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Table of Contents

1.outside my window

2.  a  lizard in snake skinned boots

3.  a dancing white elephant

4.  the pasture

5.  hoolahoops

6.  the curb

7.  the burden

8.  a life worth living




outside my window


Quantum sunbursts of the two-legged variety, barreled into the house from the backyard. Screen doors slammed and all probabilities dissolved as each one of the kids materialized just long enough to make contact. Their little feet tossing gravity aside as they ran up, threw their arms around me and proudly declared, "I’m having too much fun!" Their love offered a welcomed reprieve to the task that was set before me. A bunch of us were sitting around the dining room table. The one we used for holidays and birthdays. It must have been a special day like that, that brought us all together. My sister was there. So was her best friend. My best friend was there. And all of our genetic appendages were there too: Running in and out, laughing and having way too much fun. It was noisy. The windows were opened and the wood shades were pulled all the way up to let in the fresh air. It was bright. My eyes hurt.

More of the 3x3 black and whites and pinked-out coda-chromes slid down the table: Splayed there like slabs of back in the day, without context. I couldn’t hold onto the stories people were telling. I couldn’t follow any kind of train of thought they may have represented. The memories they stirred with everyone else were submerged in some dark recess of my brain. Whatever connections that survived the sixties had been certifiably severed on Blue Star Highway, eleven years ago. Whatever belongings, memories of friends or attachments I may have had… spilled out onto the warm tar that day in June. It seeped down through the cracks of the two-lane and disappeared below the surface. In an eighty mile an hour flash someone flew around the curve and hit us head-on, sending our three-quarter-ton van airborne. And just that fast the pictures in my mind were gone: Leaving me the ashes of a forgotten life, leaving me...the remainder.

Quiet filled the room. Everyone was turned, looking at me. Did someone ask a question? Should I have answered? Was this pause the cue for a nod or a smile? Should I look at that picture as though it brought back some significant memory? I felt like a student who had been called on in the middle of a classroom daydream. I sat there frozen. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings because I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t even recognize who I was in those pictures. I was exhausted. I needed to take a nap. "My head is killing me," I said and excused myself. The wood floor seemed mushy and looked like waves of water were moving through it.

I followed my will over to the couch. My feet clomped down hard against the oak slats, in search of solid ground. A loud ringing in my ears blocked out the dirge in the background. And so it was in this way, with my eyelids half-mast; safe but not quite sound, I left the world of anchored things to hold there own and slept.

Memory is a strange thing. With it the rationales and justifications for an established value in life are supported. Without it the particulars yield to an absolution of another kind: One that is more in the present. The nerve endings in my brain continued to troll for some kind of connection to the visual stimuli it was reading. But unless something I heard or saw triggered a memory, I was moored: straining to catch a glimpse of my life without a point of reference to guide me. Pathways to the joys I experienced raising my three children; the places we traveled and the heartbreaks I survived along the way, had simply vanished.

I couldn’t even remember something as innocuous as my childhood bedroom. It’s odd. I remember the sound of brakes screeching when a school bus approached the stop sign at the end of the block. And I can still hear their engines revving up to second and grinding into third gear. But I don’t remember the furniture in my room, its color or the pattern of my bedspread. I don’t remember if there were any curtains, though there must have been. In the mid-west, along the north shore of Lake Michigan, where freezing wind makes for a cold bedfellow; curtains are not an extravagance, they’re a necessity. Even so, I don’t remember any framing my windowsill. I have no idea what kind of accessories or souvenirs gave my room its personality. All I remember is the view outside my corner bedroom windows. The broad limbed trees arching over the street: Their bows blossoming with nests of fresh green and woven twig. The way squirrels partnered up and do-se-doed through their massive terraces of decades old oak, maple and blue spruce. That must have been the time of year when my room filled up with sunlight: During the early spring when buds appear on their skinny mid-air extensions. Just shy of that moment when their husks fell to the ground; giving the squirrels and robins a purpose to leaf through.

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We had great thunderstorms in April and May. I remember that. Sometimes gale winds pushed the rain north with such force; the houses across the street evaporated behind a wall of water thrown sideways up against my windowpane.

And I remember my sister and I went to Michigan to spend the summers with my grandparents. We fished for bluegills and sunfish and caught bullfrogs and turtles out by the swamp. And got out of the way of swarming mosquitoes who hovered over the shallow waters of Indian Lake at dusk. Grandpa used to say, "This is the best time to go fishing: When you see the color of the sun on the water." I remember the way leaves crunched under Grandma’s feet when we took long walks in the fall: Her indigo beret and silver hair against the backdrop of yellow ochre and raw sienna and the loafers she always wore and shiny copper pennies in them: Her athletic stride. She had been a professional golfer in the 1920’s and 30’s. But the names of the streets where I lived have been lost.

I remember the first hale storms at the end of October: The way they seemed to turn the switch on for winter, as temperatures soon after dropped and arctic winds signaled the coming of blizzards and ice storms. I remember that ready or not wind-chill from the big lake, which quickened our pace from house to car, to office or school and then back home again. I remember how the trees looked after a snowstorm: Like they had been in the bad end of a snowball fight: Blotched with clumps of fist sized white. And I remember sparkling ice-tinseled trees tapping the six-pane double-hungs that separated me from the cold. But I don’t remember sitting with any friends in my room.

I remember wearing humungous dark sunglasses to lessen the glare from the snow. There are pictures of me wearing woolen gloves, leather boots that went all they way up to my knees and long heavy coats, which hid to all my gender. And I remember the enjoyment I got from breathing the cold air in through one of the crocheted scarves, wrapped around my neck and face. I even remember the time Grandma found an outfit she had given me, bunched up on the floor of my closet. The way she held it in her hands and told me how much it hurt her to see it discarded that way, and thinking I will never be that careless again. But I don’t remember where my closet was or if I had a dresser or a chest of drawers in my room. The specifics are missing.

I remember once, on a beautifully warm day, during the spring or summer or early fall, I opened the windows in my room and put my speakers over by them and blasted Jimi’s, "Are You Experienced?" I was probably tripping the light fantastic but I couldn’t say for sure. The extent of my living experimentally went way beyond the usual pharmaceutical abuses of the day, so anything is possible. What I don’t remember about that time in my life... I figure probably shouldn’t count.

And I know I traveled to lots of places for many years, often choosing to strike out on my own because I thought meeting thinking people and seeing the world a gas. I know I didn’t feel the need to wait for a man to invent a life for me or manufacture love affairs in order to excuse my passion. I know I didn’t depend on anyone else to define me. I learned that I didn’t have to know everything. In fact, no one could. It was an unrealistic expectation. So I chilled out.

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I know I left home when I was seventeen and went back there maybe once or twice. I know I loved my family, though the relationship with my Mother had been a conflicted and painful one. But I didn’t remember what the injustices were. I know I played classical music on the piano and was delighted to find my sheet music, but couldn’t play anymore. It made my head hurt when I tried. So I let it go.

I know I went to Columbia College in Chicago after graduating high school, though I didn’t remember the years this took place. I remember someone who worked for the insurance company or disability told me they were checking on the information I gave them and no one with my name had ever gone to Columbia College. I remember feeling so frustrated. I knew I had gone to Columbia. I couldn’t handle going through paperwork for too long but I did find my file with important papers in it and realized when I looked at the transcript that I had forgotten I had a maiden name back then. I had even forgotten what a maiden name was. After that I started toting around all of the paperwork that certified who I was and where I’d been, and explained to anyone who needed to know, what had happened to me. I learned that trying to remember my life or process information in reverse was as futile as trying to mask together a bubble that had already popped. So I decided the most important thing I could do was to take the next step.

I know I loved the west and often gave into its call. I know I felt safer living outside, under a cluster of Aspen on the outskirts of some deserted ranch, where boulders popped out of the ground like dandelions, than I did around most people. I know being out there with all of the elements and possibilities, was what turned me on about life though the details that traced back to all of the reasons why, were a mystery.

I know that much of how I felt back then had sprung from a determination to never allow myself to become trapped in-between the lawns and concrete and tar of a lifestyle that seemed to hold people who chose it in some kind of a trance-plastic view of reality. Pinning them forever like helpless prey that had fallen into a pit of red stinging ants. I knew real well what I didn’t want to be. I think all my life I tried to find out, through the books I’d read and the people I met, what kind of person I did want to be.

I know I lived for many years in California and Colorado and New Orleans and Michigan but I didn’t remember what the names of most of the towns were or the years that I lived there or more than maybe one or two people I knew at the time. The few anecdotal events that took place during those years that I do remember continue to be precious to me.

I suppose most of the things I worked so hard for wound up in a landfill somewhere. And the rest I gave away when it got too heavy to haul. Only a small brown vase, some pictures and a few well-worn books have stayed with me all these years. Tokens that would have had to have been handled with care didn’t make the cut. The people I loved and learning how to love them with a pure heart was always more important to me than the window dressing anyway.

Being absolutely present, for every minute of this miraculous and some times terrifying life had always been what really interested me. Being awake and working on it: Scared or brave, fulfilled or barren, surrounded by loved ones or isolated and in a world of trouble was the deal that kept me going. Whether I was waiting for life to begin, watching it happen outside my window or whether I was throwing myself into it head long, trying to pry open some hidden truth didn’t matter. What mattered to me was that I didn’t look away, not for a second.


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