Sunday, March 29, 2009

April Begins

As I was leaving work last week, I saw a flurry of movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a still, quiet evening around seven. There was a chill in the air left from the snow melting and the sky was a pewter blue.

I lifted my head in time to see a fox leaping, his motion fluid and feral, silent. Following on his heels was a grey creature that was either a fox or a coyote. Both were focused, seamless in their motion; they leaped up over the curb and into the tangle of bushes beyond and completely disappeared without a sound.

Close above them I could see the black flurry of a crow's wings, his harsh cries loud in the still air. The crow rose up into the trees, leaving only echoes of his voice. I was left wondering if I'd imagined it. My mouth had literally dropped open; I had to remind myself to close it.

The experience was full of some kind of wild magic and it came over me all at once- no wonder our ancestors worshiped animals, no wonder they thought the animals portents and spirits.

Soon Keith will be unable to reach me by phone or have access to the Internet. He will be in this place until the end of deployment. Eventually phone lines will be run out, I don't know how long it takes for them to set it up.

But every time he calls now it feels twice as urgent to get through, to hear his voice but the connection has gotten steadily worse. Today was a constant stream of interrupted calls as he tried again and again to get through and couldn't hear me.

It is so heartbreaking every time I hear his voice start out so hopeful and then trail off into resignation as he realizes he can't hear me. Especially as the day went on and his voice got more and more tired. It is so frustrating to hear him speak with such exhaustion and to not be able to reply. I think he ended up getting about two hours sleep.

The missing him is getting worse and time is not going by quickly enough to keep pace with the growing intensity of the feeling. Sometimes I feel as if I am a small child, having a temper tantrum, kicking my heels against time. The last three days of March crawled by so slowly I thought I would scream.

Now that's April, I feel better. April is the gateway to summer. The best thing about April, in fact, is that May comes after it. Especially as more snow is predicted this weekend. I forgot that out here, the reckoning for all those sunny, mild days of winter is a cold and miserably snowy spring.

I had to move something into the garage today, which meant of course going into his closet (to get the key) and the inevitable shirt detour. All the scent is gone from the shirt he married me in; I kept it, and the white tee shirt he wore beneath it, in the back of the closet. I never washed it. But now all it smells like is the closet itself, faintly of linoleum and cotton.

(By the way, he has given me permission to buy him clothes. The poor man has no idea. I got all excited and asked him if he liked chinos. "I don't even know what that is," he protested gruffly. But it's too late for him! He gave permission!! He has no idea what his closet will look like by the time he comes back.)

Abby waited intent at the opening of the door into the garage. I looked down at her and tried to explain that he wasn't in there. She was having none of it. As far as she was concerned, her daddy had been locked up in the garage for time untold, in possession of both the basketball and the highball and now she was going in after him.

Her face when she stood in the darkened, empty space of the garage looking back at me was unmistakable; she was shocked and let down. The sadness in her eyes made me want to cry.

"I told you," I said. "I told you he wasn't here."

He refinanced the house. We will have it paid off in fifteen years and save a massive amount of money. The monthly payment is slightly higher than it was and I reminded him that he would have to be aware that we couldn't just go off and buy whatever we wanted now, no boats, no flat screen TVs, none of that stuff.

"Yes, Captain," he replied teasingly and then the call dropped.

"Honey," he added, when he got through again, "you know I'm always gonna take care of us."

"I know," I said, and suddenly I did know; the knowledge washed over me with a deeper reality than ever before. I felt the solidity of him, of our marriage, of our future. All the breath went out of my body in one long rush of relief, a breath so deep and long that I must have been holding it for the past ten years.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Unusual Day

My poor husband tried to call me this morning, but the phone lag was even greater than usual, sometimes as much as twenty seconds. This meant that he would say, "I love you" and I would say it back and in the meantime he would be saying, puzzled and a little lost, "Are you there, Sweetie? Can you hear me?" and by the time he heard me saying that I loved him, I was already saying, "I'm here! Can you hear me? I can hear you," and so on and so forth in this manner.

"I'm going to say I love you and then I'm going to say bye and then you'll say you love me and that way we'll both know when to hang up," he explained earnestly, soon after we'd given up having a decent conversation.

The phone connection is through his high speed Internet, so he gets it at a very cheap rate. Consequently, when he is off duty we are frequently on the phone. We are on the phone while he shaves and I can hear the hum of the electric razor. I can hear when he thumps around the room getting ready for the day, or when someone knocks on the door and he shouts out to them something in a voice completely different from the one he was just using with me.

The other day the connection failed entirely and he spent three hours bull headedly hunting the down the problem, starting with his own computer and then outside, along the lines of cables until he got it working again.

The snow is all melting away in a mad rush, sheets of water run rippling in wide, shallow rivers down the streets, that pool in large, uneasy basins of water at the corners, all heavy with slush.

A steady steam comes dripping over the edge of the deck roof and from the eaves of the garage. Steadily the snow retreats from the front lawn, revealing larger and larger patches of bedraggled grass, yellow brown mostly, with the green shoots standing tall and proud around the roots of the birch tree.

I have started writing my story, on the story itself. I started and failed many times to write a plot outline and though I have a rough idea in my head of the internal and external conflicts that will drive the story, I am not sure of their placement within the story and at some point I realized that I wouldn't know until I started writing the damn thing.

It is hard work and I find myself constantly distracted by small things, I sometimes can only write a single sentence and then must do something else. Despite that, it came immediately and gratifying alive the moment I began and the characters move and speak in the ways I thought that they might.

I can tell that this will not be a sophisticated or intellectual story; this story will be far more along the lines of a made for Hallmark movie and I have settled in myself that it will be so. I thought about making it dark, for a long while I could feel a heavy shadow of something evil lurking and I tossed out many different situations in which the darkness would play out, but I gave up. I don't want to write that kind of story.

It will be a romance, the characters will be human, it will be historical and it will end happily. Apparently, that is the kind of writer that I am; I will embrace the reality.

Also apparent is that it will take a long, long time to write. I won't be putting any piece of it on my blog either, mostly because if I put it under public eye, I would need to edit it and I'm already forcing myself not to do that as it is; I simply need to write the damn thing before I second guess my language, sentence structure, characterization, etc, etc.

I went out to start my car for work and I turned the key, the engine coughed, choked and growled away into silence. Horrified, I pretended that the following had not happened, and turned the key again and it simply ground away, with the battery light flickering.

How could this have happened? I asked myself, standing in the garage, bewildered and horrified. What would I do now? If a car does not start, how can one get it to the mechanics in order for them to fix it? Jumper cables lurked into my mind, but did not take firm hold just yet.

I called work instead and was put on hold while they tried to find someone to come pick me up. In the meantime, good neighbor Larry drove home and my next clear thought was to call him. He came over and the cables materialized.

But my car was in the garage, how was it to get out? By pushing it, it turned out. Larry attached the cables and let the car soak up some juice. When he started the car, it started slowly, as though hauling itself to its feet, pushing the gears to turn, until finally, painfully, it caught and started rumbling away again. I turned it off and then on again, everything seemed once again fine.

But I did not trust my car. The circle of trust had been broken and there was no getting it back again. As a sign of this, the cables were placed in my trunk, in case the car would not start after my shift at work.

It did, and I arrived home just fine, but my car has betrayed me. After years and years of smooth and faultless performance, it has let me down. I'll always have this little shiver of worry about whether or not it will strand me somewhere; the grocery store, a side street down town where I parked before meeting a friend for lunch, or at the dentist. I just never know. It's a scary world out there.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Winter Weather

I have finished "The Great Santini" and am satisfied- at least as far as books are concerned.

As the two TV stations duelling for ultimate supremacy over this tiny little region have declared over and over again in the last twenty four hours, a winter storm is upon us. One station declared frequently that they have live Doppler radar, while the other declares that they knew this storm was coming on Sunday. The first returns with the emotional declaration that they are on my side. They both passionately swear by all the small gods of television to bring me news of impending weather catastrophe first.

In the meantime, I went out this morning, while there was still a part of the sky clear of the clouds. Coming home in the weak sunshine, I could see the sky to the North layered over and over again with blue bellied clouds, tumbling and rolling one over another, as high I could see.

A few hours after I got home, the sun was shut out for good and the snow came swirling in, at first gay and light, pirouetting across the window panes, distracting me from my book. Driven by gusts of winds, the snow quickly became businesslike and horizontal.

Meanwhile, the temperature has steady dropped. I brewed tea in the kitchen, darkened and dim in the blue light of the storm. Then I checked the heater and found that I had set the temperature at sixty degrees, back when Spring was not a figment of my imagination.

I set it to seventy degrees just now and I am beginning to feel my feet again. (Don't worry, Sweetie, I'll turn it back down again before I go to bed. And the car is in the garage.) Outside it is getting worse; the wind is howling, sculpting the snow into spare and beautiful shapes across the roof tops and at the bottoms of the windows. And it is cold, cold, cold out there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Of Books, Spaghetti and Men

...and not necessarily in that order.

Filled with an irrepressible longing, this morning I made my way to Barnes and Noble to purchase Pat Conroy's "The Great Santini." I read it years and years ago and lately simply needed to read it again.

So I have been upstairs on the bed reading my brand new copy for the past couple of hours. I had to put it down every couple of minutes, it felt like, as longing for Keith swept over me. I've learned it's better to respect such moments by acknowledging them and then moving on, than trying to resist.

It seems to me that over the past month, the tough rind that protected me through out much of the deployment has thinned down into mere skin; my own skin. I feel alive to each sensation of missing him and needing him.

When Keith is home, there is this feeling of living with an alien creature or a large, semi domesticated animal. I miss the thrill of that, the thrill of not knowing what he might do next, of knowing that he's not quite tame, but all mine.

He always moves with this air of bracing freedom and I must yield to it, because there's no way to resist it. He will do what he wishes and he will say exactly what he thinks and he won't sugar coat it, and so I find myself completely relaxed. Well, eventually I get there.

I learned this best when we were in Indiana and his female relatives looked at me like, "Aren't you going to say something, curb him?" And I knew then that I would have to release myself from his actions, let him go and be at peace with it.

Though I have tempered him, actually. Last night he was joking about getting a second wife, like some cultures allow and I told him not on his life, which made him made him laugh his delightful, deep and rumbling laughter.

"Never mind that," he said suddenly. "I couldn't take two of you; it'd be way too narrow."

"Whaddya mean by that?" I asked, suspicious. That did not sound like a compliment to me.

"Well, just one of you has got me on the straight and narrow," he confessed. "I don't even wanna think about what two of you would do."

"Humph," I replied. "On second thought, I could do with a second me, I could tell her, "You go; it's your turn to go talk him down." And then suddenly the deliciousness of that option hit me, and I laughed.

"Woman!" he protested, "That's not funny! You stop laughing! Woman...!"

I remember so clearly lying upstairs on the bed, waiting to see his truck come down the street and pull into the drive way, and wondering, almost nervous, what he would be bringing home from work with him. Would he be alive with frustration, or heavy with anger, or bright with satisfaction?

I would brace myself for the sweep of energy that he would bring in the front door with him, striding through the house in his boots, bellowing out for me, sorting through the mail, and rummaging around in the fridge. As soon as he was home my anxiety would dissipate and I found myself slipping effortlessly from one climate to another, no matter what his mood.

"You marry a man for life, but not for lunch," I remember reading in a novel and being struck by the statement, more because of its cleverness than because I had any idea of what she was talking about.

But now I think I do. I must have the house to myself for the long, quiet stretch of mid day, to prepare and renew. I feel the lack of it on weekends, when we've both been sharing the same space for two days straight. Because of this, Monday is a clear and cool relief and Monday afternoon, when he came home, a renewed felicity.

(Isn't that a pretty word, felicity? Why is it that some words become old fashioned, while others live on, bright like a penny? Why did felicity happen to fall by the wayside?)

Well, I must return to devouring my novel and missing Keith ferociously. (There are some strong appetites in this house at the moment; no wonder I made myself a huge, steaming pot of spaghetti! It doesn't quite compensate, obviously...sigh.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Night in the Life

On Monday nights, the Activities Coordinator has scheduled Poetry Club. This is led by a dapper and gentle resident. He always is dressed to the nines and walks slowly about with the help of a cane. He served in WWII flying bombers over Germany and came home to spend a civilized and compassionate life that is illuminated by family, his thoughtful poetry and water color paintings.

Each Monday he appears at least a half an hour early, with a manila folder containing poems of his that he has selected for the evening, a book or two of other poets, often one of Frost, and a pad of paper.

On his way past my desk, he greets me courteously and then sits in the empty Bistro area, waiting, occasionally re-arranging his little pile of documents. In the evening, the lights are flat and glint from the darkened windows, the tables look bare and cold; it is silent and still.

Every Monday night, my heart contracts with anxiety for him. What if no one shows? What if he is crushed? I then rush around, pulling in hapless residents from where ever I can find them; the half asleep H- is gathered from the front room, I find E- reclining in her darkened bedroom. B- comes rolling ponderously down the hallway in his wheelchair, I find M- wandering about, her jacket over her arm, wanting to know what this evening's program will be.

And there we are, a group. H- nods off quietly to sleep, his hands folded in his lap, sometimes startled awake by the sound of my voice and a listening look comes over his face. E- sits composedly, listening with enjoyment. M- fidgets and would leave except she knows this wouldn't be polite and by then isn't sure what she is attending, is it a religious service?

I love to watch the look of delight that passes over our house poet's worn face as he hears me read his poems aloud; it's as though he remembers them all over again. He never fails to stop by my desk and thank me for reading them. I always tell him that it's my pleasure. And then we are safe; at least until next Monday night.

The weather has changed drastically. When I walked the house dog, fat pieces of damp snow were falling straight from the slate grey sky. In the river there were several ducks paddling against the current, the fading light turned the tumbling water green, purple and blue black.

Our house dog is named Junior, though by now he can be more accurately described as senior, rather fitting, considering his home. It is my responsibility to walk him. I get paid to walk a dog, albeit with the phone at my hip in case of incoming calls.

This old fellow often follows me around, though he gets winded and must flop down halfway along, tongue lolling. He sprawls out in the most shameless manner, flat on his back, his paws up in the air, or on his belly smack in front of the main doors, where startled guests must step gingerly over him.

Today, I sorted the mail. First I make three piles, one of deliverable mail (not all residents get their mail), non deliverable mail, and general company mail. I then sort the deliverable mail into order by the building's geography, so that mail for the room I go to first is on top of the pile.

I then go on my prescribed route. Tonight my route ended in the kitchen, where I went into the cooler after frozen cookie dough. As I did so, the dietary staff came in the main door just in time to hear the eerie whoosh of the cooler door closing behind me.

When they opened the cooler door, the door to the inner recesses of the deep freeze had already closed behind me. They saw nothing but shelves of fruit and vegetables, and retreated to the stove, to question what they had heard. When I came out, unaware, they saw the door open and had spun around, hearts pounding to see what was coming out, unbidden, from the frozen dark.

"Dude, you freaked us out!" said one, as I appeared, putting her hand to her chest.

After scaring the dietary team members out of their minds, I then went on to other jobs. I made cookies; that is, I placed the frozen dough on the cookie sheet and put it in the toaster oven for seventeen minutes. I then sorted general company mail, stamping invoices and statements with a satisfying thump.

Finally, I sort the undeliverable mail and am left at last with a pile of mail for residents so long gone that no one knows who they were or what address their billable party now resides at. This is a sad and lost little pile of mail and goes into the very bottom of the floral box with the flowing script that tells me, each time I close the lid, that "Anything is Possible!" I'm not so sure this is a good thing, to be honest.

I do all this in my pair of brown suede heels with scalloped trim and tiny, off set buckles across the toe. Some of the girls at work have commented on my shoes, always a good feeling. But I also remember the girl I was, not so long ago, who lived in Birkenstocks.

This began when I found a discarded pair at a church rummage sale. I wore those shoes until the cork wore completely through. I then carefully, with a deep seated thrill, ordered a pair specially from Europe, the exact kind I wanted, not available in the local shoe store.

I wore those every single day for years and years. In the winter time, I wore Birkenstocks with heavy, woolen stocks over woolen tights. It is possible in New England to find woolen tights in adult sizes. I had three pairs, in forest green, black and brown. They were ribbed and very scratchy. But as I always wore skirts, they were absolutely necessary.

I don't remember when the transition from Birkinstocks to heels came. Probably Japan. In Japan, for the first time I felt the sheer joy of shoes. They were arranged like candy on shelves, in beautiful colors and elegant lines, and seemingly so affordable, only eight hundred yen! Why that's not even real money, or so it felt like. It's so much easier to spend money not in dollars, I have found. It's harder to take it seriously.

My other job duties this evening included playing a Bach CD, handing out an application, cheerfully greeting people, making sure candy dishes were filled and other vital operations. At the end of the day, I lock the door and switch over the phones, filled with the bemused feeling of having done absolutely nothing of importance. Except perhaps to have made our house poet glow with the delight of hearing his words come alive once again.

Missing the Boat

We narrowly escaped buying a boat last night. I was cozily lying propped up on pillows in our bed, happily reading for the hundredth time "The Diary of a Mad Housewife" when my cell phone rang, not five minutes after Keith had said good night and rung off.

"Where are you?" he asked, in this Voice. (He was hoping that I was still officially up and would go downstairs to look at this marvel of a boat. When I did anyway, he said in wonder, "You do love me!')

He began to talk about this boat he had found. One of my husband's hobbies is to cruise around on the Internet looking for vehicular bargains, so I am used to hearing him get all excited about the prospect of this boat or that truck.

This time was different, this time his voice was full of the light of certainty. "It's our boat, honey," he said. "This is the one."

That was when I made my way down through the dark house to the office and logged on, so I could see this thing. She was a very pretty boat with sleek, clean lines. She had a cabin underneath with a bedroom and a kitchenette and a stainless steel grill. Basically, something that we could live in for a week on the water, and yet go very, very fast when we wanted to. As well as grill out. No wonder he was so excited.

We made some quick negotiations. No new house, we stayed in this one, and no buying a new car, mine was perfectly fine for now and all paid off. Done and done; as far as he was concerned, he was almost willing to trade in the ATV for the boat.

That's when I realized the burden of financial responsibility would be on me. I would have to walk in the bank and ask for a loan on a boat. How could I get a loan? Who even asks for that in this kind of economy? I'd never gotten a loan before, how does that even work?

"It'll have to be in my name," I said slowly, realizing it. "I'm buying a boat. I don't want to buy a boat."

"Aw hon, I'll buy it back from you as soon as I get back," Keith said with a grin.

I didn't even bother trying to talk him out of it, as I had down with other purchases, it was too clear that this was indeed the boat. And I had promised him one, before he deployed. In fact, the entire time he was in the air on his way over there, he was day dreaming about the boat he would buy on his return.

The turning point was when I dropped a side comment, not even thinking, about how I would miss having a lot of land for a vegetable garden.

"I'll call him back," Keith said immediately. "We won't get it."

"You're sure?" I asked, amazed.

"Yeah," he said, his mind made up. "You were ready to walk right into a bank and ask for a loan. No, I'm good. I want my kitten to have her garden, and it's just too stressful for you to have to manage all the finances on your own."

So he called the man back and told him the deal was off, unless the boat was still there when he got back from his deployment, and then sent me an e-mail thanking me for being so understanding and supportive about the boat. I then sat here, wondering again how it was possible that God had given me this man as my husband.

March has simply flown by, it feels like the days have slipped past me with the ease of taking a breath and letting it out. And yet I've been fully alive in each day, outside in it, watching each small change take place.

I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is to hang off the back of the couch by the down stairs window and just dreamily look at the green grass growing thicker and taller in the front lawn. The dogs join me and I'm sure we make an interesting picture from outside, my head and the two girls, hanging over the couch, just looking at the great big world out there.

My geranium was hung outside for the first time yesterday, it was a gloriously hot and sunny day. That geranium has now lived almost a full year and has survived some close calls. As soon as we are free of the threat of snow (it might snow today), she will go right back out side for the rest of the summer, and I'll buy two more in hanging pots to decorate the edge of the deck roof.

I don't spend half as much time down here on line as I used to. I used to not even turn the computer off- I needed it on, and connected, or else I felt suffocated. The first thing I did in the morning would be to get up and check my e-mail, facebook and blog, and it would be the last thing I did at night.

Now sometimes an entire day can pass by without my even turning the computer on. I'm not doing anything exciting with my life, nor do I have some great social whirl of activities to keep me away. I don't know what it is. Sometimes it seems my entire life is lived on line and then there are long stretches of time where I'm so disconnected from it that I seem to be living in a different century.

When I look back at this month, I'll think mostly of being in the light, awash in it. And next week it will be April.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the Neighborhood

I go walking in my neighborhood every day now. The trees that were charcoal smudged are now hazed over with the most delicate green, almost like a mirage against the lucent sky. Last winter's leaves are gathered in scalloped ridges along the sidewalk edges, like icing on a wedding cake.

As soon as I leave the house, my body feels loose and long legged, I throw my head and shoulders back and my arms swing freely. I look a wreck; I wear Swedish leather walking shoes and jeans. I always wait to shower until after I get back, so my hair is generally in a messy braid that I wore the night before. My cell phone rides in the back pocket of my jeans and the house keys in the front.

The roads in my neighborhood wind in and around one another, all the houses share similar architectural traits, as though members of a large and messy extended family. There is the dominant split level layout and the three main windows facing front, as well as the attached, single garage.

I am guessing that they were all designed in the seventies. About one home owner per block got up one morning and decided to pain their house an outrageous shade of unmitigated blue. I often wonder what precipitated this decision.

I pass by one house that is beautifully tidy, the vibrantly green lawn hedged in by a chain link fence that gleams in the sun. The house boasts a small and brave dog of the curly haired variety. One day as I passed by I saw bath mats spread out tidily on the fence.

It gave me a sudden vision of the interior, all dim and incredibly neat, all the nicknacks gleaming and displayed in overflowing lighted cabinets, layered carpets and a lamp that hangs over the dining room table on a chain.

She makes toasted tuna fish sandwiches for lunch, she shops once a week, she speaks to her daughter in law on the phone and wonders why they never seem to get along. She has bathrooms that are all of one piece, where the toothpaste holder matches the frilly cloth shower curtain and the toilet seat is padded.

When I see their lawn, I feel bad for the houses next to it. The house to the left has covered their lawn completely with rocks, so one can only imagine. On top of the rock covered terraces have been placed terracotta circles like polka dots and on top of those have been placed sculptures of various winged insects and many, many ceramics frogs. I imagine that the dragonfly with clear blue wings was was a prized find.

I saw the lady of that house on her porch one morning. She was wearing a voluminous house dress in a vibrant blue that matched the paint job. She also was hanging rugs out to air on the porch railings; apparently the entire neighborhood has caught spring fever.

"You look happy!" she called out to me.

"It's the exercise," I replied with the grin.

People in my neighborhood like to fly flags that speak of their football loyalties, American patriotism and the fact that they like flowers. They like to have cars and trucks parked on the curb in a state of disrepair, a mark of either the perpetual optimist-"But hon, it just needs a little more work! I'll be able to get at least fifteen hundert for her..." or lethargy.

When I walk the neighborhood is silent and still, baking under the late morning sun. Hoses lay uncurled on lawns, windows are blank and empty, in the cool shadows under pine trees hide garden gnomes and cinder blocks. Dog bark, brave and mouthy; they hunt me all along the length of their fences, and then remain at the corner, alert should I decide to return.

Turning the corner, I see our own vehicle sitting at the curb, the short and stalwart Bronco, tan and brown, with the cracked windshield. The sight of it never fails to evoke such a longing for my husband that, for a moment, it becomes a physical sensation.

I remember his face, gleaming with sweat and splattered with oil and his fierce grin. I remember how solidly packed with muscle he is, the fact that he is a physical reality, not just a voice or a two dimensional picture.

By now, I know that I have forgotten so much of what he looks like, sounds like, what he is like to live with. I'm not conscious of it, I simply know because seeing him in December brought it all back and it's been long enough for it to have slipped all away again.

When he called me early this morning, he sounded cross. He was irritable from lack of sleep and frustrated over dealing with some money issues. I was still half asleep, my mind muddled with strange dreams.

I was drinking coffee at the kitchen table an hour later when the phone rang.

"Honey, I'm sorry I was cranky," he said remorsefully. "I couldn't sleep thinkin' on it."

He's getting ready to go somewhere else, involved in a different kind of mission. There won't be any kind of phone contact until they can run phone lines out. So at least I get his voice for now, all light and full of energy, or sweet and sleepy and rueful. How I love that man.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Driving home today, the sunset lay all mellow and silky against the mountain ridge, and it was seven in the evening. Seven, and the sky was a translucent blue at the zenith. When I open my door, a flurry of swallows flies up from the bottom of the lawn, where the water pools after I've watered. What they find so intriguing down there, I have no idea.

Various bushes and trees have put out tiny tongues of leaves, all furry and tentative and each day they unfurl a little more. There are even red, furry buds on the rose bushes and the tree that used to come only to the bottom of the bedroom window and now knocks against the upper glass panes is putting out buds. In a month or so, the sunlight will be filtered through the pale green leaves and it will remain cool and dim even in the afternoon.

"Hope we don't get a frost," said an elderly lady pragmatically. She was making her slow, hitching progress around my desk, as she does every day after dinner. "They'll all drop off."

I was left with the horror, and the evening's temperature, as checking it is her other evening ritual. Our resident French citizen was deeply upset this evening due to the fact that we did not organize a game of Skip-bo in lieu of the cancelled Jeopardy; we played a crossword puzzle instead.

"If it was in my own language, then maybe I could enjoy," she complained to me, leaning elegantly on her cane, waving one long figured hand in the air. She took herself off resignedly to bed after expressing her severe displeasure to the care manager whose misfortune it was to have made the decision.

I went on to lead the cross word puzzle, bellowing the clues out as loud as I could and was still unable to communicate clearly.

"23 three across," I said, gesturing a la Vanna White. "Sphere of influence," I then projected with all the force in my lungs. Bewildered cries began to rise from the gathered elderly.

"Spear?" "Near?" "What was that?" "I can't hear a thing!" "Fear!"

"No, no, SPHERE!" I shouted, making a circle with my hands.

"Oh, sphere....Orb?"

"No, as in, the Gladiator's sphere of influence!" I shouted back. (the word was arena) "It's a five letter word...." They all looked at me crossly under the unflattering florescent light. "We'll come back to that one later...moving on."

The EMTs were called, I have not been having the best of luck with them. On Friday I looked up from something or other to see a gathering of them around my desk. Normally I'm called before hand, so that I know where to direct them. Startled, I was barely able to remember what floor the room number was on.

Tonight when they arrived, I had the room number. Confidently I led the way to the elevator, the doors of which continued to open and close, open and close, while I and three large and imposing men carrying emergency equipment pretended that we were not all in a terrible hurry.

"Can you tell me a little about what happened?" asked one, as we were finally descending, as though offering me a chance to make up for the elevator malfunction.

I could and did, and proudly then I marched into the downstairs and led them all off into the wrong hallway. They were redirected and I scurried off to hide behind my desk.

"Goodnight, Jenny!" they said, as they left, striding past the desk.

"How do you know my name?" I wanted to ask. I mean, who really takes the time to read and then remember a name badge? "I'm sorry about leading you the wrong way," I said instead.

They did not break step, they swept through the doors and called over their shoulders, "No problem, we got where we needed to be."

And they were off, into the balmy, very early spring night to attend to other urgent calls at other retirement homes. Our little gathering of crossword playing elderly lingered on, long after the game was done and the words erased, drinking coffee and lemonade and chatting and the fact that they couldn't understand each other didn't matter a bit.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Coming Closer

Over the past week or so I have collected five or six trash bags of leaves and debris from the lawn, and gotten into and then out of a huge argument with Keith that lasted about forty eight hours. The problem was that like WWII, it had more than one front and then there was the underlying war being fought behind the lines, the one over clashing principles and assumptions.

It was completely exhausting; at the end of day one my cell phone battery was completely drained and so was I. On that day our house didn't feel like my home, it felt strange and removed from me.

For years I had assumptions about commitment that were incorrect. I assumed that commitment happened naturally, that it was the natural expression of a good person. I thought of myself as a good person, and so therefore I would simply fall into commitment, in the same way that my hair grows out dark brown.

I think it was during the movie "Apollo 13" that the engineers at NASA had to frantically come up with a solution to a malfunction on the spaceship or the astronauts, floating helpless in their ship, would die. There was a scene when one engineer comes up to the others with a box, which he dumps on a table.

"This is what they have to work with," he said, or something to that effect. "We must find a solution with this."

That's what commitment feels like to me now. It means that Keith and I are bound together and we must work with what each of us brings to the table. There is no walking away, there is no throwing one's hands up in the air and saying that it's too hard or impossible, even though it might feel like that at the time.

I have heard it said, that marriage is like a mirror; it will show you things about yourself that you've never seen before. I've certainly experienced this to be true. The most amazing thing is that after everything we saw and had to face up to, we came through it together.

Not only that, but when it was over, I woke up to an e-mail from my husband thanking me for my ability to speak the truth into our relationship. I sat there, stunned. I have an incredible and amazing husband. He has the strength and honestly of a self made man.

I day dream about him coming home all the time now. The days are so deliciously long and full of light, it catches on the tangled, tawny grass of the front lawn that every day is shaded in a little greener. I feel like the sky goes on forever.

Having caught spring fever in a bad way, I spend hours outside. I drag the hose around the lawn, squatting down to undo the kinks and then leaping up out of the arc of water that is suddenly released. I sweep the debris from the white rock beds with a rapidly disintegrating straw broom and bag them up, using a pair of Keith's old gardening gloves.

We talk about the future and it feels real now, because it is no longer distant. We talk about him possibly choosing a new MOS, where we will live, what schools he might have to go to if he does change. Will we rent this house out or sell? Will we buy a new one or just a piece of land and put up a double wide out there, grow a big old vegetable garden and a couple of kids?

I don't know and all those day dreams are equally delightful simply because he will be home and we will be together and that is all that matters.

In contrast, I still remember the dismal, cloying days of winter, when it was hard to breathe and hard to move and I felt numb. It seemed at the time that it was going on forever, that I was bogged down in dark, dusty misery indefinitely. But time was passing by all along. I'll have to remember that for next time.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Yesterday I had to delete a text message from my cell phone; my inbox was full. It was painful to decide which one had to go. Reading through them brought back so many memories.

"Goodnight sweety, sorry so late, the tank just don't want to work"

That was sent last year, on May 11th. I was lying awake in my bed, the street light from the parking lot outside shining in through the blinds, the glowing numbers on the alarm clock telling me that I needed to fall asleep or else work would be hell. My dog Lynn was curled up at my feet.

I held the phone in my hand and for the millionth time tried to imagine what it would be like to meet him in person. What I imagined was not even close.

On July 2nd, he wrote simply "I miss my noun."

That was when I was in my parent's house the summer before it was renovated; the floors still sloped in conflicted directions, so that walking through the kitchen was reminiscent of walking on a wooden ship at sea. It creaked in the same way too, and the quality of the light was bright and clear, the old glass of the kitchen windows slightly flawed, blurring the view of the back yard.

I had forgotten how damp the air was on the East Coast; I gave up using face cream while I was there. Every morning I sat outside on the porch in the rocking chair, my bare feet up, reading books I hadn't read in years. Opposite me was the library where I had been a volunteer and as such, privy to their secret stash of chocolate.

While I was with my family, Keith was still with his in Indiana and not a day after I left him he had bought a brand new ATV and not a day after that he promptly ruined it by riding it into a lake, badly bruising his ribs in the process. (When he got home, he got all the water out of it by hanging it in the air, from the rafters of the garage, as though it were a gutted deer.)

Before I had left him, we had had a semi serious discussion about how he shouldn't treat me like an object. I can no longer remember what triggered this discussion, but I do remember that he ended it by saying solemnly, "No, I shouldn't; because you're a noun."

"A proper noun, in fact," I corrected him.

"My noun," he stated definitively, and that was that. And that also conveniently illustrates how successful the entire discussion was, actually. Oh well.

Two months into deployment, he sent me this one, "Here kitty kitty kitty." That one is self explanatory.

Three months in, at eleven thirty at night he sent me this one, "Wont be able to talk for a few days i love you so very much. I have a new mission."

I remember the fear and disquiet that washed over me and lasted for forty eight hours, until he called back. I remember sitting on the back porch in the late afternoon light, watching the newly bare tree branches being shaken by the wind. The light was dying away, day by day. There was left over Halloween candy on the kitchen counter.

"Honey I love you too please just relax you are working to hard. Everything will be great. I just love you," was sent in early December, after I had admitted to him that I was stressing out about getting everything perfect for his leave.

I had tried steam cleaning the downstairs with unexpected results and had spent more money that I ever would have guessed on a Christmas tree and assorted decorations. I was only days away from seeing him again. Now all those things are packed away in boxes, ready for next year.

The day he flew back to the sandbox, he sent me this: "You are such a little kitten.I love you so much. Have fun with your family you deserve it. You are my perfect wife i love you."

I was in the back seat of my car when I got this, my parents were driving and we were on a mission to find Hobby Lobby. I remember the hot sun and feeling of slight numbness, due from lack of sleep and having seen him off at the airport only that morning. We had lunch at Perkins after Hobby Lobby and then went and spent an ungodly amount of money at Target. I then went home and collapsed in my brand new bedroom.

"Kitty, I am really missing you right now. And I am tired." was the one that required another of its fellows to be deleted.

I was at work when I got that text, standing at the corner of my desk. It was in the evening and I was up to my eyebrows with updating things, as I always am. I read that and I wanted to beat against the bars of deployment with abandon, to wax poetic. If I could have packaged up my heart neatly with twine and brown paper packaging and mailed it, posthaste, I would have.

There will be more to come, so I have saved all of them on a file on the computer, to make room. That way, years from now, I can read them again and smile, remembering our crazy, wonderful, exhausting first year.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Down at Countrytown...

Much to , I am sure, my brothers' dismay, I tend to listen to a great deal of country songs. I don't know how this happened; it just plain sneaked up on me. One day I'm listening to Keith's ring tone telling me that it's a good day to run and the next I'm listening to the songs nonstop on the radio all day.

And it got me thinking, what if there were such a place as Countrytown, USA? Could there be a place where turnip greens are sold from a flat bed Ford and movie stars fall in love with a glass of sweet tea?

These are not the only road blocks to be careful of, if you do decide to visit Countrytown; watch out for the International Harvester. Remember that road runs right through his pay load and it hasn't exactly been a bumper crop for him this year, so be polite and just wave; I mean, after all, the poor guy's been married to the farmer's daughter for ten years now.

Meanwhile, down the road a kid is flying up the drive, laying on the horn and while he might be a hayseed farmer without even a row to hoe, he does have a lot of potential to grow up into a slightly cranky, overprotective father in twenty years or so.

But that's just love and there's a lot of that going around; if you do decide to go fishing, watch out for the great troubadour George because he's got the boat, he's got the paddle and gosh darn it, he can make it float; I have no doubt.

This is mainly because those cowgirls, how about them? Out on those wide open places and in honky tonks drinking whiskey and demanding that they play something country, boy, aren't they something? And cowgirls don't cry, this is their number one rule of thumb no matter what.

Though a few may be waiting behind the door at home with gun powder and shells or possibly burning down the house on Independence Day while their children are off at the fair, but that's just how country justice goes down out here.

Down in town you may come across a welcome home parade or some lemonade, but if you do go down there, watch out for those country boys because they are roving around in droves; you will know them by their trucks.

They may already have a girl, and if so, they'll be riding in the center of the seat hollering "Turn it up!" or possibly in the bed of the truck, where they are being taken for a ride. It is worthwhile noting that these boys are lonely in their new deer stands and also can cure a ham. Especially watch out for the ones wearing camo pants, they are very hard to resist if you are a city girl.

You can come across love sick boys all over the place, even at the local airport where they are draped across their truck, looking at the caramel colored sky or even driving around wildly, pounding on the dash and looking at the sunset in the rear view mirror while sobbing and shouting out loud. So please, be careful if you are driving anywhere.

They can find comfort however, under the light of the neon moon where, we have heard, the girls are back from Saginaw; yee haw! If they are really lucky, they may be able to make a trip to Margarettaville, where we know that it is always five o'clock somewhere, but they should take care to have the appropriate foot ware available, such as flip flops, as accidents can and will happen without them.

And they deserve the break, because typically these boys are slaving away at a big ol' pile of shift work, we're talking, seven to three, three to eleven, eleven to seven, so if they take a lunch break that lasts all day, well, just remember there may be hell to pay, but they haven't had a day off in a year, so they're due.

It may be a tough life sometimes, but people down here enjoy the simple things in life, like the sound of the cooler slushin' and watching their corn pop up in rows; they certainly insist on their chicken fried. They enjoy painting the water tower John Deere green, spending their evenings with nothing but the radio on and drunk calling their ex's at closing time, frequently with a glass of Johnie Walker Red beside them.

Just remember that, at Countrytown, USA, you may have been able to avoid the pain, but you would have missed the dance and no matter what, down here, one can always count on having friends in low, low places. So go demand beer for your horses and whiskey for your men and just know that it's all part of an itty bitty scheme.

Friday, March 6, 2009

That's Life

Today a soldier in ACUs walked right into work.

Now, I know that when I go to Walmart around pay day that I'm going to see some soldiers in ACUs, alone or with their families; in fact, any time I go in, I prepare myself for the possibility. Needless to say, when I go on post I prepare for this as well.

But at work! There I am, at my desk happily inputting data when I look up and see a soldier entering the building. It was like a mirage.

And he wasn't just visiting, either; he came to deliver a cold coffee drink to his girl and hung around my desk while waiting eagerly to see her, making small talk about our house dog.

Two of him could have fit into any one of my husband's ACUs and he was very young, but still! The final blow came when, right in front of my desk, he kissed his girl and said he would see her later. He would see her later!! She got to see her guy later. Not, five and a half months later, just later. I'd almost forgotten all about how that word could be used.

I wished at that point then to wail and kick my heels like a small child having a tantrum in the back seat.

Not only that, but also today a fellow wearing a jacket that identified him as belonging to the Air force came in, lost and looking for directions to a building that was located a mile and a half south.

Sigh. I wish to officially thank Life for reminding me twice today that my man is in the military and far, far away from me. Thank you, Life. Point taken.

Fortunately, my fellow Army wife and deployment buddy came by and I could vent to her.

"We're more than half way done!" she said encouragingly, and told me that our guys will be home about a month sooner than I was expecting; she goes to the FRG meetings. But I'm trying really hard not to count on that, because, really, who knows? But I do keep secretly hoping that he'll come home at least a little bit early.

Every day driving home, I face an oncoming stream of soldiers driving off post, most in large trucks and SUVs, some in small, sporty cars and two or three daring ones on motorbikes. That doesn't bother me so much, actually.

I like to think of all those soldiers able to go home to family and dinner; it's a comforting thought. It won't be too much longer before my man is one of them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

These days...

...I am often serenaded by the swinging, jazzy sounds of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, to name a few. It's such mellow, rich music.

My time line has turned into a massive thing and I will have to break it down into several parts; local culture, America in whole, and the war abroad.

That way, I will know at a glance that in the summer of 1943 when Helen was leaving the movie theaters after watching "Lassie Come Home" with her pals, Red was with the 1st ID in the battle for Sicily because Winston Churchill convinced America to go through Africa and not directly into Europe, effectively sealing the fate of Central and Eastern Europe.

In the meantime, Helen pays with pennies made out of steel, because of a shortage of copper and listens to Frank Sinatra sing "Strangers in the Night." She's thirty years old, with a Victory Garden the back yard and taking very good care of her shoes, because they've been rationed and new ones are hard to get.

I watched a clip of "The World at War" and nearly wept at the fall of Poland. The country was cut in two between Germany and Russia and only Warsaw was able to hold out; for three weeks the city defiantly played the Polish National Anthem while under unrelenting bombardment. But the city was decimated and on September 23rd the music stopped.

In more current news, my cold is almost gone and I'm left with only a chapped, red nose. It was suppose to be sunny today, but the sky is covered with a thin film of cloud that thins down the light. I was going to be busily productive and clean the floors and the window sills and rake the front yard and buy stamps, but so far I have yet even to get dressed. Oh well, I'll blame it on the lingering effects of the common cold.

Keith has got semi official word that he will be moving somewhere else soon, along with the rest of his company. There is no Internet where he'll be and he doesn't know for sure if there will be phones. That sounds crazy. How can there not be phones? There must be.

There won't be any other Americans. He can't tell me what he will be doing and my darling Staff Sergeant is not a man that knows how to paint a rosy picture; he always tells it like it is and apparently it is dangerous.

So there is a chance that I will finish out this deployment reduced to letter writing while he is out in the dangerous middle of no where. How ironic. I really didn't want to take my research quite this seriously.

I just let the dogs out and it is actually warmer outside than it is in the house. I'm going to throw some clothes on and go out for walk and try not to dread the future quite so much. At least I can always distract myself with the past. It's pretty amazing actually, how comforting the past can be with its larger perspective.