Friday, May 03, 2013

Lullaby and Good-Bye

I knew it would not be easy; nothing ever is. But there was a moment, a single moment, when fear overwhelmed me. What was I about to do to my children, to my own life? How could I walk away from the man with whom I shared three sons? What could I promise them except uncertainty? Would it be better to stick it out and make sure our boys had two parents?

While Dave and I sat on the couch talking about splitting our belongings, the words were on the tip of my tongue: “Let’s think this over. Maybe there’s another way.” But I couldn’t say the words. Something held me back.

“You can have the furniture. I can’t take it with me,” I said.

“What about the piano? I can always send it to you.”

“It’s not practical. Sell it and send the money to me in Ohio.”

He didn’t put up a fight. After all, he really hadn’t wanted the piano in the first place. He couldn’t play it, and I would not be here long to play it. Or I could sell the piano and use the money to pay for the divorce.

It was all so cut and dried, so easy to divide up seven years worth of furnishings and mementos—and to leave behind seven years worth of travel and holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, love and companionship. The reason why suddenly didn’t seem so important. I had to think of the boys. None of us was happy, and no matter what we did, things were becoming increasingly more unstable.

Eddie’s screams startled us both.

Dave looked up. “I thought I told those boys to go to sleep.”

I raced to the boys’ bedroom. Eddie sat in the middle of his bed, his eyes closed and his head thrown back, screaming. I sat down and pulled him into my arms. He fought me. “It’s all right, honey. It was just a nightmare. Momma’s here.” He snuffled and calmed in my arms, sobs wracking his body. His shoulders shook. I pulled him onto my lap, his head against my chest, and rocked him slowly as I hummed. Eddie, the oldest of my sons, was getting too big for me to hold him. He was growing so quickly. So were his two brothers.

“I heard voices. Shouting,” he said.

It was the same dream over and over: a larger-than-life replay of the arguments between his father and I. Dave and I fought often in the middle of the night, whenever he finally came home, our voices barely hushed and intent on ripping each other apart. I thought we had been so quiet, but Eddie was a light sleeper.

“It’s all right, sweetie. No one’s shouting. It was all a dream,” I reassured Eddie now as I tucked him into bed. Then, I lay down next to him and began singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the boys’ favorite lullaby. He curled up against my side and sang some of the words before he fell back to sleep. The song had the same effect on my sons that it had on my baby sister when she was little.

David Scott stirred in the upper bunk. “It’s all right, Eddie. It’s all right.”

I slipped carefully out of the bed and checked on David Scott. He patted the pillow, murmuring in his sleep. “Shhh, Eddie. It’s all right.” I kissed his cheek and tucked the covers around him. I don’t know how the boys did it, talking in their sleep to each other as though they were awake. It must be some family quirk, because, according to my mother, my sisters and I carried on whole conversations in our sleep. David Scott stopped patting his  pillow and was silent, his breathing even and deep.

No, I couldn’t back out now. My boys needed to be able to sleep without nightmares and terrors. I had to go.

Over the last two years, Dave and I had gone to three marriage counselors. We did everything they told us to do, but we couldn’t recapture the spark that had brought us together, and Dave didn’t seem to want to stop seeing other women. He didn’t want to change, and I couldn’t change enough. I could no longer ignore the truth. Counseling hadn’t worked. Talking hadn’t worked. Shouting certainly didn’t work. And lullabies didn’t soothe whatever it was that made my husband unsettled and uneasy. There was no way to sing my marriage better. The only choice was to leave and take the boys with me. We’d all be better off.

I picked the covers up off the floor and covered A.J. He slept through just about everything, but he was still young. It was only a matter of time before the tension between his father and I began to disturb his sleep, too. It was time for us to leave. I looked sadly but resignedly at my three young sons, then closed the door quietly behind me.

A few months later, I sat on the edge of the bed that Eddie, David Scott, and A.J. now shared, singing “Over the Rainbow” to ease them into sleep. The bed was unfamiliar, but they wouldn’t have to sleep there for long. We would move out of my parents’ house and into our own apartment at the end of the month. Thank goodness, they were still small enough to fit in one bed together.

“I can’t believe you still sing that song.” My youngest sister, Tracy, stood in the doorway. “You almost had me ready to fall asleep.”

“It’s their favorite song,” I said as I turned off the lamp and slipped out of the room.

“Mine, too,” she said.

Together, Tracy and I folded the laundry and talked over old times while the night wore on. Finally, finished with all the chores, I climbed the stairs and checked on the boys before turning in myself. A dim ray of light fell across their sleeping faces. A.J. kicked at the covers and turned over, one pudgy little hand dangling over the edge. Eddie mumbled something about rainbows and wishes, a smile tugging at his lips. David Scott patted Eddie’s shoulder, murmuring  a trickle of words—“… over the rainbow.”

At times I regret the divorce … but not in the middle of the night. There are no more nightmares of fighting and angry voices, no more crying and screams in the night. Now, the only sounds that drift through the night are of my boys talking, and sometimes even giggling] in their sleep about little boy things and rainbow wishes. That’s when I know that, no matter how hard it is being a single parent, it is all worth it.

I still sing my sons to sleep every night, after the hard days of school and play. But I no longer sing to chase away their nightmares and calm their fears. Instead, I sing a wistful lullaby about hope and better times, grateful we’ve finally found them.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: The Memorist by M. J. Rose

In this second book of M. J. Rose's Reincarnationist series Rose goes back to Europe for another memory tool. This time the tool is a flute made of bone that plays a tune to release the memories of past lives. Malachai has known about it for years through his treatment of Meer Logan who came to the Phoenix Institute as a child haunted by what Meer considers to be false memories of times long past.

The Memorist centers around Vienna and Ludwig von Beethoven who in the 19th century had the memory flute and figured out the melody to unlock the flute's power. Meer's father, Joshua Logan, is also involve, not because there is an ancient Jewish artifact to recover but because he has found a gaming box that has been a central theme in Meer's haunting memories.

Into this struggle between fact and fear of reincarnation comes a journalist, David Yelom, who recently lost his family in a bombing and left him standing on the edge between sanity and vengeance. He is in Vienna to cover the ISTA conference, a world conference for security professionals, and plans to bomb the Beethoven concert on the final night, saving his revenge for the crashing finale of Beethoven's 5th symphony from far beneath the concert hall in the catacombs that riddle the depths of Vienna's streets.

So far, the Reincarnationist series has included several instances where the catacomb riddled depths of European city streets have been used. The Memorist is no exception. Meer's memories contain trips to the catacombs beneath the Memorist Society's building into their secret vault and the Roman catacombs that extend beneath the concert hall that makes security a nightmare and offers a haven to would-be bombers. 

Rose takes the reader on a tour of Beethoven's favorite haunts and homes, a pilgrimmage of music and danger and music that elevates The Memorist from inventive thriller to a literary feast for all the senses, even though we can't hear the music. I did find some of the people in the audience for the big concert quite amusing as they checked out the competition and fidgeted during one of the Beethoven's more recognizable and wondrous symphonies. Not everyone is a music lover -- or a history lover or reincarnation believer -- but everyone loves a good story and there are several good stories in The Memorist.

The confluence of past life memories and current relationships and acquaintances is well handled and even poignant at times. The story is believable and will even wring a tear from the reader in places. Keep in mind, Rose has created a memorable series that gives life and sheds light on some of the oldest beliefs in the world, out of which come the memory tools. If only. . . .

Other than some glaring editing errors, I heartily recommend The Memorist. It has everything a good novel should have: interesting characters, harrowing cliff hangers, action, history, emotional depth, and insight.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The First Full Cup

This was published in Wait a Minute, I Have to Take Off My Bra, an anthology about breasts of every size, shape, and situation.


Everything changed the year before I turned twelve.

Spring started with first blood and turned to summer. Summer turned to fall when I got breasts.

The only changes that caught my mother’s attention were when my clothes were too tight and my skirts long enough to cover my knees. She constantly prodded me to “sit up straight” or “stand up straight” with the regularity of a metronome until I responded without thinking. Chin up, chest out, back straight, jaw tensed, teeth grinding, tense smile visibly in place, full lips in a tight thin line over just a hint of teeth. Her commands were accompanied by the look that said I’d better act right and stop embarrassing her.

One Saturday morning while lying in bed with one hand behind my head and the other holding a book on my chest, Mom burst into the bedroom I shared with my two younger sisters. “Get up out of that bed,” she commanded. My lips stretched and my jaw clenched as I slowly moved to obey. “Go wash under your arms. They’re filthy.”

I looked at my armpit and then back at her. “I took a bath last night.”

She strode closer and grabbed my arm. “How lazy can you…?” She stared at my armpit. What I had known for weeks she finally discovered; the dirt was hair. “Get dressed,” she hurled over her shoulder as she walked out of my room and down the hall.

Less than a month later, while standing in line outside my sixth grade classroom waiting for the teacher, the fact I was growing up shook me.

That day I wore another of my mother’s sensible clothing choices, a two-piece sailor outfit: navy blue pleated skirt and thin white sweater with a red scarf knotted at the point of a wide winged navy blue collar surrounding a vee neck. I was aware of the faint ache of the cloth pressed against the hard nubs on my chest but I ignored it just like all the other pains our family doctor called growing pains. It was there and not there. The boys were lined up along the wall opposite the girls and Rob Stokes acted up, making us laugh – until he targeted me.

“I can see Jackie’s nipples,” he crowed, “and they’re pink.”

Nipples? I didn’t have nipples. I had little pinky-brown circles on my chest like everyone else but not nipples. You had to have breasts to have nipples.

The boys crowded closer. The girls moved away.

“Wow,” Rob said, “they’re really pink. See?” He pointed at my chest.

I looked down. The white knit was translucent and I saw a faint blush of pink that was pale in comparison to the red that flamed my cheeks and the tips of my ears. I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at Rob. “Your barn door is open,” I shot back just as our teacher appeared at the end of the hall. Rob looked down and checked his zipper. I gritted my teeth and swallowed hard to keep the tears back. 

As the teacher unlocked the door, I asked to go to the bathroom. He nodded. I walked through a gauntlet of whispers and down the hall. I opened the door and marched to the farthest stall from the door, went inside, carefully latched the door, sat down on the commode and burst into silent tears. When I got back to class all the boys stared and I stared right back, a defiant smile on my lips, my shoulders slightly hunched to keep my white knit top away from the blushing pink beneath.

Other girls in my sixth grade class bragged about wearing bras that were little more than bra-shaped tee shirts. I wasn’t about to ask mom for a training bra. I didn’t have anything to train, and neither did any of the other girls in my class.

When my mother got home from work I told her I needed new clothes. “We just bought you new clothes for school.”

“My clothes are too tight.” I had changed into play clothes as soon as I got home, wadding up the knit top and stuffing it back into a dark corner in the closet behind a shoe box. 

“You look fine and you aren’t getting new clothes,” she said in her “that’s final” voice.

“I need new clothes.” The whole story tumbled out in a rush.

My mother looked at me as though seeing me for the first time. Her hand flew to her mouth and she stepped back. “Stand up straight.” I snapped to attention: chest out, chin up, shoulders back. “Oh,” she said with a look of shock in her eyes. “Go peel the potatoes for dinner.”

The subject was closed.

I dug out all my old tee shirts, locked the bathroom door and tried them on. They made my chest ache. Nothing fit. I waited for my parents to go to their Eastern Star meeting one night and tiptoed into their room to raid my father’s drawers. I took an old undershirt from the bottom of the neatly folded stack, balled it up and snuck past the living room where my brother and sisters were watching television with Grandma. “I’m going to do homework, Gram.” I took the stairs two at a time.

I closed and locked the bathroom door, took off my top and pulled the undershirt over my head, over my chest, smoothed it over my hips and let it cascade past my knees.

I raided my mother’s lingerie drawer. Her bras were impossibly huge and there was no way I could cut up one of her bras and not get caught. I’d have to stuff the cups or use  the foam rubber breasts with the perfectly sculpted nipples I found in the bottom of the buffet in the dining room. I wanted camouflage not bigger breasts.

 “Please, God, let Mom buy me bigger clothes,” I prayed each night without success. I put my legs through the arms of my sweaters and pulled them up, spreading my legs with all my might in hopes of stretching them enough. I ripped the seams and put them in the mending pile. Mom complained.

“I must be growing really fast,” I said hopefully.

“Wear something else,” my mother ordered.

As my clothing choices shrank and the mending pile grew, I was desperate. Dad’s undershirt looked better and better.

“Where’s the top that goes to this skirt?” Mom asked as she held up the navy blue pleated skirt.

“I don’t know,” I said, holding my breath while she rummaged in the closet.

She tossed a pile of clothes on the bed. “Hang those up. We’ll clean out that closet later.”  

I hurriedly hung up the dresses and tops that would normally have sat on the foot of my bed for a week or more. I had to get that white knit top out of the house for good. I’d hide it in the barrel where Dad burned the trash, under the ashes and rusted, burnt tin cans.

Meanwhile, I experimented with holey sheets destined for dusting rags, borrowed thread and needles “to make doll clothes” and ripped, cut and sewed the strips of sheet together to wrap around my chest, using safety pins to hold it all together. I ended up getting stuck or the binding slipped slowly down to my hips. Everything called attention to the hard knots on my chest that ached whenever something touched them. The hard little knot beneath my swelling nipples got bigger and I slouched more to hide them.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Christmas vacation finally arrived. A whole week of wearing play clothes and no one to worry about my chest . . . I thought.

Christmas morning my sisters and brother and I crept down the stairs in the dark toward the black irregular triangle of the tree with the dark boxy shapes beneath its branches. We stood in the foyer as close to the tree as we dared and whispered about what we’d get. Our whispers were calculated to be just loud enough to rouse our parents slowly.

Mom appeared through the curtain separating their room from the living room, her face shiny in the nightlight. “Get back upstairs,” her voice a rasping whisper.

We went as far as the top landing, hunkered down and waited.

“I said, get back upstairs.”

We went.

Huddled together on my bed, we whispered and waited, and anxiously watched for some sign of dawn.

As we finally gathered around the lighted tree, patiently waiting for our gifts, Mom and Dad handed out presents. Then Dad handed me the rectangular box Mom had held on her lap while we had opened our gifts.

Dad hovered.

Mom smiled.

I hesitated.

It was probably clothes. I wanted to try out the sketch pad and the watercolors but the way my parents looked… “Just get it over with,” I thought, and I opened the box.

I resisted the urge to throw the box as though it contained a poisonous snake. It was worse.

Inside was a navy blue sweater. On top of the sweater was a bra, a real bra with hooks and cups and straps—and cups. The cups were rumpled cotton mounds of air and cloth with rigid circles of stitching pointing up at me.

Mom and Dad beamed.

I cringed inside.

“Go put it on,” Mom urged.

“But I wanted to…”

“We want to see if it fits,” she said in her “obey or else” tone.

I went upstairs like I was walking the last mile to the electric chair.

I put on the bra with my eyes closed. When I opened my eyes and looked down the enormous cups were filled.

The cups were filled.

The tag scratched my arm where it dangled from the strap and I jerked it off and read it. They were only A cups, but the cups were filled.

I pulled the soft navy blue sweater over my head and smoothed it down over my pajama bottoms. I stared down at the front of the sweater where it swelled softly over the bra, over me in the bra. I couldn’t go to school like this. There would be talk of Kleenex stuffing and foam rubber boobs.

“Don’t take all day,” my mother yelled.

I pulled the sweater down and walked the rest of the last mile back down to the living room. My sisters giggled and my brother pushed his new Tonka truck around the living room. My sister, Carol, pointed to the curtain that led to my parents’ room. I hunched my shoulders, hung my head and went in.

“Let’s have a look.”

I stepped through.

“Stand up straight.”

I snapped to attention: head up, chin out, shoulders back. Flames engulfed my cheeks and the tips of my ears as Mom smoothed and tugged the sweater into place. “Turn around.” I moved slowly, my parents discussing me as though I were a mannequin. “She won’t wear that long,” Mom said as she pulled up the back of my sweater and checked the hooks.  

She spun me around. “You look all grown up,” Dad said. For the first time I smiled a real smile and stood up straight without urging.

When I went back to school wearing my new sweater over the new bra no one noticed. Rob Stokes didn’t give me a second glance and life went on as usual. I didn’t slouch or hunch and my friends noticed I was taller.

My lingerie drawers are full of sexy and decadently luxurious jewel-colored satin and lace confections, supportive sports bras and comfortable soft, shapeless cotton bras with their DD cups. As much as I love the feel of fabric and lace and pretty embroidery, it is still that first cotton bra and the first full A cups that make me smile.