; I’m saying it’s comfortable.

Their dogs seem fond of me, too, so when I begin to sleep, they’ll hone in on me until their owner shoos them into her bedroom for the night. The little one will hop on top of me, but the big one, a German shepherd that a horse could ride like a horse, is somewhat hindered by his size. He’ll lick my face a couple times, then drop to the carpet. The Chihuahua, not willing to abandon him, will hop back and forth, torn in his loyalty, until exhaustion forces him to join his comrade on the floor.

They’ll sit like that until they’re called away, occasionally whining for company. And hindered as I am by social norms, all I can do is drop my hand down to scratch their chins, an arrangement that satisfies no one involved.

***

When I go to bed, my cat and my sister’s cats will all hop in with me. There is little in life that delights me more than to have three plush boat motors rumbling around me as I nod off. Unfortunately, I sleep like a ninja with an inner ear problem, and the cats have learned to abandon ship as soon as I lose consciousness.

But sometimes my cat’s hip will fail him, and while Boots and Charlie snuggle in beside me, Magpie is relegated to sitting by my bed, looking up at me with the look that says he wants either attention or canned meat byproducts. Boots would yowl for attention, but Magpie sits quietly, gathering himself into a cat loaf as he settles in on the carpet.

While my sister’s cats doze like adorable alcoholics, I’ll carefully lower my pillow to the floor. Taking a loose blanket with me, I’ll slide off the bed, leaving it to the other felines, and stretch out beside Maggie. Thus situated, I’ll close my eyes and drift to sleep. I will feel my cat work his way beneath my arm and lay his head upon my chest. His purrs will then fill the dark, reciting the definition of comfort.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Just In Case You Need It

Every now and again I like to reflect on this line. Rough day, good day, bland day; I really can’t think of a time when this doesn’t calm me down and keep me on my balance:
  

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Morning

dark

 

It’s just after five and cloudy out. The wind never died down overnight. The few leaves that have already fallen hold fast to the tufts of cheat grass in the yard. One has snagged in the laces of my sneakers. I have one hand in my pocket, and the other wrapped around a mug almost too hot to hold. Coffee belches steam into the breeze.

In half an hour I’ll open the coffee stand and make lattes until noon, but right now I’m enjoying the chill around my ears. I’m in the all black outfit I usually favor, which my coworkers tease me for. They tell me I look too much like a waiter, but having waited tables before I don’t see how that’s supposed to make me embarrassed. Besides, when you spend half your day around staining, used espresso grounds, you learn to dress for the occasion.

My phone chirps and I look at the screen. “We’re landing now. See you tomorrow night?” I work late tomorrow and early the day after.

“Totally,” I text back.

I sip my coffee. I see people at work start to gulp it when it cools, but coffee only works when you drink it slowly. Gulp it, and you’ll be out like a bad light. Drugs almost have personalities of their own. I take another sip. My heart beats heavy, but I don’t think the caffeine has hit me yet.

When I left we hugged for a good five minutes. We’d hold each other, kiss intermittently. We just stood still in the kitchen, the only sound our breathing and the hum of the refrigerator. I stayed for two days to help her unpack. My car, filled to bursting, sat in the driveway. When we text I avoid the temptation to ask if she’s been seeing anyone lately.

The only other person up and out is the neighbor two doors down. He’s a contractor and he works early. He kisses his wife and climbs in his truck. The thing seems to scream compared to the hum of the crickets, but the diesel engine fades away, and the wife stays outside, also sipping coffee. It’s the cool thing you do.

She waves at me and I wave back. She’s in a huge tee shirt and baggy flannel pants. She pets her dog while he sniffs around for a place to shit.

When I moved away, I left behind the boxers of mine she liked to sleep in. The last time she flew in from Louisville she slept at my place, in the boxers and an undershirt I’d forgotten about, a ratty thing with holes and paint stains.

The neighbor and her dog go back inside, and I’m alone. I catch myself wishing I’d bought smokes the other day, then remind myself that thoughts like that are exactly why I didn’t pick a pack up. I’m halfway through my coffee. My cat is in the window, dividing his attention between watching me and swatting at the moths on my side of the glass.

Sunlight is starting to shine through, in gauzy patches through the clouds. The even gray of the past two days won’t break today. I’m glad. Work feels smoother, when the colors outside mute the customers’ moods.

Before I came outside I’d checked my email. “While your scores are impressive, we are unable at this time to offer you a placement among our graduate student body. Please do not be discouraged by this. We encourage all interested applicants to…”

Seeing her again won’t make everything better, but it shouldn’t. It isn’t my place to objectify her into an emotional McGuffin. Needing her was what made me so intolerable, I think. There is no sentence, no period of proving my worth. I don’t play the childish game of believing we’ll get back together. I’m just here, as she is there, and I’m satisfied with that.

Seeing her won’t make everything better, but it’ll be good enough.

Another text message. “Yay! I’m excited! I’ve missed you!”

I tell her I’ve missed her too. I finish my coffee. Before going inside for my nametag, I stand for a minute and stare at my phone. I used to think we made each other whole, but that’s how every addict talks. She’s flying in from an assignment in San Diego, and she tells me she has a ton of stories. I won’t have anything to share, from my sleepy patch of the southeast, but that’s okay. A child seeks to match. An adult seeks to grow.

I stand there alone, as she flies in alone. Separate, we are both greater and less than the sum of our parts.

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