Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kiss Me

I don't think my mother is looking forward to watching my sister and I grow up. We have hardly any mirrors in this stupid house.  It's almost as if she doesn't want us to see what we look like.  The mere implication of our physical development might disturb the delicate stasis of our environment and instigate all sorts of changes that are beyond her control.

Mom has this really old, round mirror that she keeps in the hairbrush drawer in the kitchen.  It's reversible.  On one side, everything about your life seems okay. Flip it over and all your problems are magnified.  She mainly uses it to tweeze her eyebrows.

It doesn't matter.  That mirror is too small for my purposes, anyway.  I need a bigger one so I can practice kissing.  I like to see my whole face when I lean in to rehearse what I can only guess the experience is like.  Of course, it'd be ideal if I had a live person to help me sharpen my skills.  Somebody with two lips and an actual face.  But I can't even go there yet in my mind, let alone in real life.  I am only twelve.

Instead, I mostly practice on the backs of my hands and with the mirror that hangs on the inside door of the bathroom.  I take it right off the hook and disappear behind my bed.  I used to think this mirror was so neat when we first got it.  What with the reflective glass in the middle and the plastic frame around the outside that resembles a ship's wheel.  Being that this quirky accessory is the extent of the bathroom's nautical theme and now that I use it for a purpose other than staring at myself when I brush my teeth, I think it's kinda silly.  It's also difficult to rehang quickly in the event that anybody starts asking questions.

I am certain that no one is attracted to me, and it fills me with a desperate sadness that I have never known before.  This anonymous rejection haunts most of my waking moments, except when I am eating Bomb Pops on the stoop or watching Happy Days on Tuesday nights.  Then I don't really think about it as much.

I have crushes on twenty five boys in my school, four of whom are in my class.  I am constantly smiling and being nice, but it doesn't work.  I am pretty good at art, so I started drawing pictures of all the members in KISS.  That's gotten me some attention.  I also share my cough drops with anyone who pretends they are sick so I will give them one.

Frequently, I steal money from my mother's pocketbook and buy extra school supplies.  Lead pencils, erasers and assignment pads.  I give this stuff away, hoping somebody will care.  Boys always need paper.  Maybe one of them will realize that he needs me.

I wonder how girls get guys to be with them.  To start holding hands and walking with their arms around one another's waists.  Where do they find each other?  I stare whenever I see couples leaning on cars, making out.  I can't help it.  I am consumed with curiosity and longing.

It doesn't matter, though.  My mom is so strict.  She will never let me have a boyfriend.  I'll have to become a nun.  Or a nurse that no one wants to marry.

Can you tell I'm upset?  It's because I'm in love with Angelo, this older boy who works on the Mister Softee truck.  He's so friendly and funny.  Tonight, I saw that he had marks all over his neck.  I'm not sure how he got them.  I mean, I think I know.  I bet it was that ugly girl who lives up the street.  She's always crowding the window while us kids choose our ice cream.  Angelo must think she's pretty.  I think she's disgusting, and I wish I was her.

I want the boys in my class to like me so badly.  I'll do just about anything.  Last week, a few of them stood together in the schoolyard, passing this little card back and forth.

"What do you have?" I asked.

"It's a joke," John said, nudging Walter.

"I wanna see."

It was the Indian lady from the Land o' Lakes butter package.  You know how she's kneeling in front of the water, smiling and holding her beloved butter?  Well, somebody had cut out the extra set of knees from the back of the box and taped them to her chest, so it looked like she had boobies.

I told my mother I needed that butter box for a school project.  We usually buy margarine.  I made my own version, but mine was much better because it had a window.  You could choose if you wanted to view her breasts or not.  All the boys went crazy over it, until the teacher showed up.

I thought for sure Mrs. Flanagan was gonna tell my mother, but she never did. Maybe she knew I'd get my ass beat half to death.  All she said was, "Mary, you know better."

But that's the thing.  I don't know better.  I'm guessing at everything.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Getting Him

The phone rings several times, and Dave picks up.

"Everything all right?" he asks.

"Oh, yeah," I reply.  "Couldn't be better."

"Where are you?"

"Just outside."

I pull the car in front of the house.  I see my husband standing in the doorway of our home with a cell phone in his hand.  I wave.  Dad is right there in the seat next to me.  I give him a gentle slap across his belly and point to the porch.

"Look.  It's David."

"David who?"

"Oh, aren't you something?"

My father laughs quietly.  I can tell that he thinks he's enormously clever.

"Did you hear that, honey?  'David Who,' he said."

"I heard it.  He's joking."

"No, he isn't," I insist.  "This guy doesn't give a shit about you or anybody else."

"That's not true," my husband maintains.  "Gene loves me."

"You're living in a fantasy world," I tell him.

Clearly, my dad is quite pleased with his clever comment.  He is still chuckling. But David is right.  The old man is terribly fond of him.  He makes sure to extend his hand whenever they meet.  Like there's something very important going on between them.  Even if he's just stopping by to pick up the laundry.

"Your skin is soft, like a lady's," my husband suggests whenever they shake hands.

This has been a running joke for as long as I can remember.  Gene Dall's feminine side.  It's hilarious.  Especially since my father was always such a bad ass and now, he's a pussycat.

"I'm not kidding," David adds.  "You have very womanly hands.  It's so strange."

My father grins.  "Thank you," he replies.

I'm not sure if Daddy gets the joke or not.  I don't think so.  He doesn't get most jokes anymore.  They're happening too quickly, and he is not that fast.  But he recognizes a smile and the warmth in someone's voice.  That's what keeps him connected to situations.

"Listen, I'm gonna need you to slide that blue rug out of the hallway.  I don't want him to fall."

"Roger that," Dave assures me.  "Bring him in."

I hang up and look over at my passenger.  He is messing with the knobs and dials on the dashboard of the car.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"Trying to turn on some music."  He gently adjusts the air-conditioning vents.

"I just shut the radio off.  We're going in the house now."

"Oh," he pauses.  "I thought we were taking a ride."

"We did.  But now, we're here."

I enjoy a nice long breath, so he can catch up in his mind.  I unfasten his seat belt.  He attempts to follow the length of strap to its origin, along the bottom outside of the cushion.  Years ago, he cut the seat belts right out of his own car with a knife.  He had no use for them, and they got in the way.  Safety was never an issue.

"You need to stay right where you are.  Do you understand?"   I wait for some acknowledgement, and when I realize I'm not going to get it, I continue.  "I'm gonna come around to that side and open your door."

"Like a chauffeur."

"That's right.  You're the boss.  So tell me, are you hungry?"  Of course, he is.


"Then, let's go have some lunch."

"Whatever you say."

That's what he always told my mother.  Whatever you say, as he went out the door and disappeared.  He never meant to do what she said.  He didn't even try.  He only wanted her to be quiet.  To get off his back so he could take care of business. Maybe enjoy a little freedom from the rules.  That woman had so many rules.

You know what's funny?  I suppose my dad had his own rule:  Ignore her rules.  Okay, maybe it's not really funny.  Just ironic.  And it doesn't seem like that big a deal now, the way he used to be.  Perhaps because that time is behind us.  And he is old and gentle.  But I know it meant something then.  It was important to her.

"Goddamn it, Gene.  Pick up your feet!  You're gonna fall."

I can still hear her yelling at him.

I run around behind the car and appear at his door.  I pull on my father's pant leg to encourage his right foot to the ground.  He follows with the left and stands up.  I grab his hand.  He shuffles along toward the house, as he's always done.  Two hundred and thirty pounds of elderly guy, moving super slow.

He will not lift his feet, and he's not gonna watch where he's going.  Big Mare swore that's how it happened.  That he tripped on the curb, bending over to pick up a nickel or an empty soda can.  It's entirely possible.  But we'll never know because he doesn't remember.  Somebody just found him laying on the sidewalk with his head split open.

Up three stairs and onto the porch.  Perhaps he is concentrating this time.

"You okay, chief?"

"Sure," he says.

David is waiting in the hallway and as my dad proceeds into the house, he trips.  He rests his weight briefly against my husband, and I grab his coat.

"Goddamn it, Gene!" I find myself scolding him.  I sound exactly like my mother.

He is laughing.

"You got him?" I ask Dave.

"Yeah.  I got him."

And we go inside.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Let Me Explain

I keep going back inside myself.  I love to look around.  Re-examine the past and try to accept what I find.  Along the way, I can identify new feelings.  I work on my character flaws.  I  have a bunch.

I've done the most horrible things.  And because of this, I see the world in a unique way.  I like to share my experience.  I put these thoughts on paper for others to read and hopefully, feel.  "Let me explain" used to preface the biggest excuses for fucking shit up.  Now, it is simply the way I introduce my version of the truth.

And everyone's truth is different.  I am responsible for mine.  I am responsible, period.  And pleased with my progress.  This is a great position for me.  I feel pretty sturdy, most of the time.

Some mornings, I wake up extra early.  Just to get with God in the quiet of the new day.  Start the ball rolling in His presence and be in that moment where I can celebrate my faith in this beautiful relationship.  Prayer opens up the greatest possibilities in me.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Letter #12: Happy Birthday, Mr. Sedaris!

December 13, 2014

Mr. David Sedaris
Little, Brown and Company
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY  10017

Dear Mr. Sedaris:

It's been a while since I've written and for that, I do apologize.  A part of me wishes I could say I've been doing a ton of exciting things, and that's why I haven't been in touch.  But that would be dishonest.  And it'd make me sound like an insensitive clod.  Like I have all this super important stuff that requires my attention, and I don't have time for friendship.  That's just not true.  I mean, I have been busy, but not in a hellish, abnormal way.  My days are lively on purpose.

I checked my calendar on Thursday, and I noticed that your birthday is right around the corner.  Such a shame to be born the day after Christmas, although I'm sure by now you've grown accustomed to getting the shaft, gift-wise.  I bet you handle things with aplomb. There's so much about you that I admire.  Your ability to see benefit in less than ideal situations is certainly one of those things.

Did you buy a Christmas tree this year, or will you be traveling for the holidays?  I managed to get ours dressed for the occasion, but that's about it for me as far as decorating goes.  I may drag a few lights across the porch before the week is over, if I can find the big extension cord.  I know it's in the garage somewhere.

As promised, I am sending along some bunny slippers for your feet.  I hope you like them.  There's also a pair for Hugh.  I got you guys the same style in different sizes, so there won't be any fights.  Perhaps you can enjoy the bunny slipper experience together in the evenings.  That's what I do.  Just sliding into them at the end of an action-packed day helps promote a mindset of tranquility.  I'm not kidding.

Happy, happy birthday, Mr. Sedaris!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Yours truly,

Mary Killian

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Wicked and The Divine

I examine these thoughts from the past with great care.  I try to explain things the way I remember them happening.  I think it's important to present the details accurately.  Otherwise, they'd just be stories about some other girl who had more on the ball than I did.

I'd love to incorporate some of the wisdom I've acquired over the years into these vignettes:  What she really meant when she said this.  How he made me feel.  Why I did what I did.  It would be nice to put more kind words into my mouth when I recreate the dialogue.  So I don't feel as foolish and uncomfortable sharing the lowlights of my behavior.  But I can't.  It wouldn't be fair to the memories.
I cried when my sister got married.  Judy seemed to have a pretty good escape plan. She managed to get away from our angry mother.  I was terribly jealous of her situation.  I did not want to be left behind.

I tried to replicate her path to freedom.  I needed marriage immediately.  So I could get out of there as well.  I pursued a gentle young man named Steve.  He played the drums and stocked shelves at the supermarket.  He owned a light blue Plymouth Reliant, and we drove around a lot.  We went to the diner.  I watched him eat cheeseburgers and drink milk, while I picked at my food.  We had sex in his car. And then, he took me home.

I felt as though I needed to gather some wedding items, just to get things moving along.  We went to Macy's and bought a box of ceramic plates together, a service for four.  I had two abortions within months of one another.  We broke up under the stress of these shameful missteps.  I put the dishes in the basement and threw the bridal magazines away.  Mom hated him anyway.  He was too quiet.

If I was gonna leave, I'd have to do it on my own.


I did not know how to be alone.  I had no idea what to do with myself when no one was looking.  Despite our explosive relationship and the violent arguments, I missed my mother.  It didn't matter how much we fought.  I still loved her, and I knew she loved me.  Once I was beyond the jurisdiction of her criticism and harsh summary judgment, however, I was a mess.

Oh, I still partied like a monster.  Of course, I did.  I had my own apartment! Finally, somewhere I could drink and be loved.  And not get yelled at anymore.  I was certain these were fine adult goals.

Actually, it wasn't really an apartment.  Just the front portion of a basement in a two-story brick building, seven blocks from the house I'd just left.  I went through a real estate agency in the neighborhood to find the place.  Once I forked over the rent and a substantial security deposit, I was given a key.  This same key was shared by a Spanish family on the first floor who occasionally cut through my living space to use the washing machine in the back section of the basement. These folks spoke very little English, but they were nice enough and tried to do their laundry while I was at work.

The situation was weird, but I didn't realize I could complain about it.  I wasn't even sure who the landlord was.  I just surrendered my money every month to this older woman upstairs who owned a small grey poodle with three legs.  She might have been the grandmother.

My studio flat came equipped with assorted furnishings of dubious practicality. The corner section of a modular sofa in gold velour, a full-sized executive desk with swivel chair, a metal file cabinet and two broken bar stools.  I dragged these items across the length of the basement and piled them against the emergency exit, almost guaranteeing my death in the event of a fire.

I found a mattress on the sidewalk within my first week of occupancy.  While snooping around near the boiler room, several large cinderblocks.  Two old doors resting alongside the house.  Instant excellent bed.  I went to the store to purchase a blanket and some other things I thought I might need.  I bought a toilet bowl brush, a napkin holder and a bottle opener.  Beer, wine and plastic cups.

I got a telephone from Radio Shack and screwed the cradle attachment to the wall with a butter knife.  I gave the number to a hundred people, and ninety of them stopped by for a visit.  They brought liquor and weed, beach chairs to sit on and several bags of potato chips.  A discarded Con Edison cable spool as coffee table provided an ideal surface for entertaining.  We drank and got stoned regularly.  We spent Friday and Saturday nights on our knees, snorting cocaine from a little mirror that hung over the toilet during the week.  I started calling in sick at my job.

I got good and worked up one night and dialed the house.

"Hi, Mom.  It's me."

"Oh, yeah?  What do you want?" she snarled.

"Nothing."  I hesitated.  "I just thought I'd call and see what's going on."

"None of your goddamn business.  That's what's going on."

I breathed heavily into the mouth of the phone, a little drunk and incapable of a clever comeback.  Calling home was a dumb idea.

"You listen to me, you miserable, selfish animal.  You made a choice.  And now, you have to live with it," she said.

It was almost as if my mother had been holding her breath, waiting for that phone call.  So she could finally let me have it.  Release some of the worry, the fear that sat on her shoulders since the moment I stomped out the door.  There's some of the wisdom I was talking about earlier.  I never considered what she was going through at the time.  I just thought she was being a bitch.

"Well, I'm gonna need those dishes I bought," I snapped.  "I have nothing to eat on."

"Go to hell," she replied and hung up on me.

I couldn't believe it.  I thought for sure Big Mare would have broken the door down and dragged me back home after the first couple of days.  But that never happened. She chose to ignore me instead.  Hang me out to dry with the silent treatment.  I sobbed into the receiver and wiped my nose on the sleeve of the sweater she'd gotten me for my birthday.  The one she said I wore like a prostitute.

I can remember staring at myself in that dirty little mirror.  I watched my eyes well with tears, small bulbs of mucous filling my nostrils and popping under the weight of my dramatic self-pity.

I called back a second time, and the phone just rang and rang.  I wished I had some tissues.  I should have bought a box when I was at the store, but I didn't think I'd need them.