Free Form Heartache

Evanescent flames lap a turquoise sky,
gloriously greedy to burn so high
and wide despite the heaviness
of the billowing gray,
smothering tenebrous cloud of ash
that takes my love away.

My Father’s Hands

I did a writing exercise for a memoir class tonight that including prompts for all our “firsts”.  First scent, first sound, first bedroom, etc.  So, I thought I’d share the story I came up with based on those prompts.  Enjoy!  

Clutching my thin sleeping bag, whose old, cotton fill had recently started bunching into tough little fibrous balls, I awoke to a pale autumn dawn.  A gentle fog veiled the red barns outside my bedroom windows and cloaked the top of the corn silo.  I nestled in my sleeping bag, which I preferred to an ordinary blanket, and smiled as the faint aroma of Dad’s Folders instant coffee wafted through my door. 

I enjoyed the hum of the space heater by my bed and studied the walls of peeling, toy soldier wallpaper.  Pieces had been ripped away and replaced with artwork, creating a Hodge-Podge of colors on a canvas of brown paneling.  Other kids, I’d discovered through numerous birthday party invites, had carefully painted rooms and framed photos on their bedroom walls.  But not me.    My older brother, Matthew, and I shared a bedroom up until I was 5, and my mom didn’t discourage any creative outlet – even if it meant ripping down the wallpaper or painting war injuries of the faces of toy soldiers with red nail polish.  She’d sit on the edge of a bed, reading fairy tales to the two youngest while Matthew and I created away most evenings.  

The warm, orange glow of the small heater proved difficult to abandon that morning.  But, eventually I kicked off the covers and wandered past the living room, where Matthew and Chris were already watching the small 13 inch rabbit-eared tv, and into the kitchen to claim a bowl of cereal.  The ominous 5 tones signaling the broadcast of Dad’s news program blared from the old, boxy AM radio perched on the refrigerator.  Every day, that same clock-radio would wake my dad at 5 a.m., and he’d dutifully tend to the farm while it was still dark, returning around 7 a.m. for coffee and breakfast.  As much as I loathed the radio tones of his farm news, it became part of my routine. 

“Good morning, Sweetheart,” he whispered, smiling tiredly.  As he stared at his coffee mug, a wisp of steam curled around his face, and an urgent broadcaster detailed the farming news and the current prices of livestock and corn via long waves to our small kitchen.    

I sat in a bright red chair at a glossy, brown table that matched the paneling. Its legs dug into the repeating black squares of the deep-red, highly fashionable, late 70’s carpeting.  A bowl of cereal was plunked down in front of me as my mom trudged around the kitchen with 6 month old Carole on her hip.  She busied herself with making more toast for the boys.

I watched Dad’s hands as I devoured whatever generic kid cereal had been popular at the time.  He had tough, farmer’s hands which were also calloused and grease-stained from the work he did as a diesel mechanic.   Rough like sandpaper, the only time I felt his weathered skin against my own was when he’d taught me how to shake hands properly to impress grown-ups. 

As the bread punched up from the steel-gray toaster, a burnt smell that had nothing to do with toast trickled into the kitchen.  Dad put down his coffee. “Joyce,” to my mom, “Do you smell that?”

“Oh my God, it’s the space heater!” she yelled, and barely had the words left her mouth before my dad had thrown back the red chair and was in my bedroom.  I ran behind with Mom, Carole still on her hip, past Matthew and Chris who abandoned cartoons to investigate the commotion.  

 A small plume of smoke billowed from my room, and from the narrow hallway I anxiously watched Dad’s strong hands smacking the side of my bed with the sleeping bag.  Carole screamed and thrashed around on Mom’s chest, while the boys stood wide eyed, exchanging “Whoa’s”.  When he’d successfully smothered the fire, a tuft of singed cotton hung from the corner of my box spring like an eviscerated abdomen.  Balanced on 4 evenly spaced cinder blocks, I looked at my pathetic excuse for a bed and cried.

And then, the coup de gras.  Mom picked up my raggedy, old sleeping bag from the ground, which I was still very much in love with, and flicked at the charred circle which now infected the feet end.  I couldn’t bear it!

“That’s it.  The space heater has to go,” Dad said.  “If it had fallen over during the night…well…” he trailed off.

“What about my bed?” I wailed.

“Oh, it’s not that bad.  It’s just the box spring.  It’s fine.”

“It’s ugly! And it smells like smoke!” I’d already determined that I’d cut the damaged piece off of my sleeping bag, but that miserably hanging brown fluff was another story.

Dad’s hands plucked some of it off, and then disappeared with the space heater outside to his shop.  My brothers excitedly danced around, poking at it. 

“Dad will get you a new bed,” Mom tried.  It brought me some comfort at the time, but that bed would stay with me through high school.

And Everyday I Write

That’s a lie. I don’t write everyday.  And the impedance seems to be that I want to feel like writing.  Feeling like writing seems to happen when I’m supposed to be working on something else that isn’t writing and wired on coffee – or, feeling warm and nostalgic off a glass of wine.

Last week I was flying from Seattle to Minneapolis, and the cheap Merlot that hit my empty stomach became the impetus for a short story.  But instead of writing about my trips to Ireland, I was sucked back in to a memory of an abandoned ship named Rebound on the waterway below Highway 2 in Everett last month.

Between the struggle of not feeling like writing and then becoming inspired to write about things that are not Ireland, I’m finding this novel idea a bit slow.

But, I need to be realistic – writing won’t always be fun.  If I want to write a book it will be work, and I won’t always feel like doing it.  It’s going to take discipline. Some writers have quotas – writing a minimum of 2,000 words a day, for example.  I also have to drill it into my head that my first draft isn’t going to be perfect.

I found some suggestions on another WordPress site, “Writing Tips that Work“. I’m going try some of these “7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers” and see how this helps.  More than anything, I don’t want to lose my love of writing by becoming too structured.  But then, what’s the point of writing if I’m never sharing the finished product?

Cork 2010

There may have been whiskey involved.

Bianca may have been urging me on and reciting my credit card number to me as I plugged away on my Motorola Droid.

My battery may have run out at the exact moment my flight was confirmed.

The end result is, I’m going to Ireland in October. Dublin, Cork…brace yourselves…

I thought I’d be stressed out about the money spent on the ticket, but surprisingly…no. I have actually been dancing around my house like a little girl who just got precisely what she wanted for Christmas. I have a big dumb grin on my face not caring who, if anyone, goes with me. I’m going to Ireland, I’ll have a fantastic time, and I’ll come home with crazy stories for my friends.

I couldn’t be more excited, and this is the first time I’ve felt genuinely happy in a very long time. It was money well spent.

My Escape

I’m going to pack my bags, board an airplane, and then feel the rush of taking off. At 34,000 feet I’ll watch the deep, blood orange lines of the sunrise burn away the black of the Sahara in the early morning. I’ll land to the roar of engines, cross hot tarmacs into foreign airports, and fan myself with a passport whose pages still boast the wet ink of a fresh stamp.

The dog-eared travel guides will hide, forgotten in the deep recesses of my backpack as I barrel down pitted African roads, soaking in visions of grazing zebras and Maasai children driving cattle across the desert.

I’ll suffer the queues and delays and customs slips, the strange looks from locals. I could not imagine a life not in Africa. Wherever I go, she follows me like my own shadow. Her history and my future are bound like the spirit is to the soul, separated only by God.

So, I will keep returning – to weep, to bleed, to build and to heal. Dust will strangle me and stick to my face. Sweat will drip from me as I drink tea in the heat of an afternoon. Children tucked away in kangas will squirm as their mothers call out, “Mambo” and I return “Poa!”

And I will fall silent at beautiful sights of which my mind hasn’t yet conceived.

Tornado

This will come as a big surprise, but I had another strange dream last night. I was home in Minnesota, at my mom’s house, and there was a tornado headed for us. I looked up and watched the slim cone of a funnel cloud dip down from the sky. Instead of feeling particularly threatened, I decided it would make a great picture. Once that was done, though, I recognized the need to hit the ditch along with my brothers and sister.

There wasn’t necessarily a feeling of fear. It was more like a matter of fact occurrence. This is Minnesota, we have tornadoes, so we must take cover.

This afternoon, as Sandra was doing her magic with my tired mane, I talked about the dream. The owner of Velvet Rope, Billy, looked up the meaning of tornadoes in dreams and told me this:

When tornadoes arrive in waking life they bring immediate change. Dream tornadoes may indicate the same — abrupt, life-altering change. Change is something most people abhor yet it is sometimes necessary. If one has become completely set in one’s patterns it may take some kind of monumental event to free one from what is perhaps comfortable but no longer healthy or life-affirming. A tornado dream may indicate that warnings have been issued but not heeded and therefore something out of one’s control is arriving in order to clear out that which should have been abandoned long ago.

This was of interest to me because the concept of being stuck in patterns has been something repeated over and over again this past week. It doesn’t matter which direction I turn, people are telling me that change is coming.

Change rarely comes easily, but what is the alternative? To walk the familiar circles of complacency? I can’t do that anymore. I want more than what I’ve always had and known.

Free

In the deep purgatory of sleep, the healing comes.

Last night I wrestled with ghosts and tried to hide what had already been exposed.

I ran a relentless course into the past, expecting different results though the path be the same.

My hands calloused, soles worn down, I suddenly became weary of the forsaken loop.

I loosened my grip on the reigns of destinies I couldn’t steer, events that couldn’t be changed, and walked out.

I walked into an abandoned desert oasis, down ancient boulevards to the edge of town where the sands spilled into the streets.

When my feet touched the sand, the desert came to life. The barren dunes before me were transformed into fields of brightly colored flowers like I’d never seen before. I walked paths of acacia and cried with relief, for I was finally free.