“Marie: Dancing with the Suicide Princess,” from STORIES WRITTEN AFTER EIGHT by Kathryn Merrifield

             Annie told me to come upstairs the
moment I walked in the door. 
            “Come here,” she said.
             She was in her usual white terry cloth
bathrobe, the one with the sewn on pastel hearts.  It matched her vivacious personality and true
caramel color hair, with almost white, weaved highlights.  The California actress packaged princess
still asked her daddy for favors and one of those was a good dye job.  She was wholesome beautiful with her face
scrubbed and hair which stayed put, swept back after she had removed the head
band that she must have used to wash off the makeup.  I knew. 
I did the same.  We were very much
alike only I was not an actress but knew how to sustain myself in different
worlds and change like a lizard in the treetops to save myself.  Artists are really all liars.
            Trying to read her face, I searched
for a sign to pinpoint the exact nature of the disturbance and since my father
had stopped drinking and he no longer chose to put his hands on women, Annie
was not the one in that kind of harms way, though she stood in a state of utter
trepidation at the top of the stairs. 
Like a Hummingbird in Spring, a sense of panic overtook her face normally
veiled with either concern or joy evident in the automatic smile that she always
wore.  Obvious though as it may seem, she
was the type of woman who could find joy though everyone around her cowered
under a blanket of sorrow.  She smiled
often and laughed at simple things.  The
night before we had exchanged stories of losing things. 
            “I only lose heirloom jewelry,” she
confessed, giggly deceptively and indulged. Such ease fostered any suspicion I
had about the woman, already skeptical of yet another step parent who would
fade into and out of my life.  Requisite
love or real it was my old baggage and the attempts to win me over would only
be perceived as disingenuous.  I’d been
through this before.  This wife, number
three, gave me little Parisian soaps that she brought back from France and told
stories. Her cooking was halfway decent and she never made gravy in the
blender.  Her father was wealthy so se
was not after Father’s money.  Annie
could fold napkins, wrote thank you notes on Crane stationery and introduced
Father to a few theater people – a game show host with a double chin, deep
voice and big head and his wife the gift show seller, Sheila Markus.
            The gift show seller gave a bridal
shower for Annie and I was invited.
            “Oh, now nice.  Oh, isn’t that beautiful?” I heard from the
front porch, waiting for someone to open the door and, when Sheila invited me
in she gave me a Hollywood kiss on each cheek. 
                        “So good of you to
come,” Sheila said
            I was seated at one of the round
tables covered with matching pastel linens. There were little boxes with pink
bows on the tables.  A group of Ladies
Who Lunch were there, already nibbling at the field greens when I arrived
late.  Everything was clean and big.  They lived in Bel Air and all I could think
of was bashing in mailboxes while Sheila introduced me the other guests.  My phony smile, rendered, I met ladies of
luxury, chatted and went back to my layout job where I began passing the time
sketching profiles of the other people in their cubicles.  I had taken up dancing lessons at some
Hollywood studio – not like the loose style I was accustomed to but ballroom.  David, the gay production coordinator was my
partner and I had just come from our last of four sessions when I arrived home.
            Annie put her hand over her mouth
and I wondered why she stayed up there at the top of the stairs.  I felt like Romeo.
            “What’s wrong?”  I asked, digging out the crisis like it was a
piece of moldy food underneath the stove. 
My energy still ran high though from the movement that made my muscles
warm, nothing like running and ultimately a bore except for the time with
David. Instantly I thought of who it could be, where my brothers were, if they
were safe. 
            Rich was at home with his pregnant
wife who was due at the end of the next week. 
Walt was in San Fernando Valley, probably asleep or watching a sports
telecast, investing much time to thinking and planning just how he outdo Rich in
this lifetime.  We spent hours on the
phone talking about it.  He was an
ambitious kid, only two years younger, but still my little brother despite the
fact that he was almost a foot taller than me. 
Both of them towered over me.  I
was the girl in between missing ten inches in photographs.  Neither of them paid much attention to Father
but I lived there saving up my money.  I
had no choice.  This family had been
through enough, I thought to myself. 
Another death would prove it was too much a part of life – too much to
understand at my age though I was well into my twenties.  It was too soon for it to be so much a part
of my young life.
            Again, I asked her, “Annie, what’s
wrong?  Did something happen.” but, she
waved me up the stairs, her hand over her mouth like she was holding back dam
water.          Setting
down my black purse that was beginning to look a bit shabby, I walked up the
stairs.  “No, they’re safe.  Mother is too.  I hope she’s not being dramatic.”  Annie was an actress of the never able to
handle a crisis scenario.  Her first
husband was a Hollywood agent.  His
daughter, a talentless lesbian actress told me that she found out they were
married when she read the entertainment trades over breakfast one morning with
her gay lover sitting across from her. 
She called her father from the table and asked him, “Dad, don’t you have
something to tell me?”  Jack told her
then that he was married.  Annie was
twenty-one at the time and had just moved to New York to pursue her acting
career, one which never took off.  For
three years, she lived the life of an agent’s wife.  To me she confessed that it was worse than
being a doctor’s wife.  One phone call in
the middle of the night and he was gone off caretaking mostly fragile egos and
less talent.  After three years she was
divorced, childless.  Pat was enough
child for Jack, I suppose.  The doctors
thought that she would die by the time she was sixteen but daily steroid
injections became her life sustaining medication and gave her the masculine
look.  Pat was born with a disease while
others that year were born with beauty. 
Annie had two children from her second marriage.
            Father met her years back when
Annie’s daughter, Emily and Leland were best friends in kindergarten.  Or, Emily was his girlfriend.  The girl was little sausage with all of her
baby fat.  She had curls that hung around
her head like yellow, coiled ribbons, swiped between a mother’s thumb and
scissors blade.  Leland was fair skinned
with blue eyes and dark hair like Rich and Grandfather.  Seeing them, I wondered if they would ever be
together, if that was fate’s way. 
Unaware, Annie’s carpool routine ultimately lead to wedding my
father.  It was the third marriage for both.  Both Mother and Father, Louise and Charles,
had lives of parallel crisis intersecting once again.  Disarming a bomb required patience and a
willingness to let go of a life.  Your
own.  It took me twenty eight years to
stop throwing myself on those time bombs.
            When I got to the top of the stairs,
Annie inhaled deeply, the way a person does who wants to suppress tears or
anxiety.  She held the collar of the
white, ribbed, terry-cloth robe, faded from the wash, coloring it a shade of
gray washed a few times with the wrong combination of clothing or at the wrong
temperature without bleach.  Annie had a
tendency to leave many flames burning at once. 
Irritating as this was, it was less a testament to her ability to manage
simultaneous chores and more so proof that she was incapable of completing any
given thing.  Wet laundry, spun so that
it remained stuck to the inside of the washer, was left for entire twenty-four
hour periods at a time.  Peeled away, the
cotton material was left with the imprint of the machine which resembled bubble
wrap, a shape formed the way the material fitted itself against the metal
cylinder punched with small holes throughout. 
Each time I went to do my laundry, Annie had left something else for me.
            I didn’t say a word. “Marie passed
away,” She said it with a bit of alarm. 
“I wanted to tell you before you saw Julia in the kitchen later on
tonight.”  Julia would generally arrive
home about the same time that I got hungry around midnight when I finished
sketching with my pencils and went into the house for leftovers.  We’ve been trying to call you.  Your Father left a message on your
machine.  He’s having a really hard
time.  We’ve all been to therapy
tonight.  He’s downstairs with Leland;  he isn’t doing very good.”  My heart swelled for a moment, like an
over-inflated balloon. But, it subsided and I went into crisis management mode,
hailing down the spinning spheres, handling them like throwing stars.  My emotions into leapt into conviction.  I wanted to protect them.  I knew it was coming.  I wanted to protect Leland.  Julia, was a tough girl, withdrawn and too
flirtatious.  Spandex clung to her body
like second skin.  A scar in the middle
of her right eyebrow left a small bald patch just like the one Rich had from
sliding down the banister only Julia tripped over her platforms and went
headlong into the side of her desk.  Rich
was twelve and Julia, fifteen when they got their matching scars.  Her eyes, like mine, dark as German
chocolate.  We knew she could handle it
and she readied herself guided by her intuition.  But, Leland was too intuitive a child who gave
kisses freely.  He told me he loved me
whenever we said good-bye.  His embrace
was full of need. 
            Leland will idealize her, I told
myself.  That’s the way it should
be.  He’ll wonder what it would have been
like to have a mother past the age of fourteen, when the aspects of his
enormous personality would come together and independent thought would pit him
against his parents.  No such luck.  We always wonder about the things we cannot
have.  He will not know her as the woman
who attempted to kill herself six times to keep those she loved from
leaving.  Julia and Leland had just left
their mother to live in that house where I stood one step below Annie in her
long white silk robe.  I knew it was a
part of healing.  This cruel thing was
just a part of the healing.  It was as
though the healing took place when the crack in the foundation finally let the
walls fall just as it was expected.
            “Did she kill herself?” I
asked.  Annie cocked her head to one side
and lifted her hand, perplexed and looking more like an idiot than she had a
chance to conceal.  She replied, “We
won’t know for sure until the autopsy.” 
I thought of the word ‘autopsy’ and the way it was used.  I pictured Marie lying on a table, her hard
face at peace and her eyes closed. 
Unlike Annie, Marie hated showing her clean, South American skin,
beautiful, bare.  She preferred to cover
it with foundation and brick creme rouge. 
Standing beside her in the bathroom, I watched her put on the layers of
color that joy could not tint from simply being one of God’s creatures. I was
too young to wear makeup at the time though she allowed me to borrow her
lipstick and padded rouge on my cheeks when Father was not looking.  She caked it on thick and wore Sixties false
eyelashes.  Unstylish as they were, she
still wore them.  Lingering bad fashion
sense was her habit.  False eyelashes at
the tips of her lids, at the tip of her fingers were acrylic nails, much too
thick for a woman with a more sophisticated sensibility.  I enjoyed her lack of refinement.  Proper training in the rules of politeness
could not teach a young girl how to gyrate her hips or the joys of finding
rhythm.
            She was the woman who taught me how
to dance, to find the rhythm in the sounds of radio.  I was eight years old.  Clapping at each beat of the song, standing
in the den, I discovered it, first putting my hands together and then bouncing
with a bend at my knees to the beat. 
            “Use your hands,” she would
say.  Marie was Argentinean, expressive,
dramatic.              We stood in the living room of the Edgewater house.  Marie started singing and I kept moving my
lips and finally let the words flow.  The
smell of potatoes and melted cheese came from the kitchen.
            “You know this song,” she said,
surprised.
            “Yeah,” I answered,
embarrassed.  “You listen to this all the
time.  The song is on the radio too.  I listen to it on the way home Who is it?”
            “Helen Reddy,” she replied.  “It’s called, ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me
Roar’.”  Do you like it?”
            “Do you like it?”
            “Yeah.”
            Marie started dancing around the room.  She moved her hands around then, flustered,
went to the stereo dial.
            “I need to change this to something
I can dance to.  Do you mind, honey?” she
asked without waiting for me to answer. 
Her fingers already held onto the dial.
            “No,” I said.
            “You know how to dance?” she asked,
tuning into “Dancing Queen,” the Abba song and swirling around like she was one
of those free love, hippie weirdoes.
            I laughed.  “No.”
            “Well, I’ll teach you,” she said,
taking m hands and holding onto my small fingers.  “First you have to find the rhythm.  “I like this song,” she said.  “But, I’d like to be called a princess more
than I would a queen.  Wouldn’t you?” she
asked.
            “I guess so,” I replied, my cheeks
straining the perimeters of my round face, too small to how big my smile
intended to be.  We found the beat
counting at every one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four time…
            “You hear it?” she asked.
            “I think so,” I replied, following
her as though  I was a reflection in a
mirror, bending my knees at each beat.
            “Okay, now you can move your hops
back and forth like this,” she said, her hips following he instruction and
moving one side to the other like a clock ticking.  Her jeans were tight and clung to her hips.  The creases sprouted out from her crotch
around her groin were faded.
            “Now, move your hands,” she
instructed, letting go of my fingers and swirling her hands at the wrists
around while I moved my arms at my sides, my fists balled up.  She touched my arms, jerking up and down.  “Relax,” she said.  “Let your arms go.”  Like a puppeteer she moved my arms up and
down, limp like spaghetti.  “Open your
hand,” she said, “and move them around like you’re pulling the air around you.  Like you’re picking fruit from trees but
graceful like you’re under water.”
            Again I mimicked her, my arms
folding and unfolding.  She turned the
dial, increasing the music volume. 
“Good,” she yelled above the music. 
“You’re doing great.”  Her eyes
were so big and the lashes curled up to touch just underneath her brows.  I read joy in her eyes but, she changed over
time.
            There was something very wise about
her but something too sad for this world. 
The sadness came from a life of ever increasing loneliness.  Each step was another closed door until
Father rescued her and then left her alone. 
            Annie was my new stepmother – number
two.  She told me that Marie was in the
hospital two weeks before than and Julia was returning home to her room behind
the kitchen, like Cinderella in her quarters. 
Marie was an unfit mother who let her roam free.  Father took her away from Marie to teach the
woman something.  Good mothers did not
offer up such liberties to a young girl. 
But, Marie, with that very weak will did not have much of a choice.  Not the kind of mother that could offer a
proper life for her daughter.
            Annie continued, “The therapist was
really good with Leland.”  I was suddenly
grateful for the woman standing at the top of the stairs in her fluffy
robe.  She held this together.  She was what my father needed, a woman with a
good heart, a woman who would be patient when he announced every six months
that the marriage of only one year was doomed, that he was leaving and that she
should be his personal servant.  I felt
sorry for her in choosing Father who knew more about books and knowledge than
of people. After three sets of parents, I calculated that I had lived five
lives given as many sets of parents before age twenty five.  Changes went by with silence like the clock
turning over noon to midnight.
            Rule
One:  Keep quiet.
             I sought redemption.
            I knew that my colors were there for
me when no one would say a word.  Father,
quiet, his head down, reading.  Colors
broke the silence without a word.  I
found voices in the stories shaped in indigo and rust, sepia and rose.  (I touched the fine, white stitched canvas
with one hand and flipped through pages in the other wishing I could read every
word in a minute because there were so many of them offering up shadows of
another mind.)  Standing at the easel, I
cast my eyes over every title marked on the bindings that Mother had arranged
perfectly in the living room bookshelf. 
Mother did not read any one of them but saw them as accessories to a
larger collection.  Well-kept books with
flat corners and tight bindings went unread. 
At my father’s, books were stacked and lying around and set on the
shelves in no particular order with the exception of the classics that he
purchased by mail for the children.  
Perfectly intact and bound in leather with gold trim they stood out on
the shelf misplaced like royalty mingling with peasants.
            I turned away, saying to Annie, “I’m
going to go see Leland.”  That kid was me
behind his eyes, where I found something that I did not know I had lost until I
looked at him.  Curiosity drove him, but
as the years passed he was more afraid to ask questions.  Life’s lessons were teaching him to be
afraid.  Father was not too kind in his
teaching.  He made me laugh when we joked
together about my childishness matched with his teenage maturity, a mask for
the insecure feelings of youth.  Age
struck more quickly than I anticipated. 
An old story,  I longed to take
back what I had lost, grasping for another lost moment like it was the
smoothest piece of driftwood swept from the river to the sea.  As the years passed, I lost sight.  It disappeared into the horizon.  Leland never left to school in the morning
without giving me a kiss. 
            We would see each other in the
kitchen like my mother did when I was his age. 
Leland and I were so similar that it frightened me to see him and know
the emotions that lay ahead.  It was less
those things that stuck to the emotions and more the feelings themselves.  He would never forgive his mother for what
she did.  He would spend his life trying
to make peace with it as if it was his fault. 
That slight body would transform into a man’s physique and shreds of
purity would hide waiting for a woman to discover them. One woman would crush
him and perhaps he would send another into tears.   He had the tenacity found by a fragile
spirit when it is put to the test of life. 
All of us kids knew what life was too soon though it would be some time
until he would find his road .  I felt as
though this was what made being in my father’s house at age twenty-eight,
worthwhile.  He was the one I would
protect though, when he put his arms around my neck in a quick embrace, his
spirit lingered about me like a string of life-giving beads as though they
contained the boy’s substance, his sheer force of will, his authentic
courage.  He reminded me of myself in the
good light and Julia reminded me of myself in the bad light and of her mother’s
face but more beautiful. 
            At age eighteen, Julia had just
realized her beauty.  Resemblance met
somewhere between my father’s Italian and Marie’s Argentina.  That combination was dangerous in a woman
without a proper mother.  Beautiful women
without a strong sense of self make poor choices of compromising
integrity.  Men she chose would be
temporary because she chose the kind that hurt her.  Julia would be one of those women who made
poor choices and no matter how hard I tried, those choices were not influenced
by any model I attempted to give.  I was
not Julia’s mother, but a sister half by blood who could in no way show her
something different.  After all, I was my
mother’s daughter and Julia was hers.  
Neither one of them had much luck in love.  I only wished life would play out a cliché
like the ending of a Hollywood romance.
            Just before she moved out, after
refusing Father’s request that Julia undergo a drug test, she came home with a
black eye.  I knew it was from her
boyfriend Ted but, I had to drag it out of her. 
The kid was heroin addict skinny and full of himself, not the type of
kid to hold a daughter or a sister or a niece. 
He was the type of young man who was a far cry from esteem. Coming to
her senses, she let him go and he gave her a black eye.  Of all pivotal points in my life, I thought
that my father must have finally changed when he coolly sat down with Julia and
spoke to her gently. Signs of it came when he listened longer on the phone and
gave more of his thoughts to me.  Age was
finally getting him to slow down.  The
speech usually lasted at least ten minutes. 
In each phone call he assumed the pedantic role of professor.  He must have seen how his mistakes left his
little girl with a black eye, caused the pain to boomerang.  His example took root long ago.  Like a steamroller on the girl’s emotions, he
was often cruel and unpredictable and so unlike his mother, a woman of
indefatigable kindness.
            “Women were slaves until recently, “
he told me over dinner.   We ate sushi
together.  Though he treated them as
such, the leniency of his mother, her tendency to placate her only son’s mood,
left him spoiled.  And, when the success
came, no one woman could match her attentions. 
Going through this with Julia, he must have seen the other side of the
coin.  He must have seen the way he
treated women when Julia walked into the kitchen with a black eye.  Men who father children either begin to see
things differently or they leave, unable to meet the reality of every day life
with the normalcy and responsibility that it requires.  Father was beginning to see it.  Close to sixty years old, he finally saw that
his life was of his own making.  The rage
was leaving him slowly, fading like the sharp image of a photograph laid in the
sun.  One day he told me, “Evelyn, I
finally see what everyone has told me all of these years.”  I think that was the last bit of rage left in
him.
            Numb, I walked downstairs.  It would last for a few days until I started
thinking about myself and how I met Marie when Father picked  us up in the large car almost as long and
equally dark as a limo. He attempted to cover his mistakes by collecting cars
and things and women.  The Rolls Royce
and chauffeurs were tangible proof that his decision to leave us was for the
best.  Mother warned him that he would
regret leaving her.  But, the truth was
that he had to leave.  Mother, in house
decorating, making dinners, coddling children, was not enough.  Begging with flowers and charm, he always got
what he wanted.  She went back to him
time and again.
            When I turned to walk down the
stairs, my father appeared from Leland’s room, wearing his paisley silk
pajamas.  He gave me a hug with one arm
and walked away.  From my father, I knew
there would not be tears, there would only be the stark expression on his face
that showed he had made a grave error, that words and theories and philosophies
from the volumes he read, could not correct. 
Notions and sentiments of the great thinkers or the pop thinkers or
those who claimed one hold or another on the cosmos could not take his fourteen
year old son’s pain away.  His gray head
lowered, he said, “I have to get something,” and hastily walked into the
bedroom.  It was a time that he had to
hide his tears, the tears of helplessness and tears that could restore his
children.  It was something he could not
fix with an empty promise.  The choice
that altered his life was made for him.
            I made my way down the stairs to the
dark bedroom lit by the entryway fixture. 
Under his green comforter, he looked at me for a second then turned
away, staring at the ceiling.  Julia lay
next to him.  Sniffling, she said, “Hi,”
in the ineffectual voice that bordered a whisper.  It rendered the girl inert, unable to connect
because she understood too much too soon and hide by speaking at just above a
whisper.  To Leland, it must have been
soothing.  I put my hand on his head and
stroked his hair grown out about an inch from the buzz cut of a few weeks
prior.  Silent, I looked at Julia
reclined and brushing her hand across Leland’s forehead.  It was not a time for many words.  Like Father, I felt there was nothing I could
say. I had always felt like a mother to Leland, even when he was very small and
Marie left us alone.  Julia used life’s
difficulties as an excuse while Leland understood them in what was only a
glance between us.  There were things
that happened he would never talk about.
            “You guys know you’re good kids,
right?” I said.
            “What?” Julia asked.
            “You 
know you’re good kids,” I repeated. 
It’s the only thing I could think to say.  Sometimes it is better to know another person
is in the room to share the load. 
Mostly, I thought the weight of the world was mine to bear alone, but it
was heavy.  I could not let him be numb
like me.  Numb and bitter and cold and
lonely but faking it to the world because I really was vulnerable, alive and finally feeling like the skin on my body
fit, that I was not so odd.  Though, I
was not as odd as my family only naive to the extent that I could see what was
real and clearly not.  Packages never
suited me.  Oddity was uniqueness.  I felt so heavy that easing up would send me
souring into the sky like a balloon unstrung from an aluminum fishing
lure. 
            Leland turned his head in a knee
jerk reaction that meant I should stay quiet. 
Julia said, “Yeah,” drawing it out like a whisp-of-the-wind and caressed
Leland’s forehead when I withdrew my hand, replacing it on my lap. Saying what
I thought, that they would be better off without her was an act of cold hearted
young woman.  After Marie’s third suicide
attempt prompted by Father’s attempt to leave her, Grandmother said, “She
didn’t do a very good job.”  It was the
only cruel thing, other than calling my stepmother a bitch, that Grandmother
said about anyone.  I thought, they would
be better off.  I wondered where she was
and if she saw what was happening. 
That’s where I find the comfort. 
But, my little brother Leland, only half by blood but complete in the
spirit that we shared, lost his mother. 
To me, it was a guilty relief knowing the unspoken comfort each of us
found in the finality of it all.  Morbid
in the bleak truth, her funeral was tinted with the charms of celebration.
            Some people are born with a broken
heart.  They are born into thinking that
the world will be as safe as the womb faced with cold and unanswered questions,
mistakes made and repeated until learned. 
Some people decide to leave because it hurts so much to stay in one
place long enough to heal when things get broken because of the mistakes.  That’s what I should say to Leland.  I should tell him that his Mother had a
broken heart that couldn’t be fixed and that God is the only one who can…  God is glue,
I would tell him. 
Marie was like an absentminded child who left her bottle of Elmers in
her desk so some greedy little boy or girl could snatch it away. 
            Though she prayed, Marie had no
reason to believe in God.  Her mother,
Elena,  was one of those women who made
the sign of the cross and ranted in Spanish holding her Holy Mary pendant
between her prayer set hands bowing and nodding and pleading to God.  They never told her that Marie killed
herself.  Elena was too old and
frail.  Marie believed in drinking away
her pain rather than walking through what ailed her spirit.  While numb from the alcohol, she still felt
and sobbed and swallowed a handful of pills because the coals burning turned to
flames too hot to bear.  She succeeded in
her last of many attempts.  Six in
number, the attempts were ones I only heard
about.  That is to say, there could have
been more.  Father would not allow us to
visit her in the hospital, to go to her white as the clouds in the clear blue
heaven bedside or walk alongside as she shuffled through the hospital detox
center in her white hospital gown and slippers. 
Imagination was my only solution to confusion.  I made up the stories while I looked over the
ocean from Edgewater Towers.
            When Annie told me I shut down,
saying, “I don’t want to know.  I can’t
be dragged into this.  I grew up with
that woman and her threats and the violence, Annie.  I don’t want to explain it.  I don’t want to hear about it.  It took me a long time to drag myself out of
it and I don’t want to hear about it anymore. 
Nothing personal.  It is just the
way it is.  I can’t go around nailing
down the floorboards.  I have my own
life.”
            Nodding, she continued to tell me
the story with drama so familiar it was almost calming.  “Julia found her in her room.  She hadn’t answered the phone in two days so
she went over there.”
            I listened, nodded and looked at the
floor.  Her toes were painted the same
color pink as the hearts on the robe. 
            She must have read my mind because
she answered the question before I got it out.
            “It was an overdose.”
            “That’s what she tried before so I
figured that would be it.  The peaks and
valleys of her voice affirmed my life with its overwhelming sense of
panic.  With uncertainty and doubt and
this going on, the only thing I could think about was my vision – making things
real, which mostly overwhelmed every day. 
I opened my eyes to the face of a child or read a story that imbued my
heart with strength or looked at paintings devised with a wide breadth of
emotion.  I could step forward with
hope.  Like a sow bug, I curled into a
little ball where I hid, protected by the strong plates of what made my skin of
armor get me through and through without my spirit dying.  That was all that came of it.  I cannot say that there is anything in my
life that I could think of without tension. 
It was a battle, living.  Even in
my small room, I fought against the walls closing in, pushing me out into the
main house where my father, his wife and the kids settled.  There was a reason to be at this house with
this factioned off family;  my fifth
life, living at Father’s home with his third wife.  Chaos was constant as a heartbeat.  It revived my own.
            Mother taught me at an early age how
to cope with these things. 
            Rule
2:  Problem Solving:  Pretend that nothing happened.
            After my first breakup with Sam just
before I entered my twenties and the art and the art school an hour away from
home, we went to the mall and Mother bought two pairs of the same loafers in
different colors.  I rarely wore either
and eventually gave them away but it proved Rule 2 to problem solving.  If
pretending does not work, shopping will.
 
It was a good thing I was female. 
The boys could get away with Rule 1. 
Charlie had the depth of a Petri dish and Walt rarely spoke. 
            The day after I heard about Marie I
went shopping, got a manicure and a pedicure then bought a new pair of glasses
that I could wear everyday because the frames were feather light.  I found them at a bargain price from the guy
next to the nail salon.  I told the man,
who was a tall slender Italian, that he had a great deal, that other stores
listed them higher.  Armani, after
all.  “I do have the best deal,” he confirmed in a thick Italian
accent.  “How much were the other
ones.  Do you mind if I ask?” 
            I told him, “One hundred less.”  He was delighted that his avid testimony was
proven true.  Surprise rendered in his
cheeks, not red from sun but blushing. 
Vendors generally masked amazement when their lies came true.  Businessmen as prophets.
            “You saved one hundred and forty dollars,” he said, correcting
me. 
            I smiled.  “Good.” 
Grooming and buying new glasses with a stronger prescription worked that
day.  My mother’s third husband, Darren,
always told me that I should have two pairs of glasses in case I lost one.
            Fathers
and Daughters
            Leland was the type of boy that
could utter words and without intention straighten out my misguided life.  Once he asked how I skateboarded when I was a
kid.
            “I wasn’t very good,” I replied.
            He added, “So you just went down and
turned once in a while when you got going too fast.” 
            “Yeah,” I said.  He didn’t know it but he straightened out my
life in a small phrase.  He straightened
out my life in an observation that only a kid could point out with such clarity.  No wonder people delighted at the sight of
children, at their laughter.  Simplicity
presided over our common fear.  I thought
of Rosa, Rich’s wife, one week until her due date and worried and about the
arrival of the next first Radcliffe of a new generation.  If it was a boy, they were going to name it
Rich, Junior.  Ridiculous to ask for a
clone, I thought.  As if this family had
a hard enough time breaking away from prophesy.
            Leland was different because he was
the only other artist in the family. 
Father, the attorney, trained to solve problems managed to screw up his
life and take his periphery with him.  He
made everyone around him believe themselves wrong and went back to his own
life  victorious, without injury.  He lectured us about the way things should
be, never able to get it himself. 
Perfection.  He studied every
subject under the sun.
            Leland would not take his eyes off
the ceiling that night – Julia stroking his forehead.
            “The
key to wisdom is knowing what to overlook.”
   It was no coincidence that love shared the
same blindness.
            He was not wise though he mistook
intelligence as wisdom.  I wondered if he
thought himself above it all, that he had reason to neglect decency because
there were so many important facts to cultivate in his mind that swam with
information.  Reason.  When Father raged little was left to
wonder.  Books, money, wisdom and
tailored suits accumulated edging out kindness. 
Egomaniacal Father was ever the businessman.  What room did he have left for kindness?   I could rely on him as a source of
information, a buffet of curiosity that I drew on if I was interested in a
certain brand of thought.  He spouted
about the religions of the world, philosophy, ways to find God while sniffing
cocaine and smoking pot while we were with Mother.
            Leland was curious but without the
greed that motivated Father’s search for power. 
He began so unlike my father. 
Sensitivity spurred his inquisitive nature, attentive to his
environment, a child of a home in turmoil. 
Perhaps it was youth.  He was a
little kid whose brain did not frame things in boundaries.  It was the kind of thought that drew me into
his little world of magic tricks.  It was
a world that we both understood.  A day
later, I knew that his mother’s death would shut him down and rebuild the way
the world was framed.  It was much easier
to accept with the elderly but not so when someone went ahead and took their
own life.  I missed my grandparents.  Suddenly, I was grateful for my mother though
she still managed to criticize Father.
            “You know, your father probably had
something to do with it.  He’s said
things to hurt people.  He probably said
something to her.  You know, I talked to
her once.  She called me at work and I
thought, ‘Oh God, I don’t want to do this,’ but she begged me to talk to
her.  She told me how he told her that
she should die.  He told her she was
crazy.  When we were married and I
confronted him with his affairs he called me crazy too.  You know, I forgave her years ago.”
            She never forgave Father. 
            Knowing her sadness, unaccounted joy
after each pull on the slot machine handle, I snapped.  Numbed out. 
I had almost felt bad enough to do it myself but when I saw Leland and
Julia’s eyes, I knew why my will left me alive. 
Courage had nothing to do with it as did will.
           I
woke up feeling over tired from the burden of emotions weighing down on my
spirit, causing my feet to shuffle rather than prance and my speech to almost
slur.  At age fourteen I remembered
myself, new to Kansas and just as I got my feet planted again, Mother wanted me
home.  It was John’s idea to send me away
to the school and Mother thought it a good idea at first and bout me new
clothes to take along.  Not many girls my
age would have the audacity to wear pink and maroon (the color of the corduroy
gouchos) but even desperate for acceptance I preferred a style just off the
mark.  Leora must have sensed it with her
corn rowed hair and fuscia cotton top. 
We both wore braces.  Since John
came to the house it was the first time I was in fashion. 
           Seasons
passed and I usually caught the tail end after Mother had saved enough money to
buy us the current trend.  For that, she
was proud of me and in the future she would be proud of those things she
wanted, whether they would make me happy or not.  Mother, I entertained with sheepish humor,
felt that she was too much like God as do most parents.  Whatever kept within the boundaries of her
plan was correct and that which diverged was wholly wrong.  Not much the environment for artistic
curiosity, for freedom, for allowing the mind to flow with ease and grace,
guiding brushstrokes or words.
            I
wish I could see Mother the way she was before life showed her a thing or two.
            Annie told me what Marie said to
those kids.  “I will kill myself if you
leave me.”  They left her and she
died.  That morning I walked into
Leland’s room, where Emily, Annie’s daughter, played video games on the
Nintendo set while Leland patted his deck of cards so that the newly shuffled
ones were flush on all sides.  I was
still in the outfit that I converted into pajamas:  brown leggings and a cotton top that looked
flannel but was just a course cotton and oversized, designed in a cross-hatched
pattern of brown and blue stripes with a white background.  I wore my slippers that Rich bought me for
Christmas present two years back.  They
were brown neubuck with a fur interior, exposed when the flap was turned
out.  All that I wore during that time
was brown, black and other earthy shades. 
Baffled that my mother bought me two suits for a Christmas, one royal
blue and the other a cherry red, I returned the suits, replacing them with two
less matronly with simple lines one in a dark green and the other a grayish
green.  I told Mother that I at least
bought something with color and harnessed my desire to tell her straight on,
“You have no idea what I am all about.  I
am your daughter and you have no idea what I want.”
            I
wanted her to know me.
            Truth was, when it came to both of
us, the apple doesn’t fall too far from
the tree
.
            Still, she tried to dress me like
her friends in the valley, who were twice my age and mostly housewives who
rarely strayed out of their element. 
Most of the couples, for that matter, appeared to be miserable together
toward the end of the marriages which tied them to mutual friends, a home,
children and everything they worked to build. 
They all ended in divorce one after the other like the expiration date
was discovered overdue in the refrigeration upon closer inspection.  Dreams, being romanticized expectation of the
purist sort were compromised in all relationships only those that expired did
not meet the acid test:  it was not worth
it and the person, the reason you gave them up is a constant reminder of
sacrifice. 
            So,
up until then, I had lived my fourth life.
            Recalling my relationship I had with
Marie, I was struck with a set of feelings only to be described as ambivalence
given that my nature would not allow me to hate her intensely as did my mother
and brothers for the sake of loyalty, yet I did not love her like a mother for
the sake of guilt.  A new frame of
reference was my only gift to Leland who would have to find another way of
looking at life;  one with hope and not
laced with tragedy.  A mother cannot be
replaced no matter how deep her sadness or how grave the mistakes.  By the book, a mother is never one to
disappear.  I wanted this kid to know
what a good life would be like, that this
was not a normal way to live
, that people did not show love with
anger.   I wanted him to know that days
did not have to be shrouded in turmoil; 
life upon closer inspection was without regret or blame or doubt, that
tomorrow was as certain as his mother’s face when she tucked him in bed at
night after his God blesses. 
            You cannot give away what you do not
yourself posses.  I remembered that and
met the problem dead on.  Myself, I did
not believe that I could see things differently with any glimmer of
reality.  In my mind’s eye I pictured
what psychology books referred to as the nuclear family, an almost extinct
social condition with the dawn of the modern era.  But, my family had it down in the area of
dysfunction.  I wanted to believe that
another way was possible, but watching this boy just barely a man made me
unbearably sad.  I wished that I could
take away the pain.  It was harder to
stay here and face it.  I wanted to run
away, but that is exactly what my father did. 
People ran in their own ways to escape discomfort as a temporary
reprieve but there was nothing as permanent as death. 
            Mother told me the my emotions were
unmanageable.  She was right.  They were not manageable at all, and I partly
enjoyed the threat this posed to her very contained life and mostly wished that
my heart, with the depth and tone of oils, could be as faint and quick as the
pastels at the tips of my chalk covered fingers, dusted with talcum powder.
            Leland looked tired the following
day but his eyes were dry and he smiled easier.
            Turning back the bedspread, I said,
“I’m just going to get in here, okay? 
I’m cold for some reason.”  I
finished with a smile and took a bite out of the apple. Leland walked around
looking at the floor, his head bowed down at the ground as if he was searching
for something lost.  I watched him and
envisioned myself squinting when Mother asked for my help to look for an
earring back dropped on the short cut buttercup yellow bathroom rug.  On my hands and knees, I crawled around the
floor looking under the cabinet where I could usually track the small piece of
gold or platinum that dropped to the floor when it slipped between her
fingers.  Her red long nails, shaped
perfectly were cumbersome when she handled small things like earring
backs.  Watching him, he looked up shyly
and smiled, pleased at my comfort.  I
knew that he liked me being in the house. 
His older sister, Julia, Elena and I were the only women left in his
life, really. 
            “You know, I always worried about
Rich after your father left.  I worried
that he wouldn’t have a role model and wondered how it would effect his
life.  It wasn’t until you were older
that I read somewhere that it isn’t the relationship between father and son
that is so important but it’s the opposite sex relationships that are
important.  It’s the father and daughter
that is important.”
            “And the mother and son, right?” I
added.  She looked in my eyes in a way
that could not defy my certainty.  The
loss I felt had no recourse but acceptance.
            Fighting came naturally to Leland
and Julia but it made the bond between them solid.  Radcliffe’s were willful.  Their relationship was stronger than siblings
who have a constant, normal life.  They
learned to depend upon one another knowing that their parents, too absorbed in
life and themselves and anger, were reliable if only in their
unreliability.  Like soldiers in
bootcamp, we were all each other had. 
Rich and Walt and I were the only kids in town with a divorced
mother.  Marie was lucky that divorce was
long since accepted as a solution to irreconcilable differences.   We all got to watch men leave, our fathers
and men we thought would be.  Wrong
reasons never made a proper selection. 
Wrong reasons without forgiveness left a kid alone.
            I walked into his room the next day
and noticed his cards in his right hand. 
I said, “Show me a magic trick.” 
He said, “Okay,” lowering his head shyly at the attention.  A thirteen year old boy could not ask for it
and did not want to cry about something he did not understand.  His mother’s absence was his only certainty
but the effect, the thought itself discounted his loss.  Motherless. 
I’d known about an absent mother, distracted by her own disappointment,
angry at her responsibility, trying out of love and guilt to mask it.  But the thing about Louise, my mother, she
never left.  There would always be
something missing in that boy’s life. 
Good thing that Gabby, Marie’s sister, was scheduled to arrive.  It had been fifteen years since I had last
seen her. 
Magic
            Leland fanned the cards and told me
to pick one out of the batch.  I withdrew
the card as I had done before.  He
practiced the tricks that he read about in a book on his desk before trying
them with me.  Magic was the type of
thing Leland would try, being the type of boy who could beat his father at a
game of chess.  So much brainwork for a
fourteen-year-old boy.  My brothers and I
played with magic when we were kids, but not this kind.  Card tricks took time and practice, time and
practice that he devoted when his friend Matt was around.  Matt was a showman, more so than Leland.  He was a paunchy kid who arrived at the house
wearing a helmet that his parents must have made him wear when he skateboarded
around town.  Emily didn’t say much of
anything.  I felt like I was regressing
sitting there in the bed, listening to the sound effects.  One of the Mario Brothers, computer generated
characters jumped through balloons in the sky at Emily’s command of the
joystick, its feet moving at an unnatural pace. 
I shivered under the blanket, and asked her, “Aren’t you cold?” 
            She sat on the floor, her legs
outstretched in front of her and crossed at the ankles.  At fourteen, she was twenty pounds overweight
with a round, beautiful face composed with very faint freckles, ice blue eyes
and a button nose.  Blown straight, her
dyed thick blond hair hung just below her shoulders.  Her toenails were painted blue and she wore a
white T-shirt with a Powder Puff girl iron on stretched slightly across her
C-size bust.
            “Now, put the card back in the
deck,” Leland said, and hid the cards behind his back, concentrating with some
deliberate arrangement that must be going on with the manipulation of a magicians
crafty hands.  “See these two cards?” he
continued.
            “Yeah,” I said.  He looked fine though concentrating harder on
the operation than usual.  It seemed like
the surrender and the knowing that everything would be fine, that he was ready
to face things.  We surrounded him with
constant attention for days after the incident like a hen nesting around one
chick.  Matt was at the house most of the
time, being a friend without realizing his effort. “I’ll find your card between
two aces,” Leland said, holding the deck just below eye level and pulling out
an ace of spades and an ace of clubs and my card, the queen of hearts, in the
middle.  Thin from the convenience of a
pubescent high metabolism and Grandfather’s gangly genes, he sat cross-legged
on the bed in front of me.  I smiled and
looked away, my lips quivering just slightly. 
I was breaking. Leland remained fixated on his cards.  My mind was clear of maudlin fascinations and
I was present after twenty-eight years. 
I grew up in an instant with memories that left and acidic aftertaste in
thought, my feelings divided toward the woman. 
I watched the cards.
            I felt the loss deeply because she
helped me laugh my way to self-acceptance. 
She loved me even before my fourteen-year-old transformation drew me
into places I would only observe from a distance, seeing the ways of men and
women. 
            On the private beach on Capistrano
Bay she dunked me in the water kicking and screaming,  ten years old and a tomboy.  She did not care about the wet clothing or
that she would be the one doing the wash. 
Water dripped all over the floor. 
She just picked me up and threw me in, jeans and button down jersey in
all.  I screamed half laughing all the
way to the shoreline.  Afraid to go into
the water, she told me not to be afraid and added, “Nothing will happen to you
if you’re with me.”  I felt safe even
after the post Jaws movie trauma I endured. 
It was the hazard of being the only girl between two boys.  I was outvoted for every movie.  Horror and action flicks took up half my
memory because as an observer, I had no experiences, really, to mention.  Floating in the ocean, my arms rested on one
side of the Boogie Board while Marie held onto the other side.  It felt safe. 
It was one of the only times that I felt safe in my life.  It was all she had to say.  As a child, the only emotions that connected
me to this world were lonliness and fear; fear of what was going to happen
next.  The fear of uncertainty.  The floorboards kept popping up like the same
card in Leland’s magic trick.
            Back in my room I talked on the
phone to Leora, explaining the situation, that yes, Father’s ex-wife killed
herself and, yes, she did have two children that she left behind.  No, they were not fine.  And, yes, it did mean that she would not feel
that pain again.  I felt trapped in some
sick, twisted soap opera, swallowed by Father’s mistakes and dismal
sadness.  It was a dim view, unwelcome to
most people who would rather not hear the truth.  I realized that my friends were not the ones
to tell such things, aside from a select few who knew the story of my family
life. There were few people who were able to see me apart from the chaos. You are the company you keep or guilt by
association
did not match up.  Translated: 
Crazy family equals crazy girl. 
Some things were better left unsaid. 
Vegas in the House
            Later that evening I wandered into
the kitchen and heard Gabby’s voice coming from Julia’s room when I walked
through the back door.  I already ate a
bagel but pulled out a mug and  filled it
with Frosted Flakes then opened the refrigerator, took out the nonfat milk that
I bought for myself and poured it over the sugar-coated flakes.  A sugar-coated flake is exactly what I
wanted. Comfort food that I’d run off
later
.  Those Frosted Flakes meant a
lot to me.  I laughed again at my coping
skills which, by all intents and purposes bordered on silencing chaos.  I thought of that song, “A spoon full of
sugar makes the medicine go down” and spooned on the almost soggy flakes with a
small utensil for stirring rather than eating. 
The milk was sweet and it lasted longer. 
            Flipping through the paper,  pulled out the comics, pleased because it was
the Sunday color edition.  I read Peanuts and heard the clamorous steps of
my father coming down the stairs.  He patted
me on the head and asked, “How are you doing, Evelyn?”  He was trying to put it all together.  “Huh, Evie?” he said again when I didn’t
respond, my mouth full.  Nicknames were
his alternative to gifts but the name meant more.  It was less obvious, a more thoughtful peace
offering though no one else had their own name for me. 
            “What are you doing?  Reading the comics?” he asked.  “How are the Peanuts?”  Tragic situations
tended to summon stupidity.  He tried to
dispel grief by stating the obvious.  It
was as though the apparent would somehow anchor me into the world and out of my
own personal emotive hell.  Journalists
are the most effective example of this truth because they tend to ask the most
obvious questions to draw out the husband, mother, father, let’s say, of a
victim to homicide or suicide or just plain bad intentions.  I wanted to respond to my father with the
same lack of common sense that he valiantly portrayed in all of his adult life:  Charlie
thinks that he’s never going to get a grip over his life and Snoopy has a
better understanding of the way the world works than you do.
He’s a dog.  But, I abstained.  Restraint of tongue and pen made for a mature
young woman in the company of adolescents posing as adults in this fucked up
soap opera.  Angry words, embittered,
holding onto grudges from the past.  This
was not the place or the time.  I ate my
corn flakes and read about Snoopy leaving home.
            “Nothing,”  I mumbled. 
I felt like a kid who’s parent asked what she did at school that day, and
more interested in the next activity, did not want to hassle with a description
about how shitty I felt.  I felt sorry
for Annie.  Welcome to my hell was the only thing I wanted to say to her when
Father first introduced us.  At the time,
I was glad that he finally had someone new in his life, a potential companion
but there was awkwardness in the moment and it must have been.  My intuition was like a baby speaking, crying
out but unable to speak.  I had yet to
understand the language.
            Run
for your life
is what I should have said but, three months passed and it
was too late for objections.  She would
have to find out for herself.  I watched
them kiss at the alter and listened as Annie complained about the flowers for
hours after the ceremony.  Arrangements
of white and baby pink roses decorated the church chapel but, there were not
enough.  Annie ordered more than was
delivered.  I was surprised that I even
went to the wedding but, did, and managed to show up wearing pink linen and the
requisite smile for the pictures. 
            One year after their marriage, I
managed to wander back into the clutches of insanity and the chaotic world that
had me trapped inside the eye of a tornado, spitting out objects and people,
hurling them about like rag dolls and old shoes.  I had no idea how to leave, submerged knee
deep in quicksand.  My father created
this.  I should have known it was bound
to break.  I needed a rope.  It was time to do what I had thought about
for years.
            Gabby went into the kitchen.  I tried to remain silent, delaying any
interaction until it was necessary.  But,
she wanted something.  “Charlie, is there
any Sweet-and-Low?”
            “No, I don’t think so,” he answered.
            “Well then,” she said, “I’ll have to
use sugar.  This coffee is really
strong.  I need to have it sweet.”
            I waited while she poured the dark
syrupy liquid in her cup and doctored my morning coffee in the same way only
adding skim milk.
            “Evelyn,” he said.  My cover lifted, a cover of silent brooding
that I kept even when life was running smoothly.   I acknowledged the question in his
voice.  Father was the same in that
regard.  Luring him out of thought was
like reeling in a Marlin. 
            “There’s some below the cabinet with
the coffee mugs.”  Gabby appeared at the
doorway.  I looked haggard, still wandering
around the house wearing my red, black and white flannel night shirt, my long
brown hair in a ponytail frayed from the sleepless night.  Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I adjusted my
tortoise-shell glasses and wiped what felt like crumbs from the inside corner
of my swollen eyes.  Bags hung around
them, glasses on, hair pulled back the night before and little hairs strewn
about my face in the bed head fashion. 
After fifteen years I must have made a great impression to a woman whose
sister took her own life.  I figured, it
probably was not the thing on her mind and did not care what she thought of my
disarray.  Gabby was tough, rough around
the edges.  She was the type of woman
whose friends were ten years younger.  If
she was single, she would be dating those men too – younger.  My mother would say, the type of woman with
exposed roots and the color blond rendered only with Latin blood was without
class.  Born of the same parents, Gabby
was Argentinean.  Her mother never
remarried and I was content not to think of that complication.  Elena had only those two girls and Gabby was
the runt of the two and also the youngest. 
She was bow-legged.
            Hearing Gabby’s voice, I went into
the kitchen.  She stood there with a
smile on her face.  By appearance she was
happy but her laughter came not from joy but the ability to find humor in
tragedy.  Though my blue-blooded mother
would find her treatment of the situation course, it was the only way Gabby
could slough off the experience.  She did
not cry once in the time she spent at the house.  Her foundation would not allow her the
courtesy of a breakdown.  Marie had
finally completed the circle and to render the emotional truth would overwhelm
her.  This part of my life was one that I
pretended to forget. 
            Father asked me to go into the other
room.  It took one look at me to know
that I was upset because I faked it too well for my levity to be real. 
            “Now,” he prodded, curling his
finger out and in to follow him into the other room.  I was not in the mood for one of his
lectures.  I just wanted to find a way to
get out.  From the day I was born, I
thought of ways to get out, but I kept getting deeper in because my heart was
fond of sinking.  “Now, don’t let this
effect you,” he said.
            “Father, just stop.  I don’t want to hear any of this right now.”
            Wearing a navy blue short sleeved
shirt and khaki pants, he stood at the thresh hold between the kitchen and
dining room, blocking my way.  Moving to
the side with a step back, he continued. 
Given that he was the type of man who would ramble on for ten minutes in
response to a question, I was relieved to know he would only go so far with
Gabby there in the kitchen.  “I just
don’t want this to bring anything up for you.”
            “Well, it is.  I’m dealing with it and I don’t want to talk
about it.”  My emotions went to
anger.  Don’t tell me how I should or should not think.  Who the hell are you to tell me how I should
feel?  You were the one who killed her.
She was so miserable that she finally died.
 
I was tired, and started to walk away. 
“Don’t give me one of your lectures. 
I’m trying to be objective, but I can’t and that’s the way it is.”  Taken back, he looked at me with his hard
eyes and, I moved to walk away.  “Wait, I
have something else to tell you.”
            “Can we do this later?”  I said, turning around.  Gabby stood holding her coffee with nails
like talons at the tips of her tanning bed complected fingers.  Her skin had an orange tint.  Gaudy with a hip flair, the woman was
garrulous with the mouth of trailer park trash.  Mother would be the only one able to say it
any better.
            “It’s something else.  Aaron is moving in this week to the other
side of the guest house.”
            “You’ve got to be kidding.  I can’t fucking believe this.  Are you serious?”
            He stared at me.
            Those people were encroaching upon
my world and I wanted them to get out. 
The only person I liked in the house was Leland.  Even Julia was becoming something to fear – a
teenage waste without hope or dreams or any of that.  She spent her time more often penciling in
the hairless niche in her eyebrow where the scar either began or ended ,
chasing mother lessons  when there were
only illusions she could not catch.  Not
butterflies filled with hope but house flies buzzing around the garbage,
undeterred by an imagined swatter she held, batting it around, then went back
to her room just behind the kitchen.  I
thought and thought and wanted to get out of my head.  Anger was the only emotion I could tap in the
present and ambivalence toward the future. 
I saw the face of this little kid who’s mother took her own life and
knew that he would be forever changed and I couldn’t do a thing about it.  Perhaps if he flailed his fists hard into my
body it would be released.  I already
felt it.  Death and life frequently
interrupted my train of thought in a flash of fear.  There was so much between living and its
ultimatum that I could not find, poking my small fingers through the cracks,
looking for the in between glimpses of happiness.  Usually, they were diversions from the
truth.  That is, the truth that nothing
good is kept in Father’s house.  Lots of
garbage and some flashes of light.
The Box
            I taped a magic show for Leland and
asked if it helped as if I thought working magic would make his mother reappear
like the card that I picked.  It
disappeared into the deck. Watching him stare at the television, I recalled his
comatosed eyes fixed to the stucco ceiling the night that I returned home from
dancing.  It tore at me to think of his
face changing when Father sat him down to tell him. Leland was a sad boy before
it happened.  Annie called the trauma
therapist in to counsel the kids through the loss. It tore at me to know that
Leland and Julia were dragged into a room with a stranger.  It felt to me like emotional roadside service.  No one in the house knew a thing about fixing
an engine.  When the car was run into the
ground, it got fixed.  I knew exactly how
he felt.  Half of his life was taken away
just as small hint of joy and comfort and constancy settled in his belly.  He rooted himself in his father’s home while
a greater sadness came to him.  My father
was only present as he could be, a cumbersome man in his late fifties who still
did not know love.  He did not trust its
uncontrollable nature, but preferred to rely on his entirely disingenuous wife
who fled from his bouts of anger or ran to the kitchen to prepare a meal – his
favorite – meatloaf. Annie preferred to order in but kept up the good face as
long as she could.
            Lecturing and telling grand stories,
Father found the words when they should have run out long before he ended the
lecture, one so drawn out, one would mistake it for a monologue.  Listening was coming to him with more ease
and his rage eased up on him.  It had
been so violent in the past that he accidentally threw the phone at my
head.  Marie was on the phone with him
from the hospital and the fight began. 
It took little to push his buttons and he ripped the thing out of the
wall and threw it across the room.  I was
on the other side seated on the floor, drawing. 
I had my legs propped up as a table and leaned against the sofa.  I kept my eyes on the piece of paper, keeping
up the distracted pretense while I listened closely.  One moment I was drawing away and then next I
lay crying on the living room floor touching my forehead as it grew into a
goose egg bump.           With each stifling burden that returned to him in a
boomerang of Karma or bad luck late and deserved, he spoke deliberately from
the mind, still trying to manipulate the facts in his life so they would add up
to his redemption.  Still, he disapproved
of noise or the antics of children. 
Small animals needy of  attention
and children were too much to bear.  He
demanded attention when Mother was the pregnant butterball caring for two small
children.  Marie could give it at the
time and expected nothing from a married man and he nothing but a tromp off the
beaten path from a loon.  Father knew of
great topics of discussion but not the common details like love and kindness –
what it was.  Suicide was a grand
disaster that made me wonder whether a real home was possible and whether I
could have a stable place to be myself that gave more than a pulse beating only
because it was shocked with pain, but a lifeline that returned my spirit to me.
            I wondered if Walt knew anything
about this.  Months passed since his
refusal to speak with Father. 
Permanently injured, his voice was raspy since the incident five years
prior when Walt threw too much truth in his father’s face.  It was the first time Walt said a word about
his anger and it was Father’s last real fight. 
Walt said he pinned him against the wall, his large hand around his
throat while my brother choked on his own breath and could not say a word.  Strangling his son to stop the words could
keep them from lodging like a bullet to his skin.  Choking his own flesh and blood, he put up
the wall to feeling and blocked it out completely – an obstacle to the
truth.  Walt stopped attending holidays
with Father.  It was as if his deliberate
absence, his refusal to attend was his own way of breaking the chain.  Walt stepped away for good while I allowed
the eye of the tornado to swallow me whole.
            Completing his last year of college
became a year of complaints that no one called while he sat in front of the
television watching CNN deliberating his much anticipated emancipation into
what?
            “No one fucking calls me or cares
about you.  You are all fucking absorbed
in your own shit and don’t fucking care. 
Well, I’m gonna be so fucking successful that you’ll eat your words.  I’m fucking going to make something of
myself.  All anyone can do is knock
me.” 
            In the same breath he said he hated
Mother.  He lost his best friend that
summer and it was only Winter when Marie killed herself.  He said nothing about it.  The only way for me to deal with life was
through pictures while Walt shut down emitting bursts of anger and grew red in
the face.  Just like Father who he could
never make proud, not first born proud.
            Marie was dying each day that she
was alive.  Each day that she watched her
children grow and need her less.  Julia
as eighteen and with the face of a Latin model with European features and long,
thick, dark hair, perfect teeth and wide, chocolate eyes.  She spoke softly with an air that made her
sound stupid for a very smart girl. 
Leland was a thirteen year-old artist and magician bound to make
movies.  They just returned to our
father’s house after living with her for a few years, then went back to their
father when he remarried.  Between them,
Leland and Julia were pawns much like Walt and Rich were between Mother and
Father.  That said and in the open would
sting either one of them with the truth. 
Pulling at each of us as though we were a fresh bovine hipbones thrown
into a den of two canines, they satisfied their very delicate egos.  While father tried for custody of all three
of us, he never won that battle.  The
courts were not often kind to a man who left his wife and children.  Mother clung to us with all of her strength
and protective instinct.  Love was not
enough.   Love that did not cling so
fiercely was unknown to.  She held on to
us.  When it was long overdue to cease
the clinging it was too late.  Acting as
a pawn to the people who said they did it for love was painful.  From the beginning, love was pain, love was
loss, love was knowing that someone could leave at any moment.  One small action; one small criticism in the
back of your mind; one failure to remember what brought you together.  That was all it took.  One misstep. 
Tripping over laces.
            “There are no guarantees in
life.  Life isn’t fair.”  Mother would reiterate the phrases like a
mantra.  She found it her place to remind
us of our good fortune though years would pass before we ever understood her
work and what drove her.
            It
was not my mother who died.
            I thought that the woman closest to
me in biological proximity could tear me apart if she left though seeing her
did much the same.  Awkwardness replaced
her grace, clear sighted, she never understood how closing your eyes could
clear your vision or what it was like to still be counting on your fingers at
age twenty eight.  Mother had no capacity
to understand weakness because she had so few of them.  Poor choices in men, she understood, but not
weakness outside of her experience.  I
could always go crying to her when I was in pain over a man.  When Sam went away, I sat crying for
hours.  Just crying and wondering when
she could return.
            Sam.
            “You can’t expect to grow old with a
person who’s in a wheelchair, Evelyn. 
It’s fine now.  You’re young.  But, you can’t expect to make a family with
someone like that.  To raise kids.  And, what about school?  You have to go to school.”  Mother told me this.  Marie told me it was my decision.  You have to do what makes you happy, Evelyn.  I don’t claim to know what to do about
relationships.  Your father and I had our
problems and you have to do what is best for you.”
            I listened when she said that.
            “Do you love him?”
            I nodded.
            “You’re Nick as in my stepcousin,
Nick?” I asked.
            Nick nodded.  “Nice to meet you.”  Sam looked up at me.  We stood around a sculpture at the center of
the gallery.  Paintings hung on the white
drywall arranged in a maze throughout the auditorium space.  Abstract expressionism dominated the exhibit
– splotches of color and swirls, dark greens and blacks, textured in thick
oil.  Like snakeskin.
            Tall, about six feet tall.
            Marie told me it was my
decision.  “You have to do what makes you
happy, Evelyn.  I don’t claim to know
what to do about relationships.  Your
father and I had our problems and you have to do what is best for you.”
            I listened when she said that.
            “Do you love him?”
            I nodded.  She understood men leaving and she understood
loneliness;  that was her weakness.
Counting
            Mother’s love was not without
conditions.  If I heard her crying at the
customary but unpredictable phone calls from Father threatening to remove us
from her custody I would retreat further into my world, underneath the mattress
of my bed to hide when I heard screaming. 
There, I contemplated the springs and batting, tracing it like a
map.  My house shed angry voices like a
gardener snipping at rose stem thorns, as though sneezing out the rage while I
stayed hidden, sometimes humming myself to sleep there until the darkness fell
to quiet.   Friday night, was somehow
silence and there was little for me to do than to accept my constant underlying
anxiety.  I was numb but prone to bouts
of fear that stirred any sense of calm. 
            This I remembered as I watched
Leland stare at the ceiling, shock on his face still young enough to not hide
the truth.  He was back and forth,
between the emotions of the pair.  His
mother tried to commit suicide three weeks ago, sending Julia back to the house
where her stepmother slept.  I told
Father that it looked like she was doing drugs. 
She refused a drug test then abruptly left to live at her mother’s.  The reason they were there at Father’s now
was the reason Julia was leaving.  Marie
stayed in her room all day.  Julia could
do as she pleased.  Annie told me all of
this though and I reminded myself that the woman was an actress prone toward
exaggeration.  Not to mention that she
was deeply jealous of the girl for no other reason than she was young and
beautiful and smarter than Annie. 
            In the kitchen, Annie told me everything
about the woman I tried to forget.  I
loved her against principle not only because she taught me how to dance but
because she listened to me when my mother shut off her capacity to nurture and
stepped into the role of Father.  Step
parents that you visit on the weekend are easy. 
It’s like vacation;  it’s nice to
visit but you wouldn’t want to live there. 
Having Marie as my parent would never be my wish.  That is what I determined when I saw Julia
smiling strangely, oddly pleased with herself. 
Deception in her eyes, glory in the attention.
             That day, I wanted to be somewhere else, under
my bed with the batting slowly torn away by my cat, Sylvester, who played with
it as though it were a ball of yarn under the bed.  I had chosen to be in that house to save
money to go to New York.  It took a
while, with those kids losing their mother. 
Something else fell away when she died even though it had been years
since we spoke.  As I nervously told
Leland the only thing I knew to say, I took the gold pendant Starfish that Sam
gave me for our year anniversary and flipped it back and forth holding one of
the legs between my two fingers. 
Eighteen karat gold with a thick entwined gold chain, it hung too low
and the pendant was too large so none of the legs would break.  Mother chastised me for my plainness so I
wore the starfish to please her.  Things
grow back but I had lost people and the memory was larger  than the person itself.  A part of my life, gone unresolved was being
resolved.  Marie was my best friend when
I was younger then disappeared.  She was
there and then she was gone.  Father told
us just before she left for good that she was in the hospital – that she had
taken pills again, that she was gone and not coming back.  I was alone in Father’s house then in those
weekends with Rich and Walt.  I was
twelve.
            The last time I saw her she was
pulling out of the driveway of Father’s house. 
I almost rearended the Ford Explorer when she pulled in.  The license plate on the front read “LELNNJUL.”  From what I knew, Marie never went out only
left the house to go to and from work and pick up her children.
             “She stays in her room all the time,” Annie
told me.  “Leland said the last time he
was there, she didn’t come out of her room once.”
            “Not once?” I asked.
            “Leland still has scars on his arm
too.”
            “What?  What does that mean, he has scars on his
arm?  They look like cigarette burns.”
            “Where.”
            “On the inside of his forearm.  Your father doesn’t smoke so they must’ve
been from her.”
            “You think she did that?”
            Annie nodded.  She wasn’t as stupid as I thought she
was.  Not at all as stupid.
            But, when I parked the car, almost
rearendiing Marie, I understood that her only life was those kids.  Exiting car, that day, I planned what to say
in a moment.  What would I say?
            She wore large-rimmed sunglasses
tinted rose with gold on tortoiseshell frames. 
Her hair was still cut short and without gray – a tint of red to it like
chestnut.  She wore earrings of large,
gold spherical studs, because gold made her allergic.  She broke out in a rash.
            “Hi,” she said, in a breathy soprano
voice.  She never sang but the pitch was
high.
            “Hi,” I replied.  My car was parked on the sidewalk.  I’d only been at Father’s for a month and
returned home early from work ill.
            “How are you?”
            “I’m fine,” I replied.
            “Good.  You look great,” she said, showing her big
teeth that always appeared larger when she wore lipstick.  It was the color of her fingernails – garnet.  Her blouse in red and black stripes, was
buttoned one too low so that the edge of her bra peeked out.
            “Thank you.  So do you. 
Do you have any plans for the weekend?” I asked, looking at Leland in
the back seat between the driver’s seat and open window then at Julia in the
front.
            “Hi, Evelyn,” Julia said,
breathy.  I finally found out where she
got it from.
            “We’re going shopping for school
clothes,” Leland said.
            “Good,” I replied.
            “Mom’s going out with her boyfriend
too,” Leland said, pushing himself back against the seat.
            “Really?  That’s good,” I said, surprised.
            “I may have gotten it right this
time,” she said, raising her eyebrows and eyes above the glasses.
            “I don’t think I’ve done that yet,”
I said.
            “I said I think but… I haven’t had a drink in ten years so that’s good.”
            “That’s great.  I didn’t know that.”
            “We’ll see,” she said.  “What are you doing?”
            “Working and saving money to
move.  Painting a little but not
much.  Still working at the same place.”
            “Yeah.  Where you moving?”
            “New York.  I finally decided that the only thing I’m
good at is being an artist so I may as well do it there if I want anyone to see
what I’m doing.”
            “You’ve always been good at
that.  You’ve always been a good artist.”
            “Thank you,” I said.  My heart dropped into my stomach and I looked
over my shoulder at my car, a black VW, running at the side of the road.  Every thirty seconds it hummed more loudly as
though it were a wind-up toy just turned.
            “Well, I’ll let you go,” I
said.  “It was good seeing you.”
            “It was good seeing you too,
Evelyn.  you look great.  you really do.”  She put her hand on mine, resting at the
bottom of the window pane.  “Take care.”
            Shifting the car into reverse, she
continued backing out of the driveway. 
Julia and Marie waved again and I watched the car move down the wide,
clean street.
            It was the last time I saw her.  Like me, she always had to try hard the only
difference was she gave up.
            “Your Mom was just tired.  She was in a lot of pain for a long time,” I
said gently to both Julia and Leland.
            It was that simple. 
            I knew there would not be another
call about attempted suicide and that the kids would not have to be going
through that again.  Leland and Julia
fought like only siblings with the strongest bonds can.  They fought like Rich and Walt and I fought –
the boys nudged at us, teased, taunted. 
Julia often snapped and slapped her brother, yelling, “Stop it
Leland.”  During wartime soldiers banded
together fighting off the enemy.  Parents
who head violent homes cannot claim to have their children’s’ interests in mind
though all generals and colonels keep in mind the collective.  Love goes misunderstood.  The passing on of affections seeped in
resentment creates a chain too long and solid to break like a rumor that begins
with a lie. In each other we discovered the truth, telling stories about the
way things were, the way they really were.
Glitter
            Gabby joined me in the kitchen when
I returned later that morning.  I asked
her about her family.  That sort of
detached involvement was difficult for me, the one who always cared too much
and tried not to become too involved in something that could break my
heart.  Things you learn.  Leland’s long blank stare at the ceiling
would leave a lasting imprint in my mind. 
I waited to hear what I would have to do and killed time catching
up.  When I asked Gabby the last time
that we met, she nailed it. 
            “You must have been fourteen,” she
said, showing her teeth in a broad smile. 
They were too large and white to be real.  Phony – the hair, nails, teeth bonded.  She still had a sharp wit and laugh even when
to do so was inappropriate. 
            Mourning did not call for
cheerfulness or beaming smiles but the humor and strained bliss distracted me
long enough that it went disregarded.  It
was nothing but a shooing away of loss. 
Dismissing grief was like telling a hummingbird to sit still in the
middle of spring.  The actions were not
disingenuous but necessary.  Emily
remained cheerful.  Aaron, Annie’s son,
was back home from school and not because he was particularly sad but due to
his aloof nature,  tendency to sulk and
jelly backbone.  He hung his head low to
hid his face marked with red splotches and bumps.  He spent most of his time behind a computer
screen or with his girlfriend, Melissa, a girl he knew from high school.  Fair skinned with stringy blond hair, she
wore round glasses and carried twenty pounds of extra adolescent weight.  Pimples also flecked her late teen face.
Aaron returned from college up North where he said he did not care for the
school when it truth he did not want to spend the time away from Melissa.  He dropped out. 
            Leland occasionally flashed of a
half-hearted smile yet he moved slowly as though in the presence of a
rattlesnake, a frightened dog.  His steps
were cautious like walking on cracks. 
The distraction of his mother’s death pulled him away.  Mid- conversation, he drifted as if a band of
color flashed across his eyes.  He did
not clown as usual, making faces at me the way you do in front of the mirror only
to see what odd expressions amount to. Purposely, he made those expressions at
me to get me to laugh.   An entire week
passed that he spent with his friends riding bikes, watching movies and
practicing magic in his room with the green carpet. 
            The Radcliffe’s busied themselves
making up for things.  Father gave him
the license plate to his mother’s Ford Explorer that was parked in the driveway
until they returned it to the dealer. 
So, “LELNJUL” hung on his wall. 
Annie bought picture frames and placed photos of his mother in them,
watering his memory so that it would grow into something larger than she was in
life. All he needed were candles and flowers and it would have been an
altar.  Once they were placed on every
shelf, she left him in his room alone but, not until then.  Julia was left alone in the world with her
brother.  The young woman came to the
conclusion that Leland needed her now. 
At least she discovered a sense of purpose, I thought, only to realize
that it was that type of purpose that could be an anchor submerged in the sea
on too short a rope.
Marie’s Success by Measure
            Their faces appeared as if they had
just witnessed someone drowning.  Leland
and Julia had already been to the viewing the day before the memorial service
and returned moments before I walked up the brick steps and through the door
from work.  I’d started coming home early
more often.  Two white pillars terminated
into truss overhead.  The entire house
was bulky like hat – on two small a lot. 
The entrance faced left room for an a sizable door, heavy as a the cover
to a coffin, at least.  Maybe, moreso a
tombstone.  Behind that door could have
been a sanctuary to anyone else – safe from the world outside.  It could be for another set of people. 
            The front entrance was rigged with
an alarm that beeped whenever it was opened and the back door was wired too so,
I felt as though my every move was monitored; 
that I was like Julia, eighteen, and I could not be less happy about my
father and his wife monitoring my comings and goings.  Age gave me liberty, of course, and tempered
my independence with responsibility. 
Freedom made the need for overshot curfews and rebellious acts less
necessary, I tried to tell Father, but he had no other way to keep track of
Julia who just reached the age when Father was supposed to let go.  It was also the time when friends are made
from mothers.  The age requirement for
living her own life was fulfilled and her mistakes were her own.  Still, Julia cringed when she heard the alarm
sound as though it were some sort of Pavlovian response to her captivity.  The problem with keeping a wild thing captive
is that the more solid the bolts on the door or closely set the iron bars, the
stronger the desire to be free. 
            When I asked Gabby how everyone was
doing she told me that they were holding up. 
The viewing was the day before the memorial service and I returned home
from work.  I left Leland and Julia in
the boy’s room after a quick checking in and proceeded to the kitchen. 
            “How’re they doing?” I asked,
digging for more information.
            “Leland is okay,”  she said. 
Then she talked about the viewing. 
“Julia said, ‘We can’t let Leland see her like this.’  So, we fixed her up a bit.” 
            I kept thinking to myself, Why in God’s name would a Latin woman
would dye her hair brassy blond?
, as I watched her walk around the kitchen
bending her knees every now and again like the old television series’, Vinnie
Boberino or The Fonze.  Unlike Marie,
there was a toughness to Gabby;  Gabby
with the false teeth and store-bought, dyed blonde hair – a consequence of
geography.  There was no chance that
could have been done by a trained colorist. 
Living in Las Vegas damaged her, left her clad in leather, jeans and
nails painted fluorescent pink.  Women of
that Nevada city made a style out of cheap, priced up attire.
            As a mother of two, it required
time, ingenuity and a good hour in Sav-On’s cosmetic isle to make herself look
like a prostitute when in truth, she was a married, garrulous mother living in
Nevada.  The words ran and ran and ran,
slowed only by large, fake teeth.  Her
lips navigated the extreme dental work. 
Her speech gave the impression that life was a waste of time.  Her words were wasted, dried up,
over-used.  Not worth their salt.  Though she remained carefree in her
mid-forties, it was that attitude, that dismissal of precious things, that
denied her substance as if she was showing to the world her dark roots.  The style had changed though, so this was
acceptance.  Her almost black hair
covered her head like a very thin netting. 
The black follicles attached themselves to the flaxen strands of hair
coming from her head.  In Beverly Hills
from Las Vegas with her acrylic nails and leather biker jacket and dyed blonde
hair, she was a fish out of water.  I criticized
with the brutal, blue-blooded fashion sense of my mother, even found it
troublesome to my well trained eye.    It
was a tabloid fashion, “Don’t.”  Gabby
would be better suited behind a biker on a Harley traveling on a two lane
highway across the Mojave Desert. 
            All of her friends were getting boob
jobs as though bigger breasts rendered them more fierce competition with the
big city’s large beauty element.  City
women all leaned toward Dallas in theory. 
Men wore ten gallon hats and women had cleavage.  Vegas was Texas without the history or money
old enough that it bred in its inhabitants a fine palate. 
            In her smoker’s voice with the
thirty years’ rasp she told me, “They’re all younger than me,” she said.  “I don’t get it.  They all have these big boobs.”  Dragging on her More cigarette, she smiled
and tapped it into the sink.  Her big
teeth were bleached white.  The cigarette
was a more ashen color than her skin tanned in a salon bed.  It had the obvious orange tint that gave it
away.  It was fake.  All of it.
            Julia smirked and asked, softly,
“Isn’t that bad now?”
            “No, they don’t have the silicon
anymore.  It’s just saline.  It’s safe,” she said, standing in the
kitchen, with her right leg bent and resting on the inside of her left knee.  She looked like a flamingo, skinny legs and
all but with less grace though her feet were small enough to fit into size five
and a half shoes.  The Argentinean
faction, the two girls of Mother Elena Peregrine, had feet that could have been
wrapped in China they were so small. 
Gabby had skinny legs like the bird and feet short but wide enough to
balance what appeared a Yoga posture or a ballet dancer’s readiness.  Her mouth moved uncomfortably when she spoke
around her teeth that were false and protruded enough that she moved her lips,
dodging their awkward size.  Her lips
moved in such a way that it appeared she was breaking in a new pair of shoes,
constantly adjusting her lips to the frontal protrusion of the porcelain
veneers. 
            After seven years, she still said
whatever came to her mind.  She swore
like a truck driver only censoring her conversation when Leland or Julia
appeared.  Between Marie and Gabby, Gabby
was the youngest and the tougher one of the two women.  Given her mouth and rambunctious nature, the
family dynamic would have implied older brothers.  Gabby was the runt of the family, speaking
for herself and not giving into any force that tried to squelch her.  Without the false bravado, the woman could
have been a butterfly if she had the delicacy. 
            “Seven attempts later, Marie went
through with it.”  Gabby’s treatment of the
situation insinuated boredom.  “She was
not well,” she said of her sister and told us as we stood in the kitchen about
the note left by Marie, blaming Gabby, criticizing her for the life she chose.  Written to relinquish guilt, she placed the
blame, still, as though Gabby could somehow save her from her sister’s
misery.  Gabby shrugged off pain as if
the inevitable happened.  The woman who
took her own life had spent life trying to die. 
Gabby had been given time to get used to the idea that her sister was
ultimately successful.
            Mother said, “She had a broken
heart.  I forgave her a long time ago for
what she did.  She’s just one of those
people who had a weak link.”  That from a
woman whose husband was stolen away.
           
Finding Peace in Farming Rice
            Things were going to change
drastically on Walden Drive.  I
distinctly remember this, wondering where the balls would land just tossed into
the air at random, like a juggler threw them all up in the air and was left only
two.  Not much a spectacle to a man juggling
only two balls and it would not take long before another crisis filled that
gap.  There was always something with my
father, always some crazy idea or scheme brewing, some grand plan.  He spent hours of thought planning his great
escape to Korea where he would plant rice and live as a farmer.  I did not have the heart to tell him that I
thought he was insane but I encouraged him nonetheless.  I mean, what kind of man with two children
would brew up an idea like that?  If he
had, Marie would still be alive and that would have changed everything.  But, it did not.  Father took her children and she killed
herself.  She blamed it on the debt. 
            Dry for ten years, she switched from
drinking to gambling. The letter to Leland and Julia was a very late cry for
help, a very late plea.
            “The letter is on top of the
microwave,” Gabby said.  “That’s the one
she wrote to your father.  The one she
wrote me was awful.  She said she didn’t
like the way I lived my life.  She blamed
me for never going to see my mother. 
But, what am I supposed to do?  I
live all the way in Nevada.  I couldn’t
come home every time she got sick.  My
mother is a hypochondriac.  Everyone
knows that.”
            Listening still to Gabby’s raspy
voice, I walked over to it and picked it up. 
The handwriting with it’s very straight lines and large loops and spaces
that did not connect the cursive letters was familiar to me though I had not
seen it since I was a child.  Marie   wrote in a journal every day.  Paper never misunderstood.  It was unconditional.
            December 15, 1998
            Dear Charlie,
            The only thing I can say to my kids
is I am sorry but I don’t want to be a burden anymore.  That’s what I’ve become and I don’t want to
have to live like this anymore.  You know
how I feel about Leland and Julia.  You know
how they are the most important thing to me yet I am not able to take care of
them.  I can’t do this anymore.
            I’m sure you’ll discover that I’ve
incurred a huge financial problem.  I
can’t explain it.  Confessions, though
aren’t mandatory in the sense that I have a choice.  I may as well tell you.  The debt is overwhelming.  I gambled everything I had and I don’t have
anything left.  I can’t even take care of
myself.
            I’m sure you’ll take care of the
kids.  I don’t want to be a burden
anymore.
            – Marie
            Marie did not mention me or my
brothers.  I spent ten years with her, my
weekend mother, and she omitted me in the only thing comparable to a will.  She did not have a thing to her name.  Accountable to her mother’s finances, she had
left the old woman broke and loose strings blowing in the wind like parade
ribbons at the Chinese New Year.
            We
come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing.
 
            “The deficit is overwhelming,”
Father said.
            I stood at the doorway between the
kitchen and the dining room.  On the wall
was an old prayer that used to be hung at the entrance to Grandmother’s
house. 
A House Blessing
God
bless the corners of this house,
And
the lintel blest;
And
bless each place of rest;
And
bless each door that opens wide
To
stranger as to kin;
And
bless each crystal window pane
That
lets the starlight in;
And
bless the rooftree overhead
And
every sturdy wall,
The
peace of man, the peace of God,
The
peace of love on all.
            I had no idea how much that house
would change.  Peace never settled
long.  I did not know what that meant
until the signs materialized.  It
happened before just not in the same light of time.  It happened whether I willed it or not.  How strange it was that after my years battle
with Mother, Marie was the one who showed me, finally, that my life could be
different.  That I could be something
apart from that life and that my dreams did make sense.
            The following day I went for my six
o’clock run.  It was too early to tell
and I did not yet realize how tired I was though I slept off the emotional ride
of the night before.  For the past few
months I had been getting little sleep, four or five hours a night, and I felt
it only after a week when I made up for lost time and crashed for hours on
end.  I resigned myself to an hour long
run.  I could look closely for apartments
along the way.  I had to get out. to find
my own way to farm rice, my own way to dream. 
A place to paint.
            Change.  I thought of myself living in the back house
at my advanced age.  Society told me today
that a girl of my age should focus on her own life.  The older I get, the younger I feel.  The better. 
She should not bother with a family wrecked beyond reason.  She should think only of her career and
destinations.
            “I have to get out of here,” I told
Leora over the phone.  “I can’t do this
anymore.  I’m not happy at work. I just
keep doing this computer cutting and pasting crap and it’s such a pain in the
ass.  I’m not getting anywhere and I
can’t even find someone to go out with me.”
            “What about that guy you’re taking
dance lessons with?”
            “He’s gay.  I told you that.  I mean I like him, but he’s gay.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find
someone who’s halfway decent to be with.”
            “Do you want to?”
            “No.”
            “Then what do you want, Evelyn?”
            I remained quiet, thoughtful, before
I answered.  “I want to be a painter.”
            “I don’t mean it like that.  I mean the kind of artist who’s actually
successful.  Who… You know.”
            “No, Evelyn.  I don’t 
I’m a dance instructor for kids. 
I don’t know about being a painter.”
            “Well, it’s not sitting behind some
computer screen all day, cutting and pasting and dealing with a bunch of
morons.”
            “I thought you liked your job.”
            “I like it because it’s comfortable,
Leora.  Not because it’s getting me
anywhere.  I like it because I make
decent money.  It’s a decorating
magazine, anyway.  So, how can it be
anything I want.”
            “It gives you and your mother
something to talk about.”
            “I guess.  It’s not what I want.  I want to be an amazing painter.”
            “Well, what do you have to do to be
an amazing artist?”
            Taking a deep breath, I responded,
“I have to move out of here.  I have to
get out of here.  I have to go to New
York like I’ve been talking about for years. 
Like Sarah.  She did it.  I’m not going anywhere here.”  The words echoed in my mind.
            I’m
not going anywhere.
            Running, my feet hit the pavement
heel toe, heel toe, I concentrated on my breath and the placement of my feet,
deliberately rolling them in the correct motion to avoid strain or chin
splints.  My feet naturally landed on the
asphalt, palm first.  It was not my
tendency alone.  I walked placing my feet
as a ballerina.  Doctors told me I had a
short Achilles tendons, a family trait.
            Although it was not common for me to
have a destination on these runs along the very well-maintained streets of Los
Angeles, I chose one.  My destination was
a house that I saw over the weekend, that I passed, on my last run.  As we all stood in the kitchen, as I read
that note from Marie, the urge to get out of that place overcame me.  It was a perfect night of  California temperate weather.  Waiting out the day and keeping tabs on
chaos, I ran at dusk and the morning. 
Exercise helped combat sadness and freed my mind.  The napalm sun set through the thin lining of
fog on the horizon, broken by the palm trees planted in perfect harmony on the
sidewalk.  Though it was getting dark,
the street lights designed of nothing very special, lit the road. A sign on the
front gate of a house painted blue read, “Guest house for rent,” and listed the
telephone number written in black ink. 
White window boxes stuffed with pansies faced the street.  From the road, the guest house was barely in
sight.   The driveway was gated with iron
bars and a BMW, parked in the driveway. 
If I knocked on the door someone would surely answer.  So, I lingered close enough to take a look
but far enough away that I would not be caught spying.  Strategies for life.
            Houses on Walden Drive were far
enough away from Beverly Hills that the pretense lifted and close enough to
Hollywood so there was some edge past the palm trees and a ten minute drive to
the beach.  Father’s house was too much
for him but,  Annie wanted the big house
and that is exactly what she was given. 
Slowly, I was being pushed out with the undertone of Annie’s
intentions.  I knew it was time for me to
get out of there, out of this city where the fun was and the disease and the
bad memories.  My parents were divorced
and I had nothing to offer a relationship. 
You are supposed to learn from your experience, right?  You are supposed to learn from your
mistakes.  I never knew what a
relationship that worked resembled but I watched those families, parents
holding hands, family dinners. 
Television, usually when my shyness kept me inside dreaming things up.  I had no idea how to work with another
person.  Looking to my friends’ parents I
wondered how I could make it work for me . 
The thought was very sad because I wanted so much to believe that I
could be the kind of woman dictated by her heart.  But, I watched.  I watched an hoped that perhaps I could make
life inside the box real.  I painted
while that perfection of characters kept me company.  I flipped through my parents’ photographs –
the picture perfect black and white immunity of college kids.
            Listening to Gabby talk, the way her
mouth moved when she spoke called up the distinct image of Marie, the Marie
characteristics, the way her lips puckered when she spoke as though the words
needed to be kissed. 
            Annie was much different –
lighter.  She never wore sunglasses to
conceal herself crying.
            Leland and Julia were back with
Father because their mother did not guide them. While she was the one holding
everyone together, she was also the one who enjoyed the drama.  She likes to be needed, I thought knowing
that the strain to love someone else, to depend on another disposable parent
was not an option.  Close enough to see but not be seen. 
            “She doesn’t even like me here,” I
told Father.
            “Of course she likes you here,” he
argued, shocked.  “Annie’s not like
that.  She’s not like that at all.  She’s good-natured.”
            “Is that why you call her a bitch
and whore?” I asked.  “You know, I can
hear your yelling at her from out there. 
Father never hit women but, they broke down under the weight and cuts of
his well-placed words.
            Turning back I retraced my steps and
ran at a steady pace toward the sun and Walden Drive.  I passed the house on Dick Street for the
second time, stopped and jogged in place to take a second look before heading
back.  At home, I dressed in black hose
and heals and went into the house.  I
called for Julia before I got to the door. She was in jeans and I almost asked
her if she was going or if something was delayed.  She leaned down and laced up her running
shoes that were the same Nike style as mine and asked,  “Are you sure you want to wear that on the
boat?  It’s going to be cold,” she said,
softly in that velvet voice of hers that did not annoy then as it could have
days before her mother’s death.  Not
then.  It seemed like the right thing to
do, to be gentle.
            “It’s on a boat?” I asked, screwing
up the corners of my mouth for effect.
            “Everyone is wearing jeans.”  Deep in thought my younger sister of only
half my own blood was able to awaken her from the malaise for a few moments to
assess my poor choice in clothing.  She
wore those thin jeans that her mother used to have, the ones that Marie ironed
leaving a crease down the center of the pant leg.  It was a waste of time ironing the pant leg
but she did it for the same reason that those South American cleaning ladies
that started off as housekeepers and became nannies – for the same reason that
those women ironed the sheets.  Though
her face was almost bare, slightly accented with tastefully chosen shades to
accent her large, round brown eyes and full lips, she appeared coated, lined
with cotton as a protective device used for packing.  Two steps back, the girl wore nothing as
stiff and heavy as armor but padding as soft as bubble wrap.   That veil was common, I knew, because I was
hiding behind a veil that was my emotions. 
Leland, the one we were ultimately all trying to be strong for, was the
only one who could have cried right from the belly.  Numb, he gave off a blank stare mostly.  I thought whether or not it was uncommon, but
came to the conclusion it was not.  There
was nothing common about his life.
            Julia had a significant interior
world.  She hid so far inside that it
never saw the light of day.  Like a
sprout or a seed dug deep in the earth planted in the shade during a drought
not one person would drag her out of the soil packed solid around those
roots.  Not one drop of water could reach
her.  Perhaps a shovel of a kind man
could pluck her out but the only prospect was the skinny, mangy kid who gave
her a black eye.  She was much like me in
that regard, only it required a loss greater than I speculated for me to be
drawn out.  Surprisingly, that seed was
still abundant when a large metal claw swept me up and into a field where the
sun beamed down and the rain poured and the climate was so fit for growing it
could be the tropics with its steady rains and dew that stuck to the healthy,
tanned cheeks of women who never grew old in their field work. 
            Perhaps I was slightly jealous of
Julia – the way she could so easily manage her sadness as though it were an
expectation rather than a mistake.  Her
mother must have had the same thing. 
But, self hate kills that spirit the way the soil does after it is stripped
from years of tending.  
            Father’s books on farming placed
around his house.  One had a picture of a
cow on the front cover, another, a field of workers each wearing those wide
Japanese cone hats stooped over and ankle deep with their pants cuffed to the
knee in a dark field.  I told Father that
he should write books.  No matter how
much he hated made up stories, he was a born liar or he was taught to be that
way.  Instead of making up stories, I
made up pictures putting together all of the things I saw.  Some along these lines were memories that
came to me without hesitation.
Water
            Abiding her mother’s wishes, Julia
planned only two days earlier to have Marie’s ashes scattered at sea.  I did not ask any questions, but I watched
her closely, standing by.  That was all
it took.
            “I’ll go change,” I said, and walked
quickly back toward the guest house past Julia’s bedroom and through the back
door, down the brick steps and along the six stepping stones placed in a direct
line to the concrete that surrounded the pool. 
The small guest house, no larger than a cabana, had little room to move
between the very close walls though it fit the essentials:  a twin bed, a dresser, desk and chair.  My clothes were stashed in the canvas
wardrobes set on wheels in the closet where the pool water heater was hooked up
and neatly concealed. 
            Rushing, I entered the closet and
unbuttoned my silk blouse and replaced it on the hanger  then did the same thing with the black skirt
I wore.  “This is ridiculous,” I said,
pulling a pair of jeans up around my hips and the white long-sleeved shirt from
another plastic hanger.  I wrapped a
sweatshirt around my waist.  Hearing
Father’s voice yelling after me, I returned to the bedroom and walked through
the bathroom to Aaron’s room.  It had the
appearance of someone who had arrived but had not finished unpacking.  I had been informed on the same day of
Marie’s suicide, that Aaron, the pimple face boy of eighteen who barely spoke
and had the spine of an earthworm, would back into the room adjoining mine and
that I should prepare myself.  I was
being pushed out.
            In his baritone voice, Father called
from the house.  His tone was impatient
and angry the second time.  That was his
pattern.  If he had to call us more than
once, he got annoyed and angry.  Like a
little boy, he had temper tantrums, swinging his fists so the forces around him
would get a good long look and see that it should bend in his favor.  That reason alone never allowed me to see
Father as a man, but as a little boy needing attention.  Not much of a chance to be a child in my
house, no.  Not much of a chance at all.
            When I heard him I jumped.  Still, after years his anger frightened
me.  When he was drunk or angry I
witnessed the results of his rage, fits bursting like a child without words,
erupting like a shaken up bottle of seltzer. 
When Father reprimanded me for writing those works about a drunkard
named Susie, I began drawing and making more pictures so I could be Picasso.
            Marie showed me how to draw.  We sketched pictures and alone one day, I
drew on the walls with my crayons.  Sat
there, wide-eyed, his face I drew starting with the outline and then the hair
and the mouth straight and not smiling.
            He arrived home and saw me, the
crayon in hand, kneeling at the largest piece of canvas – white painted
walls.  Before I could look up to him,
caught, I felt myself being shaken, the fear so deep in my throat I felt s
though I would vomit.  I did not cry but,
his face red and angry, his arms clinging to me hard, pressing me together like
a packed piece of fish, pained my sides.
            “What are you doing?” he
screamed.  “What are you doing?  You know this is wrong.  You think I work so hard for all of this for
all of you and you fuck with all of your pants and crayons.  It’s bullshit. You think you can do just what
you want?”
            Silence.  He shook me again and my legs dangled, limp.
            “You think that’s what you want?”
            That time I answered, barely
audible, the tears running down my face. 
“No.”
            When he threw my small body to the
floor, my head hit the wall and a scream came from a place that sprung up all
the pain hidden there.  The tears flowed
down my face as I clutched the back of my head, touching the place on my skull
where a small bump formed.  he had left
the room, me crying, a ringing in my ears and bellows from the pit of my
stomach. 
            “My head.  My head,” I said almost drowning between
sobs.  I tasted the salt from the mucous
running from my nose.   
            “Oh shut up.  Shut up. 
It’s not that bad,” he said, gruff, kneeling at my side. 
            When I opened my eyes, stinging and
pink, Marie was there.  Her hand slipped
over mine.
            “It’s a bum.  A goose egg, Charlie.  I’ll get some ice.
            .I saw how he dragged Marie, kicking
and screaming across the floor, her arms flailing.  Sleep came quickly when I lost
consciousness.  All black and quiet.
            Haste decided for me what to
wear.  I stood in front of the garment
rack. 
            Five minutes later the phone rang.
“Are you ready?” Father yelled in a voice that could be mistaken as whining if
it came from a woman. 
            “No, I didn’t know it was on a
boat.” moments later, he called and said in short- tempered tone, “We’re ready
to go.  Are you ready yet?”
            Cradling the phone between my
shoulder and ear I said “No, I’ll be there in a second.  Hanging up the phone, I muttered, “Fuck, why
does he have to be such an asshole when no one needs to hear this kind of shit
from him.”  I pulled the shirt over my
head, tucked it into my jeans and tied my shoes.  I wore almost exactly the same thing as Julia
– jeans, most importantly.
            He called back again and when I
picked up the phone he said, “ It’s been ten minutes.  Get out to the fucking car.”  A charming man when he wanted to be.  Father taught me how to relate to the world
and I did so by fighting.  Tiring as it
had become, I persisted and hit the wall of anger and fear at every
occasion.  Each time the blow was more
painful.
            “Fuck,” I said and ripped my flooded
jeans from the hanger on the rack then removed the sweater balled up in the
closet.  The white long-sleeved shirt
would keep the wool sweater from itching.  
I never wore one without the other. 
From the shoe rack that hung on the bathroom door, I removed my platform
white tennis shoes and put them on. 
Shaking my head, I said, “I hate this family,” without meaning it.  There was a part of me that longed for
normalcy.  Perhaps someone else’s cross
would not be not so heavy.  Self deceit
was easier to face than reality.
            When I walked into the kitchen I
found the denim jacket on the center cutting table in the kitchen, so I picked
it up and exited the front door. 
Father’s car was gone and the white Jeep Cherokee that belonged to Aaron
was parked at the curb in front of the house, beyond the short patch of lawn
and the straight hedge that ran parallel to the curb and cut through the half
moon shape of the circular driveway.  
            Settling in, I said “hi” to Julia
and got in the back seat on the passenger side just behind her.  Aaron barely said hello and few words were
spoken, until we got to the Marina freeway. 
“You know you just backtracked going this way?”
            “Yeah, I’m used to going North,” he
said.  His feelings were hurt and I was
angry, acting childishly because he was almost ready to usurp my space.  I wanted to scream, “That is my room you
little pimple-faced creep.
            Instead I replied, “Oh.”
            We stopped at a red light before
entering the Marina port.  Ship bows and
the masts of docked sailboats were visible from the road.  The cherry red Thunderbird I noticed moments
earlier on the freeway had stopped at the intersection next to us.  “Julia,” I said, pointing out the window,
“That’s my dream car.”
            “Isn’t that beautiful,” she asked,
awestruck but still with that bubble wrap expression of being only halfway
there.
            Rolling down the window, I said,
“Excuse me, sir.”  I could only make out
his chin and his nose and glasses.  “Excuse
me, sir,” I repeated, louder this time. 
Julia chimed in, “Excuse me,” we said in unison, so perfectly timed that
our voices achieved a singsong effect. 
He turned his head to the left and looked out the window, rolled halfway
down appearing like a bifocal lens against his face..
            “What  year is your car?”  I asked. 
He said something that neither of us heard then repeated, “1955.” 
            We heard it the second time.
            Together, Julia and I said, “It’s
beautiful.”  Raising his eyebrows, the
man smiled and his corkscrew mustache lifted at the sides like the type of
curled ribbon that became corkscrew curls. 
He looked like a British roadster in his tweed beret hat and
glasses.  Brown leather gloves covered
his hands to the knuckles.  He clung to
the steering wheel.  “Thank you,” he
said.
            I leaned forward, holding Julia’s
shoulders and peered around the seat back. 
Rubbing her shoulders, I asked, “How are you doing?”
            “Okay,” she said, leaning her head
back and smiling.”  She wore an
expression of fresh sorrow.  Certain
worry was replaced with something clean and new.  There was purity in grief.  Tired, but serene, Julia knew how to deal
with sadness.  She was a melancholic
girl, the type that makes for a good artist if she could only escape the
distractions of vanity and men.  In a
photo album I had a picture of her as a child seated in Father’s big black
leather chair with her head lowered as if the girl was changing the time on a
watch.  Her forehead was mostly covered
with thick black bangs and hair that hung at the sides of her face.  If her face were any more pale she would
resemble a China doll.  Thinking or
posing or I do not know what else she was lost in that large chair.  Her father’s world was much too big for her.
            Aaron pulled into a parking lot at
the wharf. It was quiet and we were one of a few cars parked in the lot that
was normally full.  Father, I noticed was
standing among a group of people dressed in black.  He was in khaki pants and wore a white shirt
with blue pin stripes.  Most of the faces
were unfamiliar.  That was the first time
I would be seeing Marie’s mother, Elena. 
The last time was with Gabby. 
Smaller than the two and more dramatic than her two daughters together,
she complained incessantly of illness. A hypochondriac, she was a burden to her
family and Father while they were married. Between Marie’s hospitalizations for
her suicide attempts and Elena’s aches and pains, Father bore the financial
burden.  Marie’s father had left them
alone years ago.  It was not her fault
either, but there was no one to take care of them.  No man of responsibility.  No one to replace him.
            We got out of the car and, to my
comfort, Annie wore jeans. Her short, layered, weaved blond hair was covered in
a black velvet hat with a red bow at the side. 
Her black jacket was designed with an embroidered mix of dark reds and
purples, colors she wore as a testament to her colorful personality, I
thought.  An actress, I thought, with a bit of scorn.  Father had been married to this woman for one
year and I wondered if she could bear that ceremony if she realized the grief
that was bound to follow in the next few months.  Father would undoubtedly feel this
later.  So would Leland and Julia.  The mourning only began there first and the
tears caught up later.  Nine months had
to pass before I cried about the woman.
            Father approached me and as an
apologetic offering, kissed me on the forehead then gave me a pat on the
crown.  He said, “Hey Evie.”  His large hand on my shoulder, Father  gently ushered me toward the crowd and while
crowds bothered me, made me nervous and agitated, I walked into this one with
only a trace of anxiety, expected discomfort rather than phobic reactions.  Gabby said hello with almost inappropriate cheer.  Even Annie had the decency to resist a
smile.  Aside from Julia, we were the
only ones wearing jeans.  Gabby rarely
wore anything besides that.  A black
turtleneck sweater was covered mostly by the raven motorcycle jacket.  Gabby’s arm was around her mother, Elena, who
wore a long black skirt and trendy black sneakers over her size five feet.  Marie wore a size six shoe like her
daughter.  Elena bred women with very
petite hooves, if horses were little girls, young women and mothers.  Gabby’s sneakers barely stuck out beyond the
hem her flooded blue jeans.  They were so
small it was almost abnormal.
            “Mommy, es Evelyn,” she remarked,
pointing to me and looking down at her mother, at least a foot shorter than her
daughter.  Elena must have been no more
than five feet tall.  Age must have shrunken
her because she was shorter than I recalled. 
Age also made her frail and weak. 
The tiny woman hung on Gabby’s elbow.
            Extending her arms, she spoke in
rapid South American Spanish which I strained to hear but still did not
understand.  Mexican Spanish and the
Argentinean dialect that Elena and her daughters used, was much different from
what Catalina, our housekeeper, spoke.  I
kissed her on the cheek and Gabby translated. 
            “She said she hasn’t seen you since
you were a little girl.  She said you are
beautiful,” Gabby said.  Each time she
saw me, from the time I was a little girl, Elena told me that I had the perfect
nose.  Rich, my older brother, dressed in
a dark suit and yellow and blue print tie, walked over to me with his wife,
Rosa, at his side.  She was well into the
last term of her pregnancy.  Any fool
would realize this bit of information by simply looking at her thin wrists and
her bulbous belly.  Friday was the due
date. 
            I put my hand on her belly, covered
by the black corduroy overalls, and said, “Hi there, little one.”  She laughed, quietly and somewhat
uncomfortably.  Rich gave me a kiss on
the cheek and put his hands on her stomach, then mocked a feigned a boxing
match with her stomach, throwing air punches just inches away from her.  His excitement amused me.  Again he put both hands on her stomach. “Come
out little guy,” he said.  I laughed.  Rosa resembled the snake who swallowed the
elephant in The Little Prince.  I hoped my nephew would believe like that.
            We walked in unison down the
whitewashed ramp toward the dock, passing the soda stand and souvenir stores
which displayed “Closed” signs in the door windows though it was mid week and
just before noon.  Father Radcliffe, a
Catholic priest and Father’s confidant who shared his last name, dressed in his
white collar and wore glasses that he must have owned for many years.  The design was too large and plastic.  Father Radcliffe walked with Father and Rich.  Annie and her two children strolled
together.  Aaron, the quiet one, and Emily,
a chubby and happy girl was always smiling like her mother, huddled
together.  Emily was my favorite, the
younger of the two kids.  She was all
things and I knew how her weight effected her. 
At thirteen, she was an ideal student. 
Aaron was five years her senior and would not be going back to school
for the next term.  Annie explained that
he did not like Santa Barbara, but I did not know what a kid could dislike of a
university by the ocean.  Perhaps he was
simply homesick and too proud to admit the weakness.  When he spoke, his eyes lowered.
            We boarded the boat and headed out
into the ocean and I immediately felt the damp air coat my face so that my hair
whipping in the wind would stick to my face for a moment before I brushed it
aside.  I reached in my pocket and
removed a hair band then wrapped it around my long dark hair, too dark since I
dyed it, in a ponytail that hung down my back. 
I hadn’t been to Tahoe since Grandfather died and that was the last time
that I was on a boat.  But, the first, was
very long ago when we were small and Mother’s father took us out on the lake in
the boat. 
            “In the ocean, the wake is much
different,” he explained.  When I was a
child sitting at the stern while he steered the boat.  His arms moved left to right, clutching the
wheel.  Mother had fitted using life
jackets, always drawing the string too tight as though it would mean the jacket
would be more inclined to stay on if the boat did sink.  But, Grandfather whipped through the lake and
the only waves came from a water-skier or another boat that made a hard
turn.  Otherwise, it was glassy, easy to
coast along.  Mother trailed behind on
her skis gripping the rope handle, keeping her skis together and knees
bent.  her long, dark hair flowed behind
her.  I watched behind me when looked
ahead, the wind whipping so hard in my face that the tears came from my
eyes.  Grandfather’s back was to me.  He was balding and freckles flecked his bare
head.  Tufts of grayish blond hair stuck
out of the sides.  It was one of the only
times he smiled and Grandmother managed to smoke there on the boat, the wind so
strong in her face.  Wind made the smoke
invisible.  
            “Go faster,” Mother yelled from the
back.  “Faster,” she yelled.  “Evelyn, tell him to go faster.”
            I spun around.  “Grandfather, Mother said to go faster.  It looks like she’s sinking.”  He sped up so quickly the cigarette was
knocked out of Grandmother’s hand.”
            “Oh, poo,” she said, loud enough so
Grandfather could hear.
            Moments passed before Mother
tired.  Rich and Walt returned to the
back of the boat when Grandfather cut the engine.  Dripping wet, they pulled Mother, one at each
arm, into the boat. Her face was pink.
            “Evelyn, why don’t you try?” she
coaxed.
            “No, that’s okay,” I said.
            “Baby,” Rich blurted, slipping into
the water. 
            “Shut up.  I don’t want to try.  The water is too cold.
            “You’re still a baby,” she said, his
arms paddling out behind the boat.
            Grandmother lit another cigarette.
            The white foam trailed behind and
flanked the sides of the boat as we moved out of the marina.  The waves tossed it away like the kneading of
dough rolled flat then setting the wake into motion with the flow of the
tide.  The boat disrupted the rhythm of
the moon directing the water with her quiet breath. I watched Leland and Julia
seated at the bow, Leland right at the tip like a scout or the ornament that
once adorned old ships. Gabby sat next to him, detached with her off color
jokes while Leland looked out over the water. 
I watched both he and Julia, monitoring their emotions. 
            The minister conducting the service
called for our attention. “We are gathered here today,” he began.  The words faded in and out and did not amount
to much of anything but words on a page, an overdone script.  The words had no condition
but forgiveness in their tone.  I heard
none of them individually, only the cadence as though it was the whole melody
or speech heard through drywall, muffled by the clutter my heart created in my
mind.  Leland was a sad little boy only
too accepting of this ending.  It is like
a canvas stretched across a wood frame muddled with errors.  
Petals
            Leland would remember the water and
the flowers and his grandmother’s tears. 
He would remember his sister’s two poems that the minister read just
before lowering the basket with her ashes into the ocean slowly, the red and
white carnations floating away from the boat on the waves softly pushing them
away as though mercury at a child’s curious fingertips.  I watched and the humor in me died.  Marie spent her life trying to die.  As inevitable as her death seemed, the woman
could have spent her tenacity in trying to die on living.  Annie told me that before Father successfully
took the kids away from their mother she told them that she would kill herself
if they left.     When I went into Leland’s room that night,
still wired from that last ballroom class with David, Julia laid on the bed
stroking his forehead.  Those words ran
through my mind.  Marie was free without
a thought and her children would have to live with those words for the rest of
their lives. 
            “I will die if you leave me.”
            Leaving was not their choice but
they would feel the fault just like I carried Mother’s pain at Father’s
absence.  Slow girl to genius
father.  Too much work, I was so they
sent me away to the middle of the country. 
Mother found a sense of security in a man and in those things money
could afford and her children could not come between.  Marie’s vindictive method of marrying my
father was the same type of plan.  She
got pregnant and her children, who she said she loved, were used so that she
would have a roof over her head.  I
wondered if she knew how it felt not to be wanted as the girl who came to be
real and not the one imagined.
            Memories are bitter sweet.  They come and they sit beside us either as a
phantom or a ghost or as an imaginary piece of the heart that leaves only an
image, a picture, a scene.  Those
pictures took many people in my family very far away from me and then it drew
us closer. 
            They flipped like a card in bicycle
spokes from the wind of the fan in my small studio apartment.
            That cracked foundation had to
crumble before the real house could be built stronger.  It was that strength that was coming to me
now in pieces of my life.  Moving so fast
to get through it I did not take the time to mourn the death of this woman who
left my life first out of marriage to my father and then with a finality that I
had not yet been prepared.  Dancing she
had moved her hands with all of that freedom and swung her hips. She showed me
how to seek out the beat, how to find it, how to make it my own so that it
would never leave.  Feeling whatever was
to be felt here was an unknown to me. 
What I felt was unknown.  What I
felt were walls caving in.  Sadness keeps
the rhythm out and dancing, just for celebration.

            I found the beginning.