Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Gum on my Shoe

I should have known my second marriage was a mistake the morning after the wedding when I discovered my husband dressing for drill with the Ohio State Naval Militia (which I called Ohio's Mickey Mouse Navy) at 5 a.m. Everything pretty much went downhill from there.

I understood when he wouldn't take off even a half day so we could get married. I half expected it when we ran into one of his old girlfriends at the Kahiki, a Polynesian restaurant on the east side of town, where we had our wedding supper, but leaving me at 5 a.m. to go play soldier for the weekend was too much. After one divorce seven years behind me, I decided I had to make my second marriage work no matter what. I didn't realize I was fighting a losing game.

Valentine's Day was one month before our first anniversary and I wanted to make it special. After saving the money for weeks, I booked us into a really nice hotel in Worthington for the weekend, a special Valentine's weekend complete with champagne, room service, and steak dinners with all the trimmings. I went to the hotel after I got off work and arrived before Nick. Two hours later--two very long hours later--Nick showed up carrying his drill clothes.

“Nick, this is supposed to be a romantic weekend. I thought you were going to call off for drill.” I was surprised and hurt and angry.

“I have a perfect attendance record. I'm not going to ruin it now. I'm up for promotion.” He carefully hung up his uniform and gear in the closet.

“We're late for dinner,” I said and gathered my purse, slipped on my shoes, and went to the door to wait. “Let's go.”

“I need to change and take a shower.” He was still in his work clothes and at that point I didn't really care. I was hungry and angry and I didn't feel like waiting an hour while he primped and fussed and went through his usual routine of staring at himself in the mirror while he brushed his teeth, shaved twice, and powdered, perfumed, and deodorized naked.

“You can take a shower after dinner.” I opened the door. He took off his clothes and headed for the bathroom. Once Nick started into his routine, nothing short of death would stop him. I went to dinner without him.

Our first and second anniversaries were pretty much the same, fatefully falling on drill weekends or simply forgotten. The harder I worked to pull our marriage together, the more I realized Nick was still a single man who happened to have a wife at home and it wasn't going to get any better. I realized Nick's father and Larry had been right. I was marrying the wrong member of the family; I would have been better off—and happier—had I married Larry, Nick's gay brother. So I determined to get another divorce.

At least that was the idea. When I told Nick he told me the way it was going to be. “I asked you to marry me. I'll let you know when it's over,” he said.

For three years I tried to get Nick to see our marriage was a mistake and we should just end it. He didn't agree. He liked having someone take care of the bills and the house and earn a good living. “I can't afford to live alone since I lost my job at the University,” he said. He had been fired for incompetence. He was a truck driver.

But I wanted a still wanted a divorce.

“I can't afford to be single,” Nick said. “I don't make enough.

His next job was working at Sears two days a week. “Why don't you go out on interviews on your days off?” I suggested.

“You're trying to make me have a heart attack,” he accused. “Besides you make enough money for both of us.”

And so it went for three years. I finally decided to move into another apartment, but while I was out buying blinds, Nick convinced my father and brother to help him move into my new home. I was stuck again.

Nick, still a bachelor at heart, began bringing his girlfriends home while I was at work. I doubt I would have noticed had it not been for the two bodies blocking the door one night when I came home a bit early. I sat on the couch and watched for twenty minutes while Nick and Joyce, one of my friends, kept having sex. They didn’t even break stride.

I knew I had to do something soon or I was going to do more than Super Glue his penis to his belly like I did the night after I caught him with Joyce.

He was sleeping around and stuffing my hard earned money down G-strings up and down Westerville Road, but I warned him about bringing them home. “I'll Super Glue your dick to your belly if I ever catch you screwing one of your girlfriends here.” Nick never listened to anything I said. While I reminded him of my promise, I used nail polish remover with alcohol to help him get unstuck. He didn't go out to be with any of his girlfriends for two weeks, something to do with swelling and soreness.

Figuring that would be the last straw and he would finally give in, I tried again. “I want a divorce.”

"When I can afford to be single.”

He could barely afford to be single when we met. Nick's father kicked him out of the house the day of his mother's funeral. He was 33 years old and hadn't left home yet.

I tried everything. Hoping one of his girlfriends had fallen in love, I called around. None of them wanted him that much. The gilding was definitely off the lily.

So, one car, two jobs, and a housewarming cat later, I asked again for a divorce. Nick got more comfortable on the couch. “When's dinner?” No go.

Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer gave me an idea. I'd gaslight Nick.

Bombarding him with images of women killing and getting revenge on men, I pulled out all the stops: Basic Instinct and She-Devil. Nick hated both movies with a passion, but mostly he was afraid I'd get ideas. A friend in forensics with the Columbus City Police Department came to the house to discuss toxicology screens and the perfect murder. We focused on men killing husbands and boyfriends and their motives.

With another anniversary on the way, I decided to make it memorable because I was determined it would be our last.

“Nobody expected us to stay married this long,” Nick said. “Larry would have been closest in the family pool, but he can't collect from the grave.” Nick snickered. “Serves him right.”

Larry died the year before of AIDS-related pneumonia and I missed him terribly, hating Nick for his attitude about how Larry died.

“Well, I have a surprise for you this year.” I smiled. “You’ll never guess what it is.”

“Doesn’t matter. You always give me such great gifts.” One of my major flaws—generosity; my other major flaw is stupidity.

“This year is different. I'm going to collect the money in the pool because you're going to die this year.”

Nick's face blanched as Sharon Stone reached for the knife underneath the bed. “A friend who works in biogenetics has made a special virus just for you. He encoded it with your DNA and the day after our anniversary you are going to die.”

He didn't know whether I was joking or serious, but during the days before our anniversary he refused to answer the door or talk to anyone, whether we knew them or not.

The day of our anniversary the door bell on the back door rang. I was in the shower. “Someone's at the door,” he said.

“Go answer it.” I was washing my hair.

The doorbell rang again.

“It's probably for you.” He wasn't budging.

“Just get the door.”

The stairs creaked as he slowly walked down the stairs, a condemned man.

Bart told me later he peered through the kitchen window trying to see who was at the door, but he hid out of sight. Nick cracked the door but, unable to see, he ended up opening the door all the way. Bart, dressed as a clown and in full makeup, holding a bouquet of balloons, jumped out at Nick who nearly fainted. After singing “Happy Anniversary”, Bart handed Nick the bouquet of balloons and popped one, then ran off the porch laughing.

“That was really nice,” Nick said unconvincingly as he showed me the bouquet of Mylar balloons. Taking a pin from the nightstand, I popped the black balloon with the skull and crossbones. Nick fell across the bed and broke it.

All night long, Nick paced the floor, checking his pulse and blood pressure every five minutes. It was worth the loss of a night's sleep watching him mutter and pace, count his pulse, and then pump up the blood pressure cuff and check the numbers.

Come morning he was still alive, but we were no closer to divorce. Gaslighting Nick wasn't going to work.

Six months later, after a particularly bad fight during which our next door neighbors pounded on the door and threatened Nick with calling the cops, Nick opened the door and I raced past him to the safety of our neighbor’s home. Nick had just come back from dumping the vacuum cleaner and three chairs he destroyed when the police arrived. They suggested strongly he leave and I warned him to get his things when he left because I was changing the locks. The apartment was in my name.

I woke up at 4 a.m. to find Nick rummaging through the bureau. “I said to get your things last night. I'm changing the locks today,” I reminded him.

“I need clothes for work,” Nick said and took his clothes into the bathroom and closed the door. I heard him turn on the shower and resisted the urge to get the water pitcher from the refrigerator and pour it on him just to hear his pores snap shut.

An hour later he was gone, but I knew he didn't believe I would change the locks.

When Nick came home he tried his key in the lock. It didn't work. He tried again. No luck. Fifteen minutes of trying his key and the door wouldn't open, so he pounded and shouted and threatened me through the door for another thirty minutes. I guess he missed the pile of his things on the doorstep next to him.

Since I couldn't move into my new apartment across town for two weeks, I was forced to listen to Nick come home every night at six, try his key in the lock for about fifteen minutes, and then curse and pound on the door for another fifteen minutes when he figured out his key still didn't work.

The day I moved he brought the police with him so he could get his things. Both officers were very nice and quite polite as they watched Nick struggle to move his desk and the boxes of junk he had collected over the years. My things had just been picked up and I was making a last check when Nick and the officers arrived. They knew Nick from high school and didn't seem to like him very much. After five years of marriage, I didn't wonder why.

Nick loaded the last box in his car and I handed him the key to the apartment. “The rent is paid up until the end of the year,” I said.

”You could have told me that before I packed up all my stuff.”

“I forgot,” I said, using his favorite and most often used excuse. The officers turned their backs on Nick and laughed while they walked to their cruiser.

“What's your new address?” he asked.

“You don't need to know,” I answered. “You can contact me through my lawyer.” I handed him the lawyer's business card and got in my car. The officers waited until I pulled away before they pulled out and followed me.

Two months later I quit my job, paid off the attorney, stopped divorce proceedings, and took a lower paying job with another company, telling them not to give out any information about me to anyone. Nick had counter sued me for alimony and support. Supporting him for three years was enough so I waited.

Two years later my mother called with a message from Nick. He agreed to a do-it-yourself divorce. He was engaged and planning to get married on New Year's Day.

Three months later I was free of Nick. I have celebrated my independence day every year for the past twelve years, a reminder that sometimes independence doesn't come cheap.

He's still engaged to the same woman, but she keeps changing the year of the wedding. The day is always the same: New Year’s Day. But having been married to Nick, I think she's just too smart to fall for his black Irish good looks and piercing blue eyes. Or maybe she knows getting a divorce from Nick is like getting gum off the bottom of your shoe on a hot August day—the more you scrape, the more it spreads.

Monday, May 31, 2004

I'm done

With just three hours to spare, I decided to revamp my post on my little dead hummingbird and sent it in to the Power of Purpose contest. I won't know the results until September, but I am okay with my entry. It is more important that I did it than that it wins first prize, although even last prize would be nice. I could handle an influx of $10,000 any day of the week.

So here it is...and without any further ado.

Little Wings

I found a dead hummingbird on the deck. It was a male, and most likely the sassy bold little male who determines who does and does not get to share the feeder. He lay on the bench, little wings outspread, tail feathers splayed as if soaring on the wind.

I took his tiny body in my hands, marveling at the still brilliant iridescence of his ruby and gold throat and his dragon scale feathers shimmering in the sun. His bead bright black eyes were flat and empty, his tiny claws curled as if still on the feeder perch. I stroked his wings and soft little body, amazed at the softness and perfection of each little feather. His thread-like tongue stuck through his needle beak, hard and unyielding, not the pliant whip made to sip nectar and sugar syrup.

The other hummingbirds darted and whistled about the feeder, seemingly oblivious to their silent friend. As I picked him up, hummingbirds descended from everywhere, squabbling and whistling and knocking each other off perches. Maybe they noticed their companion after all and out of fear or respect or animal intelligence curtailed their usually frenzied quarreling over sugar syrup.

Planning to repot some seedlings, I gathered a new clay pot, my trowel, two peat pots containing butternut squash and cayenne seedlings, a flat of 72 cells full of flowers, herbs, and food plants, and took them outside. At the foot of the stairs to the deck, I picked up two pieces of pink marble to cover the drain hole and began to fill the new pot with rich, loamy organic soil. Once it was halfway full, I gently placed the perfect tiny body of the hummingbird and covered him with more earth. To fling him into the woods or bury him in the yard seemed wrong, unfair. Instead, his little body will go back to the earth and nourish the seedlings and plants while the other hummingbirds arrow down from the deep blue sky to drink a little nectar and spread pollen to each new flower, giving him a new purpose.

I found a dead hummingbird on the deck, a ruby-throated male that once carried pollen and seeds from flower and tree to ensure the next generation. Bright colors and sweet nectar called him from his busy rounds to visit and take a little of their essence with him as he buzzed and darted throughout the day. He gave me joy and beauty and laughter, but he still has a purpose. He fertilizes my seedlings and plants, ensuring they will flourish and provide me with beauty to see and food to eat. Although he no longer brightens my view with his sparkling feathers and whistling cries as he darts through the sky, little wings ceaselessly beating, he will always brighten my heart and my home as he returns to his place in the cycle of life. With each new leaf, flower and fruit that grows from his grave, he reminds me it is the small purposes that must be fulfilled first. They serve as the bedrock upon which all is built and without which nothing is possible.

Memorial Day

This morning dawned gray and cold and I stayed in bed much longer than I normally do -- until ten. Normally, I'm up and out of bed by eight. I take my vitamins, drink my glass of water, snag a piece of fruit and a yogurt (or whatever else I've decided to have for breakfast), check on and water all my plants and seedlings and take the hardier plants outdoors for what little sunshine peers thru the clouds these days, and climb the steps to my loft office. Up under the high pitched roof I have windows near my desk and computers and windows on the opposite wall where light streams thru when it decides to visit. Lately, it has been a capricious companion, but even the sight of the towering pines I see out all the windows, the pines that completely surround my little mountain haven, is heartening because it is a daily reminder of the wonder of actually living in a cabin in the mountains, a dream I have held since I was a child.

Right now the wind is roaring thru the trees and they shake and shiver and bend in its wake. It is cold out there, but he sun is bright today, herding the vast puffy white lakes overhead, pushing them thru a light cobalt blue sky.

Did you know a cloud is really a lake suspended in the air above you? Think about it. Clouds are water vapor and lakes are composed of water. Hence--lakes.

There was ice on the BBQ grill cover on the deck and a puddle of melting water waterfalling down to the boards. Hummingbirds were busily fighting the heavy winds to perch on the feeder and drink despite their feathers blowing about them like Marilyn Monroe's skirts over the subway grate. Mountain chickadees with their peach-tinted breasts fly up from the ground to the deck and walk around picking up seeds and insects, hopping here and there rather than fly against the freight train whoosh of the wind. Chipmunks skitter like tan and brown striped New Orleans roaches from tree to tree up and down the mountainside on chipmunk errands, probably prizing open fallen pine cones for their seeds and looking for early mushrooms peering from roots and deadfall. More new birds I have yet to identify zip past the deck, scattering the hummingbirds that quickly come back to the feeder to rest and relax. A harem of does crossed the ridge in their daily trek to feeding grounds on the lower plains, huddled together and ready to bolt, although they tolerate my presence.

And I have work to do, an essay I have put off because I'm afraid I don't have anything to write important enough to be noticed, let alone win. But it is these small moments, these times when I feel in tune with the little world around me, when I can walk out onto the deck and feel the brush of hummingbird wings, coax the does a little closer so I can see their eyes and hear their gentle snuffling, or feed the three camp robbers who swoop in to peck seed from my hands that anything is possible -- even having something worthwhile to write.

Happy Memorial Day to all and to all a good BBQ or reasonable facsimile thereof.

I'll shut up now.

Sunday, May 30, 2004


I feel sort of slow and cold and not much good for anything, as if in the grip of cold silence.

Most of the snow is gone, but the sun cannot break thru the heavy dirty wool of the clouds overhead. One line of blue, at first deep azure and now pallid and pale blue, peers thru the thick grey-white haze, but no sun. The tall Ponderosa pines bend in the wind, bowing to a superior force, as I sit up here in my aerie looking out on a winter world caught in the bubble between spring and summer.

I have gone thru all my emails, edited a sample of text and posted it in hopes of finding more work and generating a regular income, and I need to finish the staff issue of R&T and work on my own essay about the power of purpose, but somehow I cannot urge myself closer to the words. Perhaps it is because my fingers are cold and a little stiff or perhaps I need a break, a few moments outside so the wind can blow the cobwebs and silence from my mind. Or perhaps I just need to go downstairs and get something to eat, something warm and spicy or sweet and warm or just warm and filling.

I want to crawl back into bed with The Speed of Dark and Elizabeth Moon's spare prose, slip back into Lou Arrendale's autistic mind and wonder along with him what is truly normal and what is supposed to be normal and isn't. Or if normal is a catch-all term that defines nothing more than a generality.

A ray of sun just lit up the golden caps on the wooden posts punctuating the deck railing and now the view outside the windows on the living room wall is all golden and bright. High up above the mountainous clouds a washed out cobalt blue sky reaches its fingers downward into the thick covering and the band of pallid blue is gone. The clouds are thick like curdled milk, but there is no watery whey washing thru the curds.

I guess I'll go downstairs and get something to eat, take a hot shower, and walk out into the wind to see if there isn't something I can find at the grocery story to tempt my seedling thoughts into full bloom. Then again, maybe I'll just keep writing and see what happens, what peers from between the nonsense and the dreams.