Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Mysteries of Gardening

All winter long there's been this non describe bush by the side of the house. It had sprouted some time before I met Keith and those long dead buds had petrified into hard, brown shells that clung on all through the winter. Last summer I had brutally cut it back. I didn't like; I didn't like the shape of the leaves or the spindly branches.

This spring it put out buds very, very early and for that I developed a fondness for the bush. Day after day I would watch the leaves slowly uncurling, revealing tightly packed buds. Over weeks, those buds have grown up, reaching for the sun and spreading out into a pattern that seemed familiar to me.

I cut away all the dead buds and waited until one morning when I went out and saw that the buds were distinctly purple and shaped like the tips of arrows, and that the leaves were thin, jade green and pointed at the ends. Yes. It was a lilac bush all along.

Memories of lilac bushes have sunk their roots deep into my childhood, the tumbled, tangled shelter they made under their branches, where the packed dirt of the bank was cool and smooth and the little birds fussed about in the green over head, the way they stood eight feet tall, it seemed and the scent of lilacs, which is pure heaven.

That is not the only surprise my yard has landed me with. The birch tree, instead of focusing on putting out leaves which I dearly desire it to do, instead wove bright silver mittens which it wore for a week or so. Then the mittens unravelled into long, thick skeins of silver wool that hung like tinsel from every branch and twig. Hundreds of them fell upon the new grass below, looking like nothing so much as a hundred fuzzy dead caterpillars in the yard.

I was not pleased.

"What on earth is my birch tree doing?" I asked Good Neighbor Larry, one lazy afternoon. I leaned upon a rake and watched the sprinkler make its light and airy arc over the grass.

"It's a female," he explained. "It's germinating."

Holy crap. Even my birch tree is getting it on. I went out to inspect it this morning, and there are bits of green showing through the leaf buds; soon it will put aside reproduction and flower into a thick, green canopy of leaves.

My herbs have survived an unexpected and savage attack on the part of Abigail, who was strangely attracted to the peat pots remains. The day I came home to find my newly potted cilantro out of the pot, and shaken nearly to bits, and left to die on the packed earth of the back yard, I let out what can only be described as a howl of rage. I didn't know those really happened, but they do, and let me tell you, they are not nice noises.

Abby went and hid under the porch and didn't come out for hours. I re potted the cilantro and it's making a very nice comeback and since then the girls have avoided the pots. The patches of lawn repair have finally, finally sprouted grass and grass is coming up thick and green everywhere on the lawn. Mom and I trimmed back the rose bushes yesterday, in the sun. There was only the sound of the scissors and the warbling of birds.

The rose bush looks neat and tidy now, ready to sprout into a whole new summer's worth of roses. A little spray of green leaves has already shown itself at one juncture, like the trill of a bird. Those particular roses will be in bloom when Keith comes home.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The inside of my mouth carries the taste of old blood all day long and it hurts to swallow. I sleep a lot. As I was in the office, breathing in the laughing gas and feeling my body take on more and more weight, I remember seeing the dark glass of the window streaked with rain and beyond, the charcoal gray sky and dark woods wavering and somber.

"How are you feeling?" asked the oral surgeon, as he injected into the I.V the medicine that would put me to sleep.

"Sluggish," I said and my voice was thick, hazy at the edges. "Delightfully sluggish."

"Delightfully, huh?" he remarked with gentle humor and I remembered nothing else.

When I woke, the oral surgeon and his assistant were standing about the chair, with the air of those who have fought a great battle and come through triumphant.

"You have some strong teeth," he said, his arms crossed, leaning against the window.

"Have you ever broken a bone?" asked the assistant, leaning over my face.

"Um...." It was still hard to think clearly. "No, I haven't."

"I don't think you ever will," she said.

"Well," I said, concentrating hard on stringing together the joke and trying to grin around the bruised muscles, "at least I know there's something that makes me special."

"I don't think that's the only thing that makes you special," said the oral surgeon as he walked by me; he placed his large hand affectionately on my head for a moment as he went by.

I waited in the sunny car at Walgreen's while my mother picked up the prescriptions. My dreams were hazy, I floated in and out of consciousness. My dreams were full of a bright yellow color and the heat of the sun.

That afternoon as I lay dozing upstairs I heard the doorbell ring. My mom went hurriedly down the stairs and I heard her exclaim. I was hoping; but Keith had told me he couldn't find a way to order me any.

Regardless, a few moments later a large, gorgeous arrangement of yellow roses entered the room, followed by my mother with a shining face.

"Look what came!" she said, and brought them over to me, so I could stroke the soft, silky petals.

"I wish I could have been there," read the note. "I hope you're doing well. I love you! Keith."

"I found a way," he told me proudly, later on when he called. It's part of our inner knowledge of one another now, the tradition of Keith always being able to find a way.

As I drove to the airport to pick my mom up, I noted with interest the disparity between the rational mind and the insistence of the body. My mind assured me that it didn't matter a whit that the last time I had been there had been to drop off Keith; that had been a long time ago, in the dark of winter.

It was now a bright and sunny mid morning in spring, the air was washed with silvery light from the clouds and the delicate green of the open fields shimmered from it. It was a completely different day and could not touch me.

All the while the agony that my mind ignored had settled into my belly, already inflamed by coffee. I thought I could not bear it if I saw a soldier; I was tense with the pain I anticipated.

At arrivals, I knew immediately that there was a flight arriving soon that would be bringing soldiers home to their families. The fear fell off me; I sat quietly and waited. I understood that I was about to witness something that very few people could truly appreciate. I knew the agony those women had been through; I knew the long moments, the endless procession of days, the weeks and the months that preceded this one moment.

The women who were waiting for their men stood out in the crowd, they were glossed over with some inner light that was unmistakable. There were perhaps six or seven of them in the crowd, the rest were just a group of people waiting on an airplane.

The wives were in all different sizes and shapes, but they all had clearly carefully chosen their outfits, everything was accessorized, in place and lit up with a trembling expectation. Some had children, two little tow headed boys ran quickly around the lobby until their mother lost her patience and put one on a seat.

"Daddy will be here in one minute," she said in subdued tones.

"One minute!" breathed the little boy. "One minute. One minute," he kept counting under his breath, hoping, I knew without having to ask, that at the end of each utterance his daddy would appear.

Then they did begin to appear and pulled their women out of the crowd toward them as though they had thrown out lines and each couple came together with a silent thunderclap of emotion, the emotion went ringing out in sonic bursts onto the crowd; we felt the aftermath like rain.

The women went to their men dancing on tiptoe or surging forward, straight legged, already choking up in tears. They would embrace and then wander off in a daze to the side, where they would gather their things, tears tracing down their face; the men with shaking hands and careful movements, the adrenaline still rushing through them.

The waiting mother quickly shrugged off her jacket and stood in a brown, eyelet sun dress and in that moment I loved her dearly and knew her as my own sister. She wished her man to see her in everything she had chosen for him, the glossy, just washed hair, the platform, woven sandals, the tanned limbs. The fact that it was chilly and the practical necessity for a jacket fell by the way side.

There were only two wives waiting by the time Daddy appeared and he gathered his whole family in his arms and his face shown with a disbelieving, pure light. He sat down while his wife, tearful and trying to brush the tears away, began packing up the bags.

The soldier suddenly bent forward and swept one little boy up into his arms; held him lightly a long moment and then stood and pulled his wife into his arms again as though he were starving, and then bent and picked up a bag.

One wife was left. She stood bereft in the diminished crowd, all of us with the shining faces of the blessed. Her long legs were tanned and set off by a jean miniskirt, she was bangled and bejeweled, her face fresh and made up. She called a friend.

"The last time I spoke to him he was getting on the plane, right that minute!" she exclaimed, her voice breaking. "I'm freaking out! Where is he?" She turned in little half circles, her long hair swinging and suddenly her whole body jerked up, her feet went dancing forward and suddenly she was swept up in the arms of her staff sergeant, a tall and burly man with a quiet face; she stood up on tip toe in her white flip flops to kiss him again and again.

Soon after my mother appeared and I embraced her with all the love and tenderness the recent scenes had engendered in me. It was good, deeply good to see my mother and I loved her.

"There were like, six or seven soldiers that came home to their families while I was waiting for you," I admitted, as we walked away.

"Oh my dear," cried my mother, understanding at once, her sympathy quick and genuine. "Was it very hard? Anyway, your Keith will be home soon..."

"But it wasn't hard," I said, wondering at myself, and trying to find a way to express it. "It It was like eating chocolate and truffles."

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Bad Day

A strange thing happened last night which I think must be what accounts for my having had a very bad day today. There is no other reason that I can think of, except that I broke two of my newly purchased terracotta pots when I stopped at a red light.

That did make me furious, I must admit, really ridiculously furious considering that it was entirely my own fault. The pots only cost a dollar something each and were quickly replaced when I went back out for tomatoes and lettuce. It could not have been the pots.

And it couldn't have been the fact that instead of going on post to do my grocery shopping like I had been steeling myself to do now for weeks, I went to Walmart as usual. I just couldn't. I just simply couldn't drive up to the gate and present my I.D. and drive, stressed out and anxious, to the commissary.

And I couldn't see myself pushing the cart up and down the isles muttering under my breath, "Cash back, cash back; you must get cash back to tip the bagger." And trying to avoid looking at soldiers because it makes me heart sick for my own while my shoulders are up around my ears from the stress of it all.

And then waiting in line for the number to light up and then fumbling around for my I.D. again and then forgetting, of course, to ask for cash back and then not being able to tip the bagger and the weirdness of walking to my car while being followed by said bagger and groceries.

It couldn't have been avoiding all that which made the day so bad; after all, I'm sure I didn't spend that much more at Walmart than I would have at the commissary. And at Walmart I bought a Big Boy tomato plant and Sweet Basil and Cilantro and Lemon Thyme and the aforementioned terracotta pots.

I did very well with my shopping too; all my purchases trundling sedately down the belt to the cash register declared me to be an Informed Consumer. Generic spring scented detergent and fabric softer, fat free yogurt and all kinds of fruit and milk and orange juice and twelve grain bread.

The addition of Diet Coke (in preparation for my mother coming) pleasureably brought to mind cold glasses full to the brim with tinkling ice and fizzing gently away, desultory conversation, a good book, the smell of dinner cooking.

No, it couldn't have been the shopping, or the deprivation of caffeine until twelve o'clock. I had left the house in a hurry, as though by forcing the point I might actually turn left at the end of our street, and thus to the commissary and not right, toward cowardice and Big Boy tomatoes.

The lack of coffee can account for the missing tomatoes and lettuce that I only remembered when I got home, and a dull headache. But not a terrible day, because by twelve fifteen I had a hot cup of freshly ground and very strong coffee on the picnic table outside, while I potted up my plants; I drank the coffee with hands smudged by good, organic soil.

I had a lunch of BLT with maple bacon, which I ate in the bedroom while I finished reading "The Pilgrim's Inn" by Elizabeth Goudge, a book so good that the reading of it yesterday had caused the entire day to be good and was so much company that I never turned on the TV at all, but had a dinner of toast with honey and tea, curled up in the corner of the couch, in an amber pool of lamp light, while the fresh winds outside blew cool and damp through the house.

It was the book itself that had triggered the strange occurrence. I had been upstairs, propped up on pillows and accompanied by loving dogs and reading and loving such sentences as "Struggle is divine in itself, but to ask to see it crowned with success is to ask for that sign which is forbidden to those who must travel by faith alone...Good Lord, how tedious I am! That's the sermon I preached last Sunday. They all had a good sleep and I thanked God that I'd been able to rest them so nicely."

As I was reading I felt suddenly and very simply an outpouring of God's love on me, as though He had opened a door into an inner room that belongs to me. Usually I keep the door shut; sometimes He delights to surprise me by swinging it wide.

"Yes, Dear," I said. "And I love You too." And then my love for God, which is old and true and defining, rolled over like a wave and got all tangled up with my love for my husband. And I saw him suddenly, clearly.

It was so clear that I could see how the sweat had made the close shaved hair at his temples darker, clump together into little darts and the sweat glistened amid the stubble on his cheeks. His heavy, round shoulders were slumped inward, whether from concentration or weariness I could not tell. He was not looking at me.

I put my hand on his head and prayed without words. It was a glad prayer, an up-swelling of love and delight. I didn't feel any fear at the time, or strangeness. The moment passed and I closed the door, gently, and went back to my book. I felt full of peace and good company.

But as soon as I turned out the light I felt a shiver of unease. Why had that moment occurred? And it was worse because it has been a few days now since I have heard from Keith and the normal and reassuring sound of his voice usually keeps at bay the worst of those thoughts.

Without him the other voices get louder, were very loud by the time I woke up and realized he hadn't called that night. I am sure that the effort at keeping those voices at bay have been the root cause of all my restless misery today. He'll call, either tonight or tomorrow and I'll feel rather foolish and ridiculously light headed with relief. And he will have no idea.

In the meantime, I guess I'll drink my tea and sit on the deck and read.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coming Full Circle

Last night I heard someone playing "Taps" outside my open window. It was late in the evening; I was caught up in reading. The classical country CD had run its course and for a long time as I was reading all I heard was the continual faint sound of traffic, the rustle of paper as I turned a page, and the soft tapping of the wooden blinds.

The evenings last forever lately. The sun doesn't set until a quarter to eight and it takes hours for all the light to leave the sky. I had left the blinds open so I could see the twilight deepen outside and by the time I heard the notes it was cobalt blue out there.

At first I thought it was a recording, but it was too smooth and clear a sound; someone must have been standing outside, practising. It was haunting to hear that unmistakable sound come floating lightly over the dark air; I put the book down and, amazed, listened until they finished.

Mornings are the best time; the sunlight is white and refreshing. I go around opening all the windows and then fill the tin watering can. In bare feet with the can dripping, I make my rounds from planter to planter, leaving a trail of dark water blotches on the deck boards.

Yesterday I did all the laundry, stripped the bed and sorted the piles downstairs. By the end of the day I had my dry clean only hanging from the shower curtain rail and the ironing board up and in place. I felt as though I had gone back in time several decades; I felt like I should be wearing a frilly apron.

As summer draws closer, I feel the presence of my husband infusing the house after months and months of absence. It feels as if I might turn a corner and find him there. In the night, I reach my arm out across the bed, as though to check for sure. The damp, clean smell of wet earth from the sprinkler brings him back, and the sight of the leaves stretching wider and wider to catch all the sun they can.

The seasons have come around full circle; around this time last year we first met. I feel as if I have begun to complete a wide, lonely orbit that took me out into the dark edges of isolation at its farthest point from here. Now I feel the pull of summer and my husband stronger and irresistible; I seem to be picking up speed as the curve becomes sharper and I can feel the heat of the sun growing stronger.

I don't think I've ever lived so deeply as I have this past year and I worry that when Keith returns I will begin to take things for granted. Distance has this ability to sift what is true into layers; to cause what is unimportant to fall away and for what is best to rise to the surface.

Before Keith comes home, I'm going to make a list of all the qualities of Keith that distance tempered into steel, before the rush of day to day living muddies everything up. It will be purely a delight to be irritated by him, to wish him to go away; even if it is just to the garage and leave me be for a time. I'm looking forward to that kind of luxury; but I don't want to loose the clarity this year has won me; I paid too much for it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Late Afternoon

It has been a long, hot and lazy day and is shaping up to be a warm and quiet evening. It's that time of day right now when everything becomes still; the day teeters for a lengthening, breathless time between morning and evening.

I sat outside on the deck for a while and read. I had dragged the chair out into the hot sunshine and read with my sunglasses on. I could hear a dog bark a few yards down, but only once and half heartedly. I heard the faint tinkling of the ice cream truck from several streets away.

Earlier I had made a visit to the library armed with every one's suggestions, but not a single author was available. Not even Margaret Atwood. What god forsaken library doesn't carry a single one of Margaret Atwood's books? One located in a strip mall, that's what.

Weeks ago I got tired of wearing the same old heavy clothes I'd been wearing all winter. Today I wore a black jersey dress that dips low enough in front to reveal completely Keith's dog tag; normally it stays hidden under at least a few layers. I probably won't do this again; the combination of cleavage and silver icon was, I think, too much of something altogether.

He called this morning, out of the blue. The call showed "Unknown caller," which sometimes indicates credit card companies. Sundry and unsuspecting credit card representatives have been greeted by me in tones of joyous excitement. I'm sure it came as a refreshing break from the usual for them.

The left side of my jaw has been throbbing with a slowly increasing pain that I finally decided I could ignore no longer. The oral surgeon who had seen me months ago warned me that it must come out and was only a matter of time before it got completely infected.

If I can stand it another two weeks, my mother can fly out to be with me while I have the surgery. This time I'll be put completely under, IV drip and all. If it gets really bad sooner, my mom will fly out regardless. I day dream about taking a scalpel to the tooth, prying it out.

I'd written Keith to say I was holding back a certain portion of his salary to pay for my mother's ticket and what the insurance wouldn't cover, if that was alright with him. He called before heading out just to tell me in no uncertain terms that of course it was ok and he'd wanted me to get it taken care of a long time ago and it would be good for me to see my mother.

"If you want to, and I'm not sayin' you haf' to, but if you want to," began Keith in a voice that was inviting and suspiciously innocent, " could take the sheets off the HD and the fourwheeler and take some pictures. But only if you wanted to."

It turns out that I did want to, very much and have sent off several pictures to him, a few of me sitting on the seat of the four wheeler. I had forgotten how far off the ground that seat is. I remembered the sun lacing the path with shadows and the hot wind against my face and the sound of the motor filling my head.

Mostly I remember the sensation of yielding completely, having no control over the machine and simply floating over and around all the obstacles in our way. I won't uncover the machines again; it was simply too strange to do so and not have him there, planted firmly to the earth by his steel toed boots, turning his head to spit and wiping his hands on a rag.

He has been dreaming of me, good dreams. He often does and I'm jealous. My dreams are no where near as clear and real as his. What dream self of mine goes out to meet him without me?

"I am mission oriented now," he wrote me. For the first time in the entire deployment he feels like he is doing what he is suppose to be doing; living in tents and going on missions and not doing his laundry. The location makes me uneasy, but mostly I just don't think about it.

He's heard a rumor of coming home a month earlier; mostly he doesn't tell me these things so the fact that he did stands out to me; maybe he really will. I try not to think about that too much either.

I have by now entirely convinced myself of the existence of two completely different Iraqs. This happened very soon after he left; like double images that come from crossing one's eyes.

Therefore, everything bad that I hear about is happening in the other Iraq. It is not happening where Keith is now. I have no idea what I will do when he is deployed to the other country. I think there would be no form of self deception strong enough to ward off that reality; I will have to reach for something stronger.

I suspect that when I have him home again the two countries will collide into one with such force that I will be struck trembling and dumb with the accumulated terror. I don't think about that too much either, or the illusion will disappear. With all the things I'm busy not thinking about it's a wonder I have space in my head for anything else. That must be why I read so much.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pop Culture

Well, I had what one might describe as an all American evening. I ate a cheeseburger and watched Miss America. And winced and winced and winced and played sudoku because by the end I could hardly stand to watch. The host and hostess were the most crass, unpolished and awkward I have ever had the misfortune of watching.

Frankly, I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I did watch. But there it is. Some of the girls I thought were sweet and some of the dresses I thought were divine and mostly I thought thank the good lord I don't have that sort of drive. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

I borrowed a mostly unfortunate set of books from the library lately. There is no science to what I choose; I am a firm believer in picking a book based on its cover. If it's not an author I know and the cover is suitably attractive for me to grab it, I will then read a few lines and decide.

This time around I got "Snow Island" by Katherine Towler. This was a no brainer for me; it's set on a rocky island off the coast off Maine during the beginning of WWII. The writing is beautiful, spare and intelligent. She captures so perfectly not only life as it was then, but the harshness and the grace of human nature, especially coming of age.

However it was highly depressing, as it lacked a happy ending. After I realized this (yes, I read the end of books before I've finished.) I put this book aside and moved on to...

"The House of Mirth," by Edith Wharton. Ha. And again, I say Ha. The title misleads; the description on the back misleads; this book is not mirthful. Though it does capture in fascinating and clear and merciless detail what it was like to be in high society New York City in the early 1900s.

It is a classic, I sometimes read these just to see what all the fuss is about. However, I doubt that I will be finishing this book. It was clear from the second page that the author had trapped her character in a box that will grow ever smaller and smaller, in order to illustrate a certain reality. I appreciate the skill required to do this, but I can't stand to watch. So I put it down and read...

"A Thousand Voices" by Lisa Wingate. This was the one light and easy going book I managed to borrow. It's charming, well constructed and illustrates what it means to belong. I finished it in about five hours straight.

Desperate, I then considered my narrowing choices and decided to return to "Snow Island." It was worth reading through to the end, though it was even more depressing than I had at first anticipated. Despite this, I still would read it again and possibly again, I think because it speaks so true.

The next night, I glumly reviewed my choices: "Mrs. Dalloway" or the book that the librarian had foisted on me when I asked her if she had any recommendations for a novel or an author that captured the spirit of the 1940s, as John Steinbeck had done for the 30s.

I didn't want her to feel bad, so I took it and thanked her and made a private note do my own research at home. The book was "Yellow Star" by Jennifer Roy. It is the true story of a young girl and her family, Polish Jews caught up in the Holocaust and how they survived six years in a ghetto in Lodz.

This book was unexpectedly beautiful, due not only to the emerging strength, will to live and good humor of her family, herself and her father in particular, but also because it's written in a simple prose. This had the amazing effect of actually capturing a child's voice and perspective. I was immediately swept up by the story and finished it in one sitting.

Though "Yellow Star" was ultimately a story of the triumph of human spirit over adversity, it was by far not an easy book to read. The next night, I looked with hope to my last selection, the one I had made completely on a whim; "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf.

From the moment I began reading I was caught up in a glittering tide of life. It was a joy to read. Her voice is powerful, beguiling and poetic. And the passages! This in particular:

"It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! to hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul; never to be content quite, or quite secure, for at any moment the brute would be stirring, this hatred, which, especially since her illness, had power to make her feel scraped, hurt in her spine..."

How did she know to capture it like that? I could go on all night coping pieces of it down but I won't. And she succeeds, Virginia Woolf does, she succeeds in actually capturing a woman's whole life in one day and the beauty of the bells ringing through the novel and changing quality of the sunlight and all the voices of the characters blending together and calling out. I will eventually own my own copy of this book.

I also finished, for the...oh lord...I have no idea. More than six times, I have read my battered, paperback copy of "Mrs. Mike" that still smells faintly musty. I do dearly love that simple story though, of the sixteen year old Irish red head that fell in love with a Monty and followed him into the Canadian wilderness. The book used to belong to my mother; she graciously let me take it with me when I left home.

I've also been watching documentaries lately (mostly because I ran out of the ninety nine cent rentals at the local Block Buster) and now wonder why we bother to make stuff up when real life is so much more interesting. I watched "Harlan Country, USA," about a coal miner's strike in Kentucky. I pretty much cried my entire way through it. I also watched "Gunner Palace" and "God's Country." Both are very good.

I spent three or four days straight watching the documentary "The War." This is a seven episode, six disc documentary on WWII. I spent those three or four days with tears streaming down my face.

I cried because I was proud to be an American, I cried because her Staff Sergeant would never come home, I cried because the German boy with his brains in the snow looked like my brother and couldn't be more than thirteen, I cried because in the North African front, in the first real battle the Americans got into, scores of men died because they hadn't learned to dig deep enough and the German tanks would roll over them and crush them to death.

I would get up from the couch in the dim twilight and wander around my own house, dazed. I would turn the TV on as a form of self defense. I will never think of that war in the same way again.

I have yet to finish "Mrs. Dalloway," mostly because I tried to pace myself and because after I'm finished, I will have no more books and will have to make another trek to the library.

Is anyone reading anything particularly good that they can recommend?

Friday, April 17, 2009

This Week's Blog Farts

I'm not sure if it's possible to have blog farts when one hasn't blogged all week, but these are half developed ideas that could have made their own blog if I'd had the energy to do so. I guess that qualifies them.

1. It is snowing outside, a wet thin snow that isn't sticking to the pavement but that is bending the faces of the pansies toward the ground and highlighting roofs.

When I complained about the snow to my good neighbor Larry he replied that we needed the moisture and he wished it would snow day and night. I wanted to reply crisply was he aware that there were other forms of precipitation than snow and far more appropriate to the season?

I did not. It is a native's form of pride out here to gloat in spring snow. The natives here have been so buried under an avalanche of new comers that I cannot begrudge them their cherished distinctions.

Not that it doesn't snow some in April back in Yank town, my native habitat. It does and it will. But everyone is properly horrified because lord knows, we've gotten more than enough moisture in its various and proper forms, such as rain, hail, ice storms and nor'easters.

2. I was driving to work yesterday when the song "Smooth" came on, by Santana and Rob Thomas. It was released back in the summer of 1999; I was twenty one years old. Listening to the song, I remembered the kind of animal like satisfaction that is intrinsic to youth itself, that has no other justification.

It makes me think of a young lion stretching lazily in the sun; it makes me think of my younger brother, his dirty blond hair curling into his eyes, lying with his legs stretched out on the carpet, smoking a cheap cigar and expounding lazily on the best way to survive a zombie attack.

3. I have lately come through rather embarrassing regression to an early deployment mindset. I have been beleaguered by loneliness, restlessness and a sharp, aching need for the physical presence of my husband much more acute than the usual, manageable dull throb.

He's gone somewhere else and as a result, I hear from him very rarely, either by phone or by Internet. All the strength I had ascribed to myself lay more accurately in the circumstances of communication that we had enjoyed ever since he returned from R&R, back in late December.

I have moped about the house, gone for long walks, devoured novels, watched documentaries; in short, done whatever I could to distract myself until I could adjust. I felt as though I were sinking deeper into the deployment; as though the deployment were some form of slow moving morass that was sucking me in further and further into the quiet.

I got so impatient with myself. Why couldn't I be grateful? If November-Me or Early-January-Me was here, I have a feeling I might be b-tch slapping myself. How dare I complain, when my husband's return is less than four months away? Less than four months!! Who cares what the circumstances are right now, all I have to do is endure and I'll have him beside me.

But it didn't matter how much I lectured myself, I was sunk and until I adjusted, I remained in that depressing place. Now I begin to get the hang of things again and to feel more stable and next week the temperature will reach the seventies, with sun falling down hot and strong on the sidewalks and in two weeks the leaves will begin to show themselves on the birch tree. Right now it's covered in tiny, silver mittens. I had no idea birch trees did that.

4. I have read the English novels that helped me through this stage at least two or three times, some of them five or six. It wasn't until this time around that I noticed no one ever goes to the bathroom.

I noticed this because the main characters are constantly drinking. Here's an average day in the life of an English novel heroine: she wakes and drinks coffee or tea. She either goes out visits or receives visitors and drinks either a second cup of coffee or tea. She has lunch with tea, or she has high tea with (obviously) tea.

Then she has pre dinner drinks, usually sherry. With dinner she will have wine. After dinner she will either have coffee or scotch with soda. (Any Americans present with have Scotch on the rocks; such is the distinction.) If she cannot sleep, she will get up and make herself-you guessed it-more tea or perhaps warm milk.

At no point in this day does she ever raise her hand, timidly or desperately, to declare that she simply must use the loo. On her walk into the village for some lamb or mackerel she does not feel the need to rush off into the hedgerows. On her ride through the countryside with her romantic interest, when they stop for high tea at a little tea house, she does not excuse herself to the power room.

I understand using the bathroom is not romantic and may ruin the mood set by the nodding daffodils, the Limoges china and the windy coast of Cornwall. I write myself, I know how this goes. But I couldn't help but feel so sorry for the poor heroine. Those are not just any drinks; those are the drinks that will send any hapless human ricocheting back and forth from the WC for several hours straight after partaking. I mean, tea! Alcohol and coffee! One after another after another.

I could only figure that the English must have, after generations upon generations of drinking in this way, have developed bladders the size of which no other race can compare to.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Falling in Love at Last

I have discovered a new love. I've been courted and tempted by this love for a long, long time but always I resisted. I told myself that I wasn't good enough, that I didn't have enough time or space or that it was a waste of my resources. But this season I have succumbed and in a big way.

It all started with a vision of Keith returning to a house decked out in flowers, with a lawn as green and thick as frosting. It would be my gift to him and my way of proving that I was up to all the responsibility he was handing to me as he left.

All through the months of fall as I watched the grass die and wither away and all through the long winter months, I dreamed of spring. Of fertilizers and the sprinkler, of flowers hanging off of windowsills and sitting in pots on the front steps.

I waited through all the gloriously hot and sunny days of March, knowing that the weather was only an invitation to calamity for the hasty minded. It was too soon to plant seed. I started to water the lawn, long deep soaks with the broken sprinkler that I had to move from place to place every ten minutes or so.

In the first week of April I sprayed on Revive and the green grass became greener but bare patches remained. I lugged away the heavy squares of dead sod from last summer, revealing packed soil beneath and raked up armfuls of debris. I bought Scott's Patch Repair and used Keith's hoe to break up the ground in the dead spots before applying the seed.

Yesterday, though, I knew it was time to really embark. I had paid all my bills, I had disposable income and a sunny day and it was mid April. It was time. Off I trundled to Walmart, suddenly filled with elation and talking first to my mom and then my dad about the best way to create pot gardens, which flowers were best for the sunny back deck and which for the shady front steps.

All the names were like prose; pansies, petunias and inpatients. Primrose, asters, and lobelia. At the store, I bought two sixteen inch pots, four hanging planters, two watering cans, two bags of potting soil, deep shade grass seed and finally, a new sprinkler.

I didn't like the selection of flowers there, so I went to Home Depot; the first time I'd been there without Keith. I hate going anywhere like that, I feel the pain of his absence sharply all over again before it dulls away into the usual quiet ache.

The flowers at Home Depot had spilled out of the Nursery and onto the pavement and I was drawn there, helpless to resist. I wandered around, stunned by all I saw. Eventually I bought three flats of pansies, blue and white.

At home I was too eager to stop for lunch, I grabbed an apple to crunch on for a snack and began potting. I loved the feel of the plants as they slid loose from the container, the roots perfectly compacted and damp, tender feeling to the finger tips. I arranged three hanging planters with pansies and hung them all along the roof of the deck.

Immediately the back deck seemed like a brand new place. I rearranged the furniture and planned in my mind where I would put the potted tomato plant and herb garden; along the sunny fence in the sun drenched corner, and placed the large pot that will contain my geranium next to the garage side door. I will put a window box to hang off the bit of deck railing that is there, and plants will trail down from it and it will be a glorious little corner.

How I love that geranium. Previously, everything I cared for, aloe vera, cacti and roses, all had slowly but surely sunk under my misguided care. But the geranium was the plant that actually proved to me I could keep things alive.

Keith bought it for me at the PX when we had gone there to buy a gift for his friend's little girl, who was turning three. Keith was on the lookout for a tiller and we wandered into the little garden area in the back.

He didn't see any tillers he liked, but I spotted the large, exuberant plant on display and coveted it. In the impulsive shopping way that he has, he swept it up among the other purchases. At the register, it rang up over twenty dollars and we looked at each other in dismay. But home it came.

It almost died when we were in Indiana and the neighbor didn't water it. It came back from the brink though, and in the late fall I brought it in doors, where it has since been languishing, first on one of Keith's speakers by the front window, until he noticed this in one of the pictures and put an end to that.

And then upstairs at the foot of the bed, where dead leaves fluttered down silently unto the carpet. When the days began to get sunny, I brought it into the kitchen and put it by the sliding glass doors, gave it plant food and lots of water and it sprung into life, putting out long, leggy shoots that reach out for the sunlight. It's been day tripping to the back deck the last few weeks, but I haven't let it spend the nights there, it's too cold yet.

The front yard now looks a sight, there are irregularly shaped blue patches were I put down the Scott's patch repair; the mulch it comes with is blue tinted recycled newspaper bits. And the entire half of one side of the lawn is bare and brown. That half is shaded by the towering pine trees and I sowed the grass seed there by hand, defying the instructions that told me I should use one of those spreader machines.

I soaked it all deeply last night and got up this morning to do the same when I saw to my horror that it was snowing. But the pansies are still bright and fresh and potting soil is spread about on the deck floor and the blue pot is out on the front steps, awaiting fillers. I want something that spills like froth over the sides and something tall and angular in the back and then something thick, with glossy leaves and white blossoms to bulk it out.

I'm going to plant yellow roses along the chain link fence that divides our yard from the good neighbor Larry and plant some glossy and verdant ground cover under the pine tree at the front corner. And this fall, I will plant bulbs all around the stones and the pathway to the front door. That way, next spring I'll be walking along side daffodils when I go to get the mail.

But mostly I dream of Keith coming home and the lawn grown out of the awkward adolesent stage it's in now and flowers everywhere, all the rock beds clean and white, pots spilling down the front stairs and an American flag in the now empty holder on the side of the house. The fact that I can begin to work on this, after almost a year's worth of dreaming is a delight undimmed by the snowfall.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Blog Fart Fridays

Jaci over at Ravings of a Mad Housewife, a great writer with a razor sharp sense of humor, has come up with this entertaining idea; that on Fridays whoever wishes to join can patch together all the left over scrap that didn't make it into a "real" blog during the week and post it as "Blog Farts."

1. I have finally found the perfect location for the litter box. Previously, it was in what I like to call the Den and what my husband persists in calling the "I-Love-Me-Room."

The problem with having the litter box down here is that the cat, after doing his business, then promptly carried bits and pieces of soiled litter and deposited it on every surface. Not only that, but the dogs discovered the fascinating depths of the covered box and decided then and there that it was their own personal snack bar. And stuff was always being made fresh!

So I ended up feeling as though I were typing in the midst of unthinkable filth, not conducive to great writing (Yeah! That's why I'm procrastinating on my writing! It's the environment!) I tried backing the entrance of the litter box to the wall leaving just a gap for him to climb in, but that just discouraged the cat from using it and me from cleaning it and let's just say that a bad, bad thing.

So now the litter box is in the bathtub. It's perfect. The dogs can't get to it, the cat can and I can clean it easily. When the cat tracks litter, I can just wash it down with the spray head. I'm not quite sure what we'll do when we actually need the second bathroom, but I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

2. I know I've talked about country music before, but I do listen to it on an almost constant basis now and it occurred to me that it's the only song genre that feels the need to constantly justify and celebrate its own existence.

For the sake of illustration, let's pretend there is a genre of song called "Suburban." Suburban song artists make up songs like "Two Grocery Chains within One Half Mile" and "Me and My Minivan." Also, "Sometimes I Don't Know Which Home is Mine" and "I Really Do Need This SUV" are classics.

In fact, let's all sing along with the chorus right now: "Ohhh oh oh, I drive the mountain ranges, I fly fish in Brazil, I'm employed by National Geographic part time on Sundays... and I get fifteen MPG on the freeway, I really do need this SUV."

Country song artists write songs about themselves talking on planes to random strangers about why they write Country songs. Because the world must know. And they do so because they are songs about their life. Good music alone is not enough, it must constantly illustrate for them who they are and why they live that way.

I suspect because not very many people actually do live that way. Raise your hand if you live in a town where the town clock has been stuck at two since you were a child? Who knows of a marriage between the quarter back and the home coming queen that survived the first three years?

I love Country songs, I really do. I just wish they wouldn't feel the need to sing about themselves quite so much. I get it; it's Country; they had me at the twang.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

-By this Point-

By this point I have slept beside your
empty side of the bed so long
I have achieved my own incline.

Our memories have by overuse all been
polished into set pieces of a play given
nightly to a rapt and ardent audience
of one.

By this point my torid liaison with the cell phone
has reached a codependance unmatched by
any paltry human affair.

I have by necessity replaced your face
with pictures
and transformed all your quirks into heroics.

Even our arguments by now glimmer rosily
in the reflected light of romance; how gracefully
I now recall the dog dish, unexpected guests,
boiled eggs.

By this point I have been so long in open water
I no longer even consider what it is to walk and
all my tricks, blurred vision and horrid pep talks
have all turned stale-I want what is real.

Your arrival lingers so near that everything else,
by this point, has become insufferable.

Postal Tips

So I have some advice about meeting men. Go the post office, act like you have no idea what you are doing, hold up the line and someone will hit on you. I don't know if having one's hair up in a twist with bobby pins helped or not, but it might have. Couldn't hurt to try.

On Tuesday I forced myself up and out the door, on the distasteful mission of returning some packages, two very large and heavy ones at that. I had been putting it off forever, mostly because as soon as I enter the post office doors, I cease to think clearly. I did not have to pretend to not know what I was doing, that came naturally.

In fact, I simply pushed one heavy package up to the postal worker and cheerfully announced that post offices cause me to feel inescapably stupid and I had packages to ship and here was the address, and could they tell me what I needed to do next?

Thus began a nearly hour long visit as I got first the wrong label and then the wrong customs form, and then the right label and then the correct customs form. I heaved the package onto the counter, where it towered over the poor postal agent as he tried to weigh it.

All this time there was a long, slowly moving line behind me. In between corrections, my postal worker took other customers while I retreated to a quiet corner to write for the zillionth time my address, etc. I decided not to waste time being self conscious and simply be good natured about the fact that my idiocy had a large audience whose boredom only increased the interest value of my plight.

It cost and arm and a leg, but I choose to send it anyway, since I just couldn't bear the thought of pushing and lugging the damn things out the exit door under the gaze of so many interested parties.

I was finishing up the correct customs form where I felt the presence of someone come up right behind me and say, into my ear, "Excuse me."

I was not alarmed. I thought surely anyone entering my personal space like that must be someone I knew, so I turned with a pleasantly expectant look on my face that faded away into puzzlement. A complete stranger stood there, respectable in grey suit and glasses.

"I see you're having quite some trouble with those packages," he said conversationally.

I pegged him as someone making conversation while waiting their turn. "Yes, rather," I said with a grin. (I've been reading a great deal of English novels lately.)

He opened his mouth to say something else; I vaguely expected offers of package help, perhaps he had a shipping tip to share or something along those lines. Instead, his gaze dropped to my hand resting on the counter top.

"You're married," he said flatly, without, apparently, stopping to think.

"Yes," I replied, amazed and amused. He was not yet put off. He leaned forward slightly.

"Happily married?" he inquired, his eyes bright behind his glasses.

My mouth dropped open. "Yes!" I repeated, my amazement now impossible to hide. And even though Keith is in Iraq, I half expected to hear his voice come thundering down like the voice of a wrathful god. "And you have no idea who I'm married to," I thought to myself with a grin. "Cause if he was here, you'd be missing half your teeth.

Upon learning that I was happily married and seeing the deepening amusement on my face, he then had the decency to look hangdog and scuttled off. I could hardly contain my wonder that the bizarre exchange and almost turned to the line to ask, "Did you all see that? Did you just see that?"

I didn't though. In between spats of irrepressible giggles, I finished up my business and escaped, so flustered I forgot to pick up the package that my husband had shipped to me, full of gear he doesn't need any more. The husband to whom I am indeed happily married.

I immediately shared this story with him, in the hopes that he would no longer send me off on errands to the post office. My ploy has worked; I am banned from conducting any further business there. However, it might be the place to go if one is actually in the market for a man.