The Power of Persuasion – Or Not

For my English Composition class I recently had to write a two paragraph explanation of a time in my life when I had to persuade someone to do something. This is the very first assignment for this class. I took a risk by making it lighthearted as I don’t know the professor yet and if he will approve or not. But as it is only the first assignment and I have all term to bring my grade up if this one tanks – I went for it. What do you think? Would you have been persuaded??

cricket

My best friend in the entire world is irrationally and horrifically afraid of all insects. I am a nature lover and so insects do not bother me, alive or dead. A few years ago we were in the basement of my childhood home and it was full of dead camelback crickets. She was freaking out. She didn’t want to go near them or even be within several long feet of them. At first I just terrorized her a bit by picking one up and chasing her around with it. But I started to think I could use these dead crickets to help her get over her fear. I tried to help her realize that realistically these crickets could not hurt her. Even alive, a few camelbacks would not harm her, but these especially couldn’t do anything to her as they were all dead. I asked her if she would consider touching one. Just a brief one fingered touch to a crispy leg. You would have thought I asked her to dip her entire hand into some sort of poisonous pain potion. She said that she would rather die and that if she so much as touched it that she actually would die. She’s a teeny bit of a drama queen. I told her the little fellow I was holding was named Harry Camel Back. I thought if he was more personified she might be less afraid.

Do you know – she eventually did touch him. I do think that my powers of persuasion are what did it. I explained to her the irrationality of her fear. I showed her how I was okay even though I was holding an entire handful of crickets. I made him seem less threatening by giving him a name. I suggested that by touching a dead one and seeing that no harm would come to her, she may be less afraid in the future when confronted with basements full of cricket carcasses.  Any of these things could have been what finally convinced her and I honestly believe that my arguments were solid. After she did it I gave her a tissue for her tears and remarked how proud I was of her. When I told her recently that I was going to use this story for my English class because I believe it was my powers of persuasion that helped her overcome her fear she said that she is still traumatized to this day and she only did it because she was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Which I guess is another strategy that could be used to persuade.

White Privilege

Multiracial-Family.

 

In my blog posts I don’t get political. I quit Facebook for many reasons (and years before the current “president” took office). People sharing misinformed and ignorant political views was one of them. But the purpose of my writing blogs first and foremost has always been for myself. I do it because I must. It has to come out of me. But I share it, usually to entertain and maybe teach a lesson. So I wrote this blog with the intention of only getting it out of me and onto the page. I would never share this type of intimate thought. It’s too controversial. It’s too real. It’s too personal. And then I realized that the entire idea behind it was that I’m afraid of becoming complacent and one sure way to be complacent is to never talk of the thing you’re complacent about, therefore allowing yourself to hide your inaction and failure to take a stance. Is the woman who watches a child get abused and does nothing just as bad as the woman who commits the abuse? Even if she isn’t “just as bad” (though maybe she is?) she at least is not innocent. So here we go.

You know how sometimes you know something in the back of your mind but it’s unacknowledged and unrealized? Or maybe taken for granted? That is how I have felt about my white privilege. And I realized it the other day while driving. I had this (Awful? Sad? Honest?) thought:

I can’t wait for Trump to be out of office so that I can stop being so angry on behalf of everyone all the time. I realized it was one of those moments where you have just said something to yourself that is really really honest but possibly really very horrible. What is at the heart of that thought? White privilege.

First let me at least say that I have been “color conscious” my whole life. And although racism affects all races and colors and I think our country has a problem with many types of minorities, for this blog I am referring to specifically black and white. I feel like many people know these three stories (at least the four of you who read this, Thank you Aunt Jackie) but here is my very first memory of color consciousness. I don’t remember how old I was but it was definitely between the ages of six and nine. I was on the front porch with one of my neighborhood friends. She lived in the corner house that was facing Echodale, a main road. We were playing. She pointed out that a black man was walking down Echodale. And then immediately and without warning she screamed, “We don’t want you here, get out of here nigger!!” Then she ducked down behind the porch wall in a fit of giggles. As I was not expecting this and also frozen in a state of mortification I did not move at first. The man looked up at us and shook his head sadly and kept walking. I finally ducked down to where she was and burned with shame. I will never ever forget that feeling. I remember not even understanding fully what that word meant but that in our house it was bad. Very very bad. No one said that word in our house. My family, though Catholic, wasn’t overly Jesus-y or religious but our rules were centered on kindness. “Shut up” was also a forbidden word in our house because of how it made other people feel. We were taught that everyone is a person and deserves to be spoken to with respect.

The next thing I remember was when I was a few years older. We went to visit my godmother who lived on Anntana Avenue in Gardenville. Someone was walking down her street putting flyers on every door of each home. I don’t remember the exact wording of the flyers but it was warning all neighbors that a black family was moving in. I don’t remember if there were instructions or suggestions or any other information I just remember the feeling it gave me. I was once again ashamed of what people were doing.

The last story is about my dad and many people already know this story. I think I was a teenager when this came about but I honestly don’t know if it happened years before or not. My dad went into a Dunkin’ Donuts and there was a white man ranting and raving about “all the niggers”. My dad stepped up to him and told him to stop talking like that because he, my dad, used to be black. Was this the best way to handle an ignoramus? I don’t know but it was better than doing nothing. This is how my family was and is. We DO see color and always have because there is a difference in black and white. The difference is the history of our races in this country and the way we have treated each other and allowed that treatment to go on.

If anyone reading this is saying in your head right now that it isn’t that way anymore I would like to just tell you that I currently (in 2019) work with many people who call black people niggers, monkeys, and one woman who still says colored. None of them do it in front of me anymore but that is exactly, EXACTLY, the reason why some people think racism isn’t a problem. It’s because of my white privilege. I can make it clear that I do not tolerate that sort of behavior and the ignorant people will simply cease to show me their ignorance. And because I’m white, it doesn’t affect me. I can carry on like they aren’t small minded and uneducated because it changes NOTHING for me. This is the epitome of white privilege.

White privilege means much more than just my argument here, but I’m tackling the part that I believe people forget about, don’t understand, or refuse to admit. It means that your life is not in danger. Your actual physical life or your way of life. Your privilege allows you to not HAVE to talk about or deal with being the target of bigotry, racism, or ignorance because you are UNAFFECTED. Lucky you.

I understand that racism is not cut and dried. It is not as black and white as black and white. There are many gray areas. Racism is a giant ocean that is fed by millions of different tributaries and rivers. There are many factors and behaviors that affect each individual person’s ideas of another race. I understand that. So what is the answer?

There are so many nuances and intricacies involved in being a racist and also overcoming racism that it would take many blogs, tomes, encyclopedias of ideas to cover it all. So I’ll just go with one idea. We need to HUMANIZE every single person. Every single person was once somebody’s baby. Was once a child. I have seen people who are racist behind closed doors go out of their way to help a black person. What is this phenomenon? How does this happen? I have seen this a lot actually. It’s on par with those people who say they aren’t racist because they have black friends. There is something in our brains that allows us to think differently about one single HUMANIZED person than a mass of people and all the stereotypes that go along with it. If you are an overt racist, I’m sure you are not reading this blog and I cannot help you with your hatred. But if you are someone who possibly suffers from residual, partial, closeted or inadvertent racism this is for you. Acknowledge your privilege. Here I am. Acknowledging mine. And when the current horrible person in charge of our country is hopefully replaced with someone less repugnant, I will remind myself to not be complacent. My mother has always said the right thing to do is usually not the easier thing. It might be hard and tiring to fight against ignorance and injustice and oppression but how much harder is it for the person being oppressed?

Learning to Learn

Do you have a moment or event in your life that you continually look back on with shame or regret? I’m not speaking to monumental things like getting divorced twice or anything as life changing and stupid as that. I’m more referring to small moments that you hope possibly went unnoticed by others, or even if they didn’t, they were just little embarrassments. I have one that I’d like to share, in order to exfoliate it from myself. This confession will be my loofah.

When Ingrid was alive and I was working “full time” caring for her (aka driving her around, lotion-ing her feet, cleaning the boxes of cat shit) I used to take her to her knitting club once a week. It was at her friend’s house in Timonium and there were usually between four and six women there. Sometimes Ingrid would send me to the store to do the grocery shopping while she knitted and sometimes I would stay and hang with the girls. These were retired women in their fifties, sixties and seventies in Ingrid’s case. They were all very kind to me and I enjoyed their company very much. Their conversations ranged from hen-type gossip to current events to their own life events and books. They were all readers and they talked about books often which was (is) my favorite topic.

Now a word about the discrepancy in the education levels here. I have an annoying Baltimore accent. I say wooder for water (though I’m trying to break the habit!). I graduated high school with a low B/high C average and only went on to community college. And that was over twenty years ago. The job I quit to work for Ingrid was safe and vault technician, a fairly dirty man-job that required zero higher education. But I love books. I love to read, I love to write and I LOVE BOOKS! Bookstores and libraries get me high. The fifty cent book aisle at Goodwill makes me weak-kneed. One time I went to Powell’s books in Portland and I almost believed in god that day.

These friends of Ingrid’s – all educated, well spoken, well compensated women. They went to or sent their children to (or both) private schools. They had vacation homes in New England and sons who took their students to South America for field trips. They drove BMWs and Mercedes. They shopped at small local grocery stores where you could buy fresh dates stuffed with cheeses I’d never even heard of. But here was our unifying fact: We all loved to read (yay books!).

I mistakenly thought that at least my love and knowledge of books could put me in the ballpark with them, if not during the game, maybe for warmups. Cute, aren’t I? One of the ladies, Mary, asked if anyone had read The Life of Pi (this was the year the movie came out so everyone was reading the book). I had recently read it and LOVED it so I piped up right away, raving about how good it was. Mary said she heard it was an allegory. And here is what I said:

“Oh, I don’t know what that is but one of the reasons it was so good is because the whole story is actually just an analogy for something else!”

When their eyes all met each other’s and their smiles got deeper as they nodded and said nothing else it was a true testament to how sweet these women are. It wasn’t even until about a year later when I learned what an allegory is. In ignorant girl speak it’s: an analogy for something else. You might be thinking, so what? You didn’t know what an allegory is. Big deal. Me neither (Well maybe I’m just hoping the last part). But the reason why it is a big deal is because I think I can be a writer. I think I can write books that people will want to read. I actually tell people I want to do nothing but that for the rest of my life!! And to me, a person who wants to do nothing else with the rest of her life but write books who is sitting in a room of educated, well-read women showing her ignorance of allegory is like a wannabe plumber at a plumbing convention saying he doesn’t know the difference between PVC and copper.

Oh. Well, maybe it’s not that bad. I mean that would be really bad, right? So I think in writing this down I may have already exfoliated. Huh. Everyone starts out not knowing anything about anything. You don’t know what you know until you know it. If you actively open yourself up to learning new things every single day, the world is never boring and every moment has the potential to be an adventure. I didn’t know it then. I know it now. So maybe what I’ve been agonizing over these past several years hasn’t been the fact that I’m a wannabe writer who didn’t know what an allegory is but that I’m sadly no longer in touch with any of these wonderful women and therefore can’t update them: I know what an allegory is now. But there are still billions of things I don’t know yet – isn’t that exciting?!

The value of wet socks.

puddle feet

 

It rained a lot this week. When I go to pick up elementary school children when it’s raining, mothers will stand on curbs with umbrellas covering the children. They will walk the children all the way to the bus doors so that their wee little ones don’t experience even a moment of rain. Curb lanes will be small rivers that children have to hop across to step onto the bus.

One mother wanted to be so sure that her kindergartner didn’t accidentally step down into the rushing water between curb and bus that she forwent the umbrella for a moment to lift her son the six inches from curb to bus. This was too much for my small friend. He squirmed and complained. The gap was so small that I don’t believe she did it because she thought he couldn’t. I think it was more because she knew the puddle jumping potential of that glorious curb lane might have been too enticing for him.

Something of my feelings over this behavior (of mom) must have shown on my face because she said to me, “Having wet socks in school all day is no fun.”

I’m a good sport and a friendly person so I smiled and nodded. Well I am a good sport and a friendly person but more importantly Christmas is coming and that particular bus stop of families gives generous Christmas gifts to the bus driver. Only like three people, INCLUDING my mother read this blog so I think I’m safe to tell you the truth.

I should not have smiled and nodded. I should have told ‘ol Dry Foot’s mom that there is great value in wet socks. This particular neighborhood has homes that all sell for seven figures. There is no disease or raw sewage in the rainwater running down their curb lanes. Her son’s feet were firmly encased in Under Armour shoes. So that removes the concern that him having wet feet all day could make him sick.

Discomfort.

That’s it. That’s what she “saved” him from. And it came from a place of love. I’m sure it did. She is a sweet lady with sweet children (she did let her older son hop the gap himself). As parents, we would like to remove all discomfort from our children’s whole entire lives. And pain, suffering, sadness, or any other negative thing. But we can’t. What we can do is equip them with the skills to deal with it when it comes. How do we do that? By letting them do it.

When your parent or spouse or friend or anyone in your life warns you about doing something they think you shouldn’t do, does that always automatically make you not do the thing? Do you learn your own lessons by advice? Or do you have to experience the pain of a hot stove or a broken heart or an embarrassing situation where your own (wet or dry) foot ends up in your mouth? We learn our lessons by experiencing, feeling, living through the consequences of our actions.

Do you think my small friend will be tempted to puddle jump before school ever again? He has approximately twelve more years of regular school and rain is something that is likely to happen again, probably more than once.

This is going to sound crazy. But I wonder what would happen if she let him get wet socks and he had to go all day in them?  I’ve come up with a few different theories.

  1. Nothing would happen. He’s five. He might not notice they are wet in the same way your eight year old who has blue lips and uncontrollable shivering doesn’t want to get out of the pool because she’s having too much fun.
  2.  The wet socks annoy him slightly but the joy of jumping in the water was greater than the annoyance of wet socks. No biggie mom.
  3.  They drive him crazy. His feet are rubbing weird in his shoes now and he can barely concentrate to make his painted pasta shape necklace. He’s irritable with the teacher and comes home grouchy. But next time it rains and he’s tempted to jump in the puddle while waiting for the school bus, he will remember this.
  4.  This is the one I feel will be true no matter what: The socks will dry. Eventually.

 

These four theories I have come up with completely on my own. I was discussing this with a wonderful dear friend of mine and she had another to add. And by the way, she has two master’s degrees so she’s like super smart.

What if he gets the wet socks and whether it annoyed him or not, once he finally changes into clean, dry, warm socks he gets the clean, dry, warm sock feeling? You picture that for yourself right now. Oh yeah. Good right???

So not only does experiencing discomfort teach us life lessons about things we may or may not want to do but it teaches us gratitude for when we don’t have discomfort. And being grateful is the greatest gift you can instill in your children. Truly. Thanks Jen Monaldi!!

The grown-up who cried wolf.

Have you ever told your child, “Because I said so!”?

Please don’t. Pleeeeeeeeeease! Don’t!

Or at least if you do, do it so rarely that its meaning is even more formidable than using your wee little one’s full name during a telling off.  Stop ordering your blog readers around right this instant Sara Jean Landers!! eeeek! okay!

I think that disciplining, interacting with, maintaining control over and being in charge of kids is so much easier than we make it on ourselves.

Here is what happened today on my school bus:

On the way home from summer school I looked in the mirror and I saw feet sticking up in the air where a head should be. A student had his back on the “sit” part of the seat and his legs straight up in the air where his torso should have been. I used my handy dandy microphone thingy and reminded:

“All of my friends should be sitting with their bottoms on the bottom and their backs on the back of the seat.”

I saw the legs swing down and a head pop up and go to where it was supposed to. Approximately thirty-seven seconds later, when I looked in the mirror, guess who had his back on the butt part and his legs in the air again?

I put my flashers on, pulled over, turned off the engine and got up. I had taken only one step forward when I saw feet swinging down and a head zoom back to the proper sitting position. I walked to the back and stood in front of the rule breaker.

I smiled. I used my quiet-yet-friendly-yet-stern voice. I asked Mr. Rebel if he heard me telling everyone that they must sit properly. Not even one nanosecond passed and he said that no he did not hear that. He didn’t flinch or look away or turn pink. He maintained steady eye contact. I asked him if he likes sitting in the back? He said yes. I told him that it is not safe to sit any other way except the way he was right at that moment and that if I saw him sitting any other way again, that he would have to sit in the first seat in the front. I went back to my seat and we rolled along. He sat properly all the way home.

Now there is one other thing you should know about Mister Man. When summer school started over three weeks ago and I was given this route, I was warned that this particular friend was a trouble maker. That he would give me a hard time and that if I could pick him up last and drop him off first, it would make my life much easier.

Because I am a FIRM BELIEVER in letting people’s behavior dictate my opinion of them I waited to see what would happen on our first day of summer school. He did not ride to school on the bus that first morning but in the afternoon when I went to pick the kids up, he was on. He ran straight to the back and started bouncing from seat to seat. I went back there and smiled and introduced myself. I told him, and the few other kids who were also back there though they stayed in their seats, that I would let them sit anywhere they wanted on the bus, but the rule was: they must choose a seat and stay in it. That moving seats isn’t safe and that if they couldn’t follow this rule, they would have to sit in the front. Mr. Reputation-precedes-him chose to sit in the back and stayed in that seat every day. He asked me for a high-five when he got off the bus. He maintained his great behavior almost the whole summer school session.

Summer school will be over in three days. Just three days shy of the four week mark and he finally needed a reminder of the rules. I believe this (this being long stretches of good behavior) is what you can get when you:

  1. Talk to a child in a clear, explanatory and friendly way.
  2.  Give them an explanation for what you are asking or telling them to do.
  3. Allow them a second chance if they screw up once or maybe even twice.
  4. FOLLOW THROUGH WITH YOUR THREATS OF PUNISHMENT WHICH MEANS DON’T MAKE YOUR PUNISHMENTS ANYTHING YOU ARE UNABLE OR UNWILLING TO DO.

Because we don’t give kids enough credit. And we give them too much credit.

This is what I mean by that.

We don’t give kids enough credit because they are SMART!!!! They understand things!! They understand consequences and rewards. They understand danger and fear. They have begun to use logic. Who wants to be told what to do ALL DAY LONG?? Especially WITHOUT explanation? No one. Not even kids.

YES you are the parent/adult/in charge and so what you say goes but that doesn’t mean you should exploit that.

I have to do what my boss says. But if my boss asks me to do something and gives me an explanation why and/or asks me in a normal human way (not shouting or ordering) it makes me glad to do it. It really helps to understand the why, especially if it’s something I don’t really want to do.  I also respect my boss more if she talks to ME with respect. This is not different for children.

THIS IS NOT DIFFERENT FOR CHILDREN!

If they understand WHY you are asking or telling them to do something, it helps them in so many ways. They become WEARY of following orders day in and day out. Parents, teachers, bus drivers, other relatives, older siblings, all other adults are constantly telling them to do this, don’t do that. You never ever have to worry that your child won’t learn that they have to do what adults say. Because at every turn there are adults telling them what to do and expecting good behavior.

If your ego is preventing you from understanding this concept, and you still live by the old advice that “children should do as they are told, period” then I beg you to reconsider procreating. And at least if you do, please don’t move to Cockeysville where I drive a school bus, I’d prefer not to cart your little monsters around.

And please don’t misunderstand my meaning. YOU ARE STILL IN CHARGE. It IS possible to give orders to your child, even with an explanation, and yet make it clear that you are in charge. You must be concise and direct, even if you offer a choice (You can sit properly, or you can sit in the front. There are no other options). If you think that by offering a choice and/or an explanation a child may come to challenge you by repeatedly asking why something should be done as to avoid doing the thing, then you are correct. Kids are smart!!! You may be the recipient of that diversionary tactic they love to employ. This is the part where you remember that you are in charge and that you have offered them an explanation and now is the time for listening. Once you’ve offered the choice and/or the explanation, it is up to YOU to follow through with the consequences or the unfavorable choice.

And what I mean by “we give them too much credit”:

Kids are still KIDS. Although they are smart and they understand things, they are not AS smart as you. YOU know that you shouldn’t do things because you have lived on this earth much longer than they have. You have learned your lessons, possibly the hard way, and have been putting them into practice for YEARS. You can’t expect children to grasp right/wrong, safe/unsafe/ without explaining it to them. And you can’t expect them to remember it immediately and every time even if you do explain it to them. Do YOU remember everything the first time you’re told?

How good are you at controlling your impulses? Do you ever lose your temper? Overeat? Drink too much? Binge spend? Say things you shouldn’t? And how many years have you been practicing and trying to control these things? And STILL you aren’t an expert??

Well. Imagine if you’d only been practicing for four years. Or ten. Or sixteen. AND that your cerebrum is still not fully developed. So we need to practice understanding when our wee ones don’t have good impulse control. Or when they’ve been sitting in a classroom for six hours and are finally let out into the world, where they are grouped with ten, twenty or thirty of their friends with only one adult to supervise them, and said adult has to put her efforts into safely driving a bus. (Which by the way, opens up a whole other problem I have, which is education and how we do it, but that will be a blog for another day, Eric 🙂

And finally I would like to stress the importance of number four up there. Here it is again in case you missed it the first time:

FOLLOW THROUGH WITH YOUR THREATS OF PUNISHMENT WHICH MEANS DON’T MAKE YOUR PUNISHMENTS ANYTHING YOU ARE UNABLE OR UNWILLING TO DO.

This is so so so so so so so important. Don’t be the grown-up who cried wolf! Because if you are, you’re making life so much harder for your child as well as any other adult who must deal with your child. If you continually threaten with punishments that never, or rarely happen, your babes will eventually stop running up the hill to see if the wolf ate the sheep.

The fact that Mister upside-down-sitter could look me straight in the eye and lie, as well as the reputation he had for being a handful, tells me that he has been threatened with unfulfilled punishments for a long time and he is a pro at knowing when an adult is crying wolf.

How many times have you been in a store (Walmart) and heard a mother say to her misbehaving child, “If you don’t straighten up right now we are leaving?”

I want to be kind in this blog post. I want to be understanding. I want to lovingly impart wisdom and common sense advice. But if you are guilty of saying that to a tantrum-ing child…..YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

First of all, you aren’t leaving. Because you aren’t there for the child. You’re there because you need to get kitty litter and toilet paper and your babe doesn’t give a shit about that. So your threat to leave is music to his ears. He’d love to leave. You CAN’T leave because there is no bread left in the house to pack lunches tomorrow or nary a drop of laundry detergent and you’re already wearing yesterday’s underwear inside out so you really really do need to be here.

Oh, the writhing-child-on-the-floor-of-Walmart speech needs a blog of its own. So just know, that threatening a punishment you cannot or will not follow through with only desensitizes your kids to your threats. And then all the threats of the other adults who deal with her. So just give it some thought.

And I just want to remind everyone that I am all about the gray. I KNOW there are situations where this advice may not work. I KNOW there are extenuating circumstances and children with special needs and people (like teachers, bless them) who are dealing with too many kids with too many different personalities all at once to be able to explain every little thing.

This is just general advice for the average parent/guardian/caregiver/human. Give your kids some credit. But not too much.

 

Some Days

Some days you hate yourself, you just really do. I mean, even if you’re the type of person who is generally quite emotionally healthy and stable. They can’t all be good days. Sometimes it could come from drinking a little too much coffee or more likely, not enough coffee. It throws your brain chemicals off their routine. Or it might be getting near to “that time of the month” (even if you don’t have all your contraptions down there anymore, your body still knows). Possibly when you were getting dressed this morning, your pants that normally are “just right tight”, meaning they are not uncomfortable but the proper amount of tight that still make your backside look pleasing, maybe those pants were hard to button. Meaning they have passed “just right tight” and tipped over into “too tight” making you have a pooch hanging over the top that you need to disguise with a well-placed sweater or a larger top. When that happens you might not realize it at that moment but it sets your whole day up for irritation.

And you can’t explain it to anyone. I mean even if you realize it yourself. You might stop in Walgreens to pick up some lip balm because despite the fact that you know you possess over eleven lip balms, and that there is sure to be one in the pocket of your jacket hanging over the back of the dining room table, and one in the side zipper of the purse you switched out of two days ago- the fact remains that you cannot find one right now. So you grab yourself a new Burt’s Bee’s or even splurge on a Nivea one and you go to the counter to pay and you find you are fourth in line. And the woman being rung up has some coupon issue. She’s arguing with the cashier, who honestly could care less if the lady saves sixty cents on two six packs of Diet Coke. I mean who buys Diet Coke at Walgreens anyway? Everyone knows the groceries in there are jacked up in price because it’s not a grocery store. It’s the convenience factor. And the cashier is calling for backup and the Diet Coke lady is waving her circular over her head and you just want to step on her foot or stab her with the pointy end of your car key. The longer you wait the more irritated you become until finally it’s your turn and you are just horrible to the cashier.  When she asks if you want a bag you say no in the same way a teenager declines everything that is ever offered to them. You snatch your change and stalk off without a smile and then you get in your car and just burst into tears. You want to go back inside and tell the poor cashier that you really are very sorry and that you actually are a nice person but that your pants are just too tight today and its ruining everything.

And sometimes that just gets you going until you are riding along the self-hate train with no stops in sight. And when your brain decides it’s going to be “one of those days”, there is nothing you can do to stop it really. I mean, you get to work where you drive a school bus and as you climb up the steps you notice there is a rotting smell coming from your little plastic trash can. Normally you may not notice the smell or even if you did you would just empty the trash and be on your way. But this day is just out to get you and so the smell climbs inside of your nostrils and even when you are driving down the road with your side window open you swear you can still smell the smell and so that nugget of irritation inside of you grows a little bit so now it’s like the pit of a rotten piece of fruit lodged inside of you.

And every driver on the road is just a complete idiot. I mean four way stops are straightforward. We all stop. You go. You go. You go. I go. People will try to outgun each other and then have to do that halt/stop jerky thing where no one is sure who is actually going. And sitting in this bus seat really makes the button cut into my pudge. It gives me the feeling of wanting to get going nice and fast and then slam on my brakes so that the little rebels on the back who are kneeling in their seats when they know right well they should be sitting will just slam their little faces into the seats in front of them. And instead of being horrified by this thought as I might be on a day where my pants fit properly, I look in the big mirror to see how many children would fall victim to my idea. And then you think about what you’re actually thinking about doing and you realize that you are a terrible terrible person. Here you are entrusted by parents and school officials with the most precious cargo in the world and you are careening around curves like a wild woman hoping for bloodshed.

So you calm yourself down and try to think of some redeeming qualities about yourself. But you know – this day and all. Instead all you can think of is how you’ve been in such a sour mood and you wonder if you’re getting depressed and there’s an itchy spot on the back of your finger that is driving you crazy and is it stress causing that? At a red light you look down at your fingers and they are too thick and the itchy one is all red and you wonder why you can’t have nice feminine pretty hands like your mom and how could anyone love someone with such sausage fingers.

And speaking of sausage you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer for dinner so what will you cook when you get home? You don’t want to cook anything for anyone, why do people insist on needing you, really you just want to go home and stand at the kitchen counter and eat an entire bag of chips (the kind with the lime) and salsa for your own dinner while no one talks to you or asks you for anything and then sit and read your book completely undisturbed.

You finally drop off the last child and get back to the bus lot and you’re thinking you might just go home and hide under your bed covers with the lights turned off so your family will think you’re sick and leave you alone. You get up and walk down the bus aisle to make sure none of your relentless little cretins are sleeping or hiding in the back and you see a balled up piece of loose-leaf on the floor. You pick it up and carry it with you back to the front where you toss it in your little plastic trash can. But you can see child-like penciled handwriting and the corner of a drawing that could be a rainbow or a flower? You take it back out of the trash can and unrumple it. You smooth it out on the dash board. There are two drawn hearts in the corner that both have smiley faces in them. They are holding hands.

In the top part of the paper written in large letters it says

To: Mrs. Jessica

From: Lauren Jackson

Dear Mrs. Jessica,

I love you so much!! I miss you too! I loved 3rd grade with you. 4th grade is good. I miss the way you laugh. When I think of you I think about sunflowers blooming. They are butiful.

 

And that’s where the letter ends. And your heart is washed clean and full and hopeful and the sun looks much brighter now than it did this morning and nothing can be wrong in the world.

Preincarnation

I wrote this short story in 2013 and this weekend in a sweaty 80-degree-October anomaly I was a gooey, frizzy haired maniac editing it and getting it ready for you dear readers. I don’t know how to categorize it. I suppose the genres it might fit into are speculative fiction or fantasy or paranormal; I don’t really know because I normally don’t write in this genre. It’s around 20 pages. I know that’s a bit long for a blog and you may not have time to read it all in one go. Take your time, split it up if you need to and give it a shot. The two things I would like the most are 1. If you like it you share it. Do all the social media-ing you can with it. Pin it, tweet it, Facebook it, whatever. And 2. Drop me a line and let me know. What I’d like to know is – did it make you FEEL? It was so much fun to write, I hope you’ll have a blast reading it. Cheers!

 

blue cottagedoor

 

1.

It’s very odd when you’re neither alive nor dead. Well, I suppose I could be dead. I’m not entirely sure. I don’t have a name. I don’t know where I came from. I don’t know for sure if I exist at all. I do have a body, I can look down and see it. I know that I am white. I am female. I am 5’3. I figured this out by standing up against a measuring tape on the wall at Home Depot. I am slender, and I have dirty blond hair. I know this because it is long and I can see it. But I cannot describe to you what my face looks like. I can tell you what it feels like. I have spent many hours running my fingers over the smooth skin. I have very fine peach fuzz on my cheeks, I suppose everyone does? Did you ever notice that? My nose is small and rubbery, and the nostrils are the exact size of one of my pinky fingers and yes, I put it inside to test it. When you have no reflection in the mirror you’ll do all sorts of things to get to know your face. My eyelashes and eyebrows are black, they fall out occasionally like everyone else’s. Don’t ask me what color my eyes are, I cannot say. I don’t know.

I think this is probably all very confusing for you, and I’ll tell you the story of how I came to be, but first one more thing. Just this one thing. I have seven words tattooed on my arm. Each word is written in block letters, all capitals. If I hold my arm straight out in front of me with my palm up, the words can be read, by me. The first word (or it could be the last I guess) is about two inches from my wrist. The next one is an inch above that, closer to my elbow. And then the other five continue up my arm just like that. These words were there in black when I came to be. And so I will tell you that story and give you the seven words.

I was in a field. A field of wildflowers. I was curled into a little ball on the ground. Like maybe I had fallen asleep and was cold, and now I was awake. And that was it. But it wasn’t like waking up. I didn’t feel sleepy or have heavy eyelids. I wasn’t aware of lying there with my eyes closed before I woke up. I just opened my eyes, and there I was. I wasn’t confused or disoriented. I just was. I stood up. The field stretched around me in all directions. I turned on the spot. I saw mountains in the distance. I looked down at myself. I was wearing clothes – white tennis shoes, blue jeans and a white t-shirt.  I examined my hands and arms. I saw the tattoos. In a neat row from wrist to elbow were the words: LOVE, HATE, PASSION, ENVY, FEAR, ANGER and PEACE. I ran my fingers over the words with my left hand. They weren’t raised, it didn’t hurt. I felt a tiny unfurling of something inside of me. Confusion. That was when I first felt confusion. It was minor, just a blip – a moment of disquiet. I dropped my arms and started walking. The sun was very bright. The sky was cloudless, blue and enormous. I felt neither hot nor cold.

I walked through the wildflowers, they made a crunchy whooshing sound as I waded across the field. A mild curiosity was growing from the spark of confusion. It wasn’t a question in my mind yet of who am I or where am I? The thing I felt the most was, why am I here? A little cottage rose into view. It was at the edge of the field. It sat at the base of the mountain which was looming purplish and iced in white. The sight of the cottage gave me another new sensation. What was it? Safe. I remember looking down at my tattoos again and walking on.

I arrived at the cottage. It was stone with a royal blue door. There were flowers in a heart shaped wreath on the door. It had a chimney. Smoke puffed from it, pearly white against the bright blue sky. Someone opened the door and stepped out. It was a woman. She was petite, she may have been in her twenties. She had brown hair and brown eyes. She had a soft face and kind eyes. She emanated something. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I think it was happiness. Anticipation. Joy.  Her lips were ruby red but not from lipstick and her cheeks rosy.  She lifted her hand and put it against her eyebrows. She was shielding her eyes from the sun. She looked out over the field. She turned left to right. Her eyes passed over me several times. I knew she couldn’t see me. I clapped my hands. She didn’t flinch or stop gazing around at nature’s bounty. She turned and went back into the blue door.

I knew something then. I knew that I could see this house, this mountain, and these flowers. And I knew what they were. I knew that I could read and write, and I knew what books were and math and art. I knew that I was on the earth – it had rivers and streams and mountains, cities, neighborhoods and ghettos. I knew what rosy cheeks were and lipstick. I had a gauge of how people looked at certain ages.  I knew the world existed, I had use of its language inside my head. I knew also that I wasn’t part of it. I was in it without being in it. I still felt no sense of curiosity as to who I was or where I was. The only question that now flared stronger but still not overpowering was – Why?

 

2.

That was a couple of months ago, maybe two months? Three months? I’m unsure of the exact date or time because I didn’t notice a calendar right away after I came to be. I didn’t count the days because it didn’t seem important. I was aware of days passing – the sun coming up and going back down. But I don’t sleep. I don’t get tired. I tried lying in a bed once just to see what would happen. Boredom. When you don’t sleep or feel fatigue days are very long, nights are even longer. But curiosity is abundant so time passes fairly well. I’ve discovered, I think, most of the rules of this weird state of being. I don’t get hungry but I’m aware that hunger exists. I can’t lift objects, I don’t feel them. My hand just sort of passes through them if I try. I can’t walk through walls or unopened doors. It just doesn’t work, I tried. But oddly I can sit in a chair, on a train, a bus, lie in a bed. I can walk up and down stairs. Oh and I can walk on water. I discovered that by accident. I’ll save that story for later.

I’ve discovered that open doors are my way of travel. Not time travel or anything like that. Just getting in and out. If a door is open I can go in or out – a house door, a car door, a classroom door. If it’s being held open by a person I can breeze right through. If the person is blocking the entrance but the door is open I still breeze right through. I just go through them I guess. There is no sensation of actually passing through the person – I’m just inside, when a moment ago I was not. If a door is shutting, I can still get through as long as it hasn’t shut all the way. Once it’s closed I’m stuck until someone opens the door again. I’ve gotten stuck four times so far waiting for someone to open the door. I’m more careful now.

The first time was that day I came to be. I tried to enter the cottage. I walked up to the door after the woman had gone inside, her name is Elle by the way. I tried to knock. Nothing happened. I raised my fist to the door and pushed it forward in a knocking motion, but it just didn’t work. I don’t know how else to explain it. It didn’t make a sound, my hand was simply repelled by the door. I tried the handle but I knew that wouldn’t work either. It didn’t. I stood there for a while contemplating what I might like to do or try next. Sometime later the door opened again. A man was coming out. I bolted inside. I wanted to have a look at the man, but he was gone and I was in.

The inside was cozy. I knew that word. I knew what it meant and I felt it inside that room, the living room? I could smell bacon. It didn’t make me hungry but I enjoyed the smell. Water was running in another room, the kitchen. I walked deeper into the living room. There was a couch in the center, a great monster of a couch. Piled with pillows: bright yellow, lime green, hot pink. The couch itself was the same blue color as the door. I walked over to it and tried to touch it. It had the same effect as when I tried to knock on the door. I turned and sat on it. That worked. How odd. I went into the room with the running water which had now stopped. The woman, Elle, was there at the sink. Her back was to me. I tried to speak to her. Nothing came out. I was mute. But I do have a voice inside my head. I clapped my hands again. They made a sound to my ears but not to hers. I left her. I wandered through the house. I saw the wood stove humming and a flickering from inside the glass door. I passed by bookshelves and pictures in frames on the walls. Beyond the living room was another room. It was the back of the house. It was a large room brightly lit by a full wall of windows with sunshine pouring in and drenching the table and chairs with its light. In the back yard of this house was a gravel driveway. There was a car parked in it.  I went back to the living room where a set of stairs rose up from the left side. I tried the first step. It worked. I ascended the stairs. There was just one room and a bathroom upstairs. When I walked on the wooden floor it creaked and I wondered if that, too, was only a sound that I could hear. I thought of when I had walked through the field and the sound the flowers and grasses made as I disturbed them.

I heard the door to the cottage open then and shut. I ran back down the steps and foolishly tried the door. It didn’t work. I went into the back room again, looked out of the windows and saw Elle getting in her car. She drove away. I was stuck. I wandered around the house for hours. You would think that I wouldn’t have been able to gain much information without being able to open drawers, peek inside closets, run my fingers against the cloth of a silky nightgown laying willy nilly across the unmade bed. But you would be wrong because I did. I studied the faces in all the pictures on the walls that day. I saw Elle’s face, in another woman’s face in several of the pictures. Her mother. The man who’d undoubtedly been the one to give me access to the house, the one whose face I’d missed, was surely the same one in many of the pictures. Daniel. It was there on a little embroidered cloth, framed, in the tiny bathroom. Elle and Daniel. They were married on October 23rd.  Two doves held the ends of a floral and beribboned banner that announced this inside the frame.

Their bedroom was bright, that big room upstairs full of windows. Like I said, the bed was unmade. The room smelled of something. It was a sweet yet tangy smell. I didn’t recognize it as anything I was familiar with as I had the bacon. It stirred something inside of me but I was unsure what. There were a few strands of Elle’s brown hair zig zagging across a pillow on the bed. The nightgown had thin straps, it was the pearly color of the inside lip of a seashell. I knew this. I knew what a seashell was. The curious feeling was there again. There was a basket of dirty laundry and a stack of books as tall as the lamp on the whitewashed bedside table.

I spent a long time in the bedroom that day. I learned that I had no reflection as I passed by the mirror over the dresser.  I lay on the bed breathing in that smell, it became weaker throughout the day and disappeared altogether by the time the sun was inches from the horizon. Daniel came home first. I was lying in their bed, learning my face with my fingers when I heard the door. I got up and went to the top of the stairs. He carried a canvas bag and dropped it by the front door. He went immediately to the kitchen and started making noises – running water, ticking clicks from the stove, the opening and shutting of the refrigerator. I stood in the doorway to the kitchen and watched him. He was blond. He had a mop of hair on his head that fell wherever it pleased. He had little golden hairs on his solid arms. He whistled while he cooked.

Elle came home as Daniel was finishing dinner. She threw herself into his arms and they stood there in the kitchen embracing for several long moments. I felt a tiny prickle on my tattooed arm as I watched them. And then Elle spoke. Her voice was melodious like a wood thrush and it took my breath away. It was sweet and warm and my tattoos prickled again. I wanted to go to her, embrace her as well.

“How were the beasts today?” she was saying to Daniel. She set the little round table with vivid blue cloth place mats and bright white dishes. I devoured the sound of her voice, locked it away so that I could replay it over and over whenever I pleased. Daniel’s voice was quiet, calm, it made me feel safe. There was that feeling again, safe. I liked it. They ate dinner and chatted. I just stood in the doorway and observed. It was very pleasant. You’ll be wondering if I watched them in bed. Of course I did. But not that day.

 

3.

I’ve set up a sort of routine for myself. During the week I stay in town. Daniel is a middle school teacher. Elle is a nurse. They work at opposite ends of town. Sometimes I get a ride back with Daniel on Sundays, and sometimes I go with Elle. Usually with Elle. I have a good feeling around both of them, I just prefer Elle. She plays music in the car and sings along. It always makes my tattoos twinge. I discovered that I could hop in the car when the door was open, whooshing past the driver then finding myself in the passenger seat. On occasions when they go somewhere together I end up in the back seat. Either way is fine with me, I like to travel with them. On Monday mornings I catch a ride with one of them and stay in town usually until Friday. Once in a while I go back to their house for a night or two. But there’s so much to discover, and I like staying in town too. I can also walk back if I miss the ride. I don’t get tired from the walk, it’s just over ten miles into town, but it gets repetitive and dull.

The town is very nice. It sits at the base of the mountain which hovers over the horizon behind the cottage like a friendly omnipresent grandfather. There are a lot of people in the town. Well, I suppose a lot is subjective. I’ve seen places on TV when Elle or Daniel are watching that are throbbing with people. I know such places exist, I just haven’t been yet. But after waking up in a field surrounded by nothing but Daniel and Elle for ten miles, the town seems full of people. There is a shopping district with a mall, a McDonalds and a Burger King, Home Depot, Walgreens, a post office, Radio Shack. There are houses on Main Street three stories tall and stuck together like dominoes that look like they could fall down at any moment but that they might have been made to look like that on purpose. They all have great porches with wide wooden chairs with fat arm rests, or small metal folding chairs or the plastic kind they sell in stacks at Walmart. The Walmart is at the school end of town. The elementary, middle and high schools are all on the same campus. I have walked from school end to hospital end countless times now.

My favorite part of town is the town square. There’s a bronze statue of several small children in the town square. A girl with pigtails and a smile is arm in arm with another girl who is laughing. There are two boys in the statue as well, one small, one bigger. All four children are all looking keenly upon something in the cupped hands of the second boy, a butterfly. It sits in the palm of his hands. Of course the whole thing is bronze, but I see it in color. I don’t mean I actually see it in color, I just mean I can imagine it. Vividly. The blond pigtails of the first girl, her rosy cheeks. The black wings of the butterfly with bright blue eyespots and the feathery feel of its wings as they flutter across the flesh of the boy’s hand. I spend a lot of time near the statue.

There’s a veranda in the town square as well. Teenagers hang out there after school. On Friday nights a man comes and plays the accordion and mostly older people come and watch him. On Sundays it’s a man with a fiddle and everyone, all ages, comes to that one. Sometimes on Saturday nights teenagers come and pepper the lawn and the steps of the veranda in small packs. They wear clothes that don’t adequately cover their gooseflesh. The girls huddle together to stay warm and pass gossip. The boys toss a football or sometimes torment the girls until they shriek, but they’re smiling, laughing and shooting glances at each other that say things that I don’t understand. They smoke cigarettes sometimes and I smell the smoke and I want to try it. I know I can’t of course, but I think it would be nice to hold a cigarette between my first two fingers, suck on it for a second and then blow those rings out, making a weird O face.

There’s one boy, Dom, he’s very handsome. He’s quiet. He doesn’t shout and shove the other boys like they all do to each other. He wears a jacket when it’s cold. He has blond hair like Daniel but his hair hangs over his eyes a bit so he’s constantly looking out from behind golden strands like a lion peering out from behind vegetation in the Serengeti. His eyes are like the sky when the sun is nearly gone and it’s such a dark blue you have to do a double take because it’s almost black. But it’s not. There’s one girl, Trina, who really likes Dom. I don’t know if he realizes it yet, but she watches him secretly when she thinks no one is looking. She forgets to shriek with the other girls and sneaks glances at Dom with her huge wide green eyes. Like a snake.  He hasn’t caught her. Yet.

I wonder how old I am. Do I have an age? I’m unsure and besides the speck of curiosity I’m unconcerned.  It’s Friday and I’m cutting the time close to get to Daniel or Elle to get a ride back home. Home. This is something new. I’ve started thinking of their house as home. I don’t sleep and eat there obviously as other people do in the place they call home. But this naming of their house, calling it home, suits me just fine. It feels nice.

I decide to catch a ride with Daniel today, his school is a teeny bit closer to the town square than the hospital. If time is running short it’ll be quicker. On Fridays when I have missed my ride I always come back to the town square first to check out what’s happening. Then I usually wander around the town, going in shops and following interesting people. I haven’t followed Dom yet, but the idea is there in the back of my mind.

I do make it to Daniel’s car just as he’s walking through the parking lot. I jog for the last mile or so. I don’t get out of breath and my feet or bones or muscles never tire. I only prefer not to run normally so that I can take in my surroundings. Daniel’s stopped to chat with another teacher at his car. I wait for him to finish and dive into the car when he opens the door. He stops at the florist on the way home. I wait in the car. Once I got out with Elle when she stopped at the market. I got so caught up in watching a man and woman have an argument over brown or white eggs that Elle was gone before I realized it. That was the first time I walked back home. Daniel gets back in the car with a bursting bouquet of fresh cut flowers. The sweet smell fills his little Volkswagen and I find it very attractive. It makes me smile, and he’s smiling too. We get home and I stick close by him to be sure to get in the house. Elle isn’t home yet and Daniel starts dinner. I go up into their bedroom. I always like to check out the bedroom before settling into the house for the weekend – their chronically unmade bed, the smell of Elle’s body lotion, the occasional pungent sex smell (I recognize it now from that first day I entered this room), the clothes in the hamper with their lost hairs still clinging to them, all give me the safe feeling I had the first day I came here. I wander around the room as I hear Daniel downstairs whistling. The bathroom door is ajar so I can enter. Sometimes it isn’t. It’s a very small bathroom, but it’s welcoming. It says, come on it, have a sit, take a poo. Relieving myself is something else that I never have to do, but I obviously know that it exists. Elle’s smell is even stronger in here and I stand in front of the sink, the mirror reflecting the wall behind me, and breathe in deeply. I feel very grateful, despite my limitations in this form I am in, that I have smells. I look down and something in the trash bin catches my eye. It’s a cardboard box with a plastic stick poking out of it. I know what it is. But the results end of the stick is inside the box. I foolishly try to grab it to move it. Nothing.

I go downstairs and watch Daniel cooking dinner. The flowers are already on a vase in the center of the little table. There’s something else there, a small velvet box. He’s full of anticipation. Joy. Just like Elle the very first time I saw her looking out into my field. It snares me and I feel it too. I stand in the corner of the room and watch him waiting for Elle. She comes home and makes a chirping noise of delight when she sees her flowers. They hold each other for a long time. Daniel gives her the little box. I rush over to stand with them to peer down at what’s inside. It’s a tiny pendant on a chain. It’s small like Elle herself. The chain is silver and as thin as a few strands of hair. Dangling from it is a small silver heart. The heart is engraved with the word Mommy.

I feel a stab of pain in my tattooed arm and cry out. No sound comes out, but my mouth is left hanging open. I look at Daniel and Elle, they’re both crying. I feel something inside of me growing, like a pressure – a warm, wonderful sensation filling me up and getting bigger. They’re hugging and I want to hug them too. I look down at my arm, the pain is gone now. I see that I have only six tattoos left. LOVE has disappeared.

 

4.

The house feels different now. I always enjoyed it here before, like I said, I’ve come to consider it home, but it’s even warmer now and more comfortable than ever. When Elle and Daniel go to bed, I lie on the couch, not out of fatigue, but the feeling it gives me. To be here in this house and feel this feeling – I love them. I know that’s why my tattoo disappeared. I’m sure of it. This state I’m in, this existence, must be some kind of test or something. I know there are six more emotions stamped on my arm but right now, this night, I snuggle into the couch (as much as I can call it snuggling, I don’t really feel the couch hugging me back) and I let myself be full of the thought of Elle and Daniel and their little family.

I won’t go into their bedroom at night anymore. It’s not that I was up there all the time, watching them go at it. But it was a curiosity at first and I satisfied it. It never made me feel dirty or wrong, but it also didn’t make me crazy with lust. It wasn’t sexual for me. It was like… learning. And falling in love a little bit I think, with both of them. Now, tonight, when I hear Elle’s sweet murmurs and Daniels’s deep sighs, I think of Dom.

On Monday I almost reluctantly go into town with Elle. Being in the house with the two of them feels wonderful. This weekend especially because on Sunday Elle’s family came for dinner and they had a bit of a party. I wandered the edges and listened to stories that Marjorie (Elle’s mother) told of when Elle was a baby and watched as Daniel couldn’t keep his eyes off of his wife the entire time. The safe feeling was more prevalent than ever.

I start noticing days on the calendar, I make a point to look at it. There’s one on the back door of the bathroom at home. I didn’t mean to find that one, the only way I could see the back of the door is if I’m in there and the door is closed. I was standing in that bathroom one day in front of the mirror. I was trying to do weird things with my eyes and meditate and make promises inside my head to see if I could get a reflection to appear. Suddenly, Elle burst through the doorway, slammed the door behind her, yanked her pants down and moaned softly as her pee gushed into the bowl. She must have really had to go. That’s when I saw their only calendar in the house, tacked to the back of the bathroom door. That had been when the calendar was set to May. But I had already seen calendars in town back in March. I knew that I came to be sometime in March.  When I saw the May date at home, that was also right after Elle found out she was pregnant. So I know it must be around June now. And I decide it’s time to follow Dom home. I’m curious about his house, where he lives, what his life is like, but I’m distracted by Trina. They’re all at the town square after school and Trina approaches him. It turns out that he’s quiet because he’s shy. She flirts with him. She calls him by his name every time they speak. He peeks at her through the curtain of his hair and she giggles. They meet here at the town square every day after school. Trina is reaching a hand out to Dom to brush his arm or playfully swat at his head if he says something. She thinks she knows him, but she doesn’t. I know him.

Once I follow him home for the first time, I go with him every day after that and even over the weekend, taking a break from my family (yes, I call them that now). I spend time with Dom and his family. School lets out and there’s a carefree way in Dom’s walk.  I haven’t seen a father at Dom’s house yet. It’s been five days and I’ve only seen a mother and a brother. They live in town, actually in one of the domino leaning houses. Dom’s bedroom is up on the third floor. It doesn’t have a proper door, there is just a curtain separating his half of the attic room with the storage half. I was worried the first time I followed him up there but the curtain works just like a door and I got past it fine. He has a mattress on the floor with a green quilt on it. It sits under the only window he has, a rectangle stamp gazing out onto Main Street.  He has books stacked on one wall – comic books, Steven King books, World War II history books. In the evenings he’s like all other teenage boys. He watches TV with his brother while his mother talks on the phone in the kitchen smoking cigarettes. They eat dinner in front of the TV. It’s there in Dom’s living room one day that I get the first smell that I don’t like. It’s peas. They’re having some kind of frozen dinner, the ones where you have to peel back the cellophane a little before you stick it in the microwave. Dom and his brother Tony sit in front of the TV with the trays resting on the coffee table. They hunker over their dinners with their forks poised in midair as they shout answers to Steve Harvey. I wrinkle my nose. Something smells bad. I work my way around the room, sniffing, until I work it out. It’s the peas in the Hungry Man on Tony’s tray. I look at Dom. I see he’s picking the peas out of his with his fork, flicking them to the side. I get the love feeling inside my chest again.

Hours later, after both boys fall asleep in front of the TV, one of them stirs and wakes up. He stumbles off the couch and goes upstairs. It’s Tony. Their mother went to bed ages ago. I’m standing by the window with the TV still blaring and darkness pressing against my back through the lace curtain. Dom shifts and mumbles something in his sleep. I go closer to him in case he repeats it. I’m as close I can be to him without sitting on his lap, which it now occurs to me to wonder if is possible. Would his body be like a chair and I could sit on it and feel it beneath me? Would I feel him? As I ponder this thought I feel a sensation, a little tingly moving deep inside of me, down below my abdomen. I ought to try. I turn and hover in front him on the couch. I close my eyes. I sit. I end up on the floor. Turns out his body is not equivalent to a chair.

However, just as I am executing my experiment, Dom shifts again. He stirs with his eyes still half closed and he whispers something. It sounds like a name. I bend my head down close to him without touching him of course. I feel my heart beat in that bottom part of me again, somewhere low, where Ellie and Daniel join together when they make love in their exquisite bed. Dom’s eyes flutter again. He is still half asleep. Like a robot or something not moving of its own accord, but by program, Dom reaches down and unzips his pants. I have the wild fantasy for one split second that he can see me. I feel a small hot flame ignite in that lower part of me. He shifts again, stretching back further into the couch and takes himself into his own hands. I feel a jolt of pain shoot through my tattooed arm at the same time it zooms through my nether regions. He mumbles the name again and I am so mesmerized by his motions that I miss it again. I long for it to be my name. I have no idea what my name is or if I even have a name, but I am frantic for it to be the name that Dom is whispering. Now he lets out a soft moan and a whimper as he works himself steadily and I uselessly cry out again from the pain in my tattoo. I imagine that I make a tiny slice of real out loud sound this time and I look down at my stabbing arm. PASSION is gone. I stare in shock for a second then lock eyes with Dom. I think for absolutely certain that he is going to name me as his lips part to speak again.

“Trina,” he gasps, very audibly and very clearly. My arm feels like a lightning bolt has struck it one more time and this time I am sure that the teeniest of sounds escapes me for real into the real world with my cry of pain. Dom slumps down on the couch with a sigh. His eyes are fully closed now. He is spent. My eyes fly back down to my arm and ENVY has disappeared as well.

 

5.

I don’t follow Dom home for a few days after that. I still hang out at the town square. I still watch him and Trina get closer until she is going home with him, but I keep my afterhours distance for a little while.  HATE is still on my arm but there is a big empty space next to it before the words FEAR, ANGER and PEACE. I stick close to home during the week now and go to town on the weekends. I have to walk to town if Daniel and Elle are being lazy around the house, doing yard work or sleeping in. I don’t mind. I keep thinking back to that night at Dom’s house when I apparently felt passion and envy within seconds of each other. I’d have thought anger would have gone too, because that’s what it felt like at first. But I worked it out in my head and realized what I was feeling was loss. I’m surprised that isn’t a word on my arm.

Since school is out for the summer Daniel is home a lot. He’s building a crib for the baby. He works in the back yard sanding, sawing and painting while little beads of sweat pop up on his biceps and forehead. Elle is starting to have a little bump that Daniel likes to kneel down in front of every so often and whisper to. Every time he does that I felt the love feeling again. Like a giant sigh, resting right in your center, all the warm breath reaching even to your fingertips and toes. When I feel like that is when I most think that I must be an angel. I am an angel here to watch over Elle and Daniel. Or something. I don’t understand the tattoo thing but I don’t have any other explanation. Unless they’d had a dirty blond 5’3 petite daughter die and I was her. But they are both too young to have had a daughter who was 5’3. Elle is twenty six and Daniel is twenty eight. The idea of who I am is a thought that doesn’t often occur to me but those are the theories I come up with when it does.

The other reason I sometimes go to the angel theory is the walking on water thing. It was only about two weeks after I came to be. I’d discovered car traveling and had been to town for over a week. There’s a section of town, not far from the square, down a path on the north side of the parking lot. If you walk down a foot carved dirt path into the woodsy part, you only need go about 50 yards and it opens up into a small lake. People gather there, especially on the weekends. They sunbath and let the kids romp around with Fido. It’s all quite picturesque. Except this one day. A toddler, maybe two years old, was near the edge of the lake. His parents were helping a sibling fly a kite. I was watching the toddler and the kite flyer in turns. The toddler took a few steps away from his father’s leg just as the wind caught the kite and both parents lunged forward, distracted by the escaping kite. The toddler was on the very slight downslope of the bank of the lake and stumbled and rolled into the water. I sprinted toward him as fast as I could, I surprised myself how fast I was, and was to him in a second. He’d only gone in about a foot and a half but I was by his side quickly, completely forgetting that I couldn’t help him. Instead of my feet going in the water they just skated on top of it. As if it were land. Not only couldn’t I touch the little boy (as I knew I wouldn’t be able to) but I couldn’t penetrate the water either. I reached my hand down and tried to splash or submerge my hand and it was stopped, just like when I try to pick something up or knock on a door.

The child’s father was there almost as quick as I was and the parents took the gasping, sputtering child onto the grass. He’d just swallowed a bit of water and was coughing it up in a raspy bark. Once I felt sure that he’d be okay I tried the water again. I walked across the lake. I wasn’t sure why but I felt like walking on water was something special. Something to be revered. And it clicked with my angel theory. I also had a mild curiosity as to how I knew to go and run and try and save the child. Was that instinct? Why wasn’t there a word on my arm showing something like that? Compassion?

 

In September something else happened in the town that caused my instinct or compassion or whatever to happen. There was a concert going on at the square. A lot of families were there – children in strollers, parents looking half harried-half relaxed as the musicians were setting up. People were setting up picnic blankets on the lawn part in front of the veranda. The statue stood down the path at the entrance to the square. Everyone’s back was to it, all were sitting on the grass part, facing the veranda. No one was looking. No one except me. I had been enjoying the music, staring around at the children’s faces, taking in a head count. The Murphys, the Witwickys, the Patels. I saw Dom and Trina holding hands and a bunch of kids from their class.  Some were looking older with mustaches on a few of the boys. I saw Benjamin, the toddler who I thought would drown with his parents and brother. The man who worked the register at Walgreens on the overnight shift was there with the librarian (I had spent a surprisingly short time at the library, becoming frustrated at not being able to hold a book to turn pages). My eyes fell on the statue of the children and the butterfly and there were three teenagers I didn’t recognize. They didn’t go to the high school, I was sure of it. They were and greasy and unkempt. There were three boys and two of them, the tall skinny ones, were looking around at the crowd with shifty eyes and they were nudging the short fat one in the middle. They were laughing silently. I watched as the short boy in the middle unzipped and started pissing on the statue. I felt a sharp prick on my arm which turned into a stabbing as I ran toward the boys who were clutching themselves with laughter. I tried to bowl into them but just flew right threw them. But the “ouch!” that escaped from me with the last jolt of pain in my arm was absolutely, definitely audible. All three boys heard it. They twisted around and looked at me. Well their eyes never came into focus because of course they couldn’t see me, but they’d heard me. The short one zipped up and all three took off running. I expected it and wasn’t surprised to see that when I looked down ANGER was missing in action.

 

6.

I am spending most of October trying to invoke my voice. I heard it that day in the square. The three boys heard it. I try to recreate it. I search out situations where I feel a strong sense of love, passion or envy and just open my mouth and push my voice out in long aaaaaaaaahs and eeeeeeeehhhhs. It never works. I’m sure I just end up looking foolish, albeit to no one. I hang out at home a lot with Elle and Daniel and feel myself full of love on most days. Especially this one time when I came downstairs from having been watching Elle try to paint her toenails over a round pumpkin of a belly and Daniel sitting on the couch watching The Family Feud. I stood behind him looking at the back of his blond head while he shouted answers at the TV. Steve Harvey asked the two women standing at the podium, their hands each one behind a back and one on the giant red buzzer the next poll question.

“We surveyed one hundred men. Name the most beautiful –”

“Elle!” Daniel shouted before Steve even said ‘actress in Hollywood’. That moment made me expand with the joy of love so much I thought for sure my open mouth would emit a bona-fide sound. It was silent but for the TV.

I go to Dom’s house frequently and watch him sleep. I tried touching myself, it didn’t work. Not the way I meant it to anyway. I could feel myself, but it didn’t get a sound out of me. Sometimes Trina is there but I can’t bring myself to watch a scene that makes me envious, I had not enjoyed that feeling at all.

I go with Dom and Trina on dates. Something with Trina doesn’t sit with me right. I understand the envy part. I know she has something that I covet. I ache to be able to touch Dom, stroke his hair, and feel his arms around me. It is only during these times – following Dom, lingering behind him and Trina at the movies, lounging on the steps of the veranda that I long to be out of my state of being and a part of the real world. Trina coos and giggles and pouts often with Dom. She also has eyes that wander. I watch her eyes. They pass over the other teenage boys, and sometimes the fathers in town, and linger. Dom doesn’t notice. I stay with him many nights after Trina has gone home. I watch him sleep, listen to the soft puff puff sound his breath makes in the bluish darkness of his attic room.

One day in early November I decide to visit Trina’s house. I think maybe forgiveness will give me PEACE. I think that I should get to know her a little better and maybe I could find PEACE with my ENVY. She lives near the hospital where Elle works. It isn’t a great neighborhood. The same falling-downness as Main Street but without the charming little town feel or the people sitting on their porches drinking hot cocoa. I wait on the porch for hours until a boy older than Trina comes home. He goes into the living room and I follow. It’s dark inside. There is brown carpet and wood paneled walls. An enormous entertainment unit in dark stained wood takes up an entire wall. It holds a glass fronted, bulging TV, knickknacks of bunny rabbits and candles in the shape of seashells on its shelves. There are also empty soda cans, picture frames and a full ashtray.  Trina is laying on the couch with her head in the lap of another boy. It is not Dom.

The older who boy led me in the house must be her brother. He resembles her and when he came in, he told her, “Mom will be home in twenty,” and he kept walking into the next room. I don’t understand why Trina is here with her head in this boy’s lap. He is familiar. I’ve seen him somewhere but I can’t place it. I scan all the faces from Dom’s class in my head. He’s not in Dom’s class. Trina strokes his head. Something on TV makes him laugh. I knew who he is. I’ve heard that laugh before. As he stood next to his pissing friend at my statue. I feel anger boil inside of me. Out of habit while feeling an emotion, I open my mouth and push. No sound comes out. The boy gets up, faces Trina, grabs the back of her head and mushes them together. They make out noisily for a few minutes and then he leaves abruptly.

“See you later,” he says as he goes out the front door.

Trina leans toward his retreating figure, spreading herself on the couch with shocking sexuality and purrs after him, “I can’t wait.”

I know it’s coming before I feel the stab. I open my mouth wide and say, “No!” It doesn’t come out as loud as it should, but it is absolutely audible. Trina sits bolt upright and looks around. Her eyes pass over me several times. She gets up and goes to the door. She opens it and looks outside. I am standing in her living room gaping like a fish trying to make another sound as waves of hatred consume me and my arm shows one less tattoo.

 

7.

In the second week of December I see Trina again for the first time since I’d lost HATE to her. I don’t want to feel hate. I’m ashamed of it. I wonder why shame isn’t on my arm. I haven’t been to visit Dom in a while either, though I do see him occasionally because I know his hangouts away from Trina. I figure that if I see Dom less, I will feel less attracted to him and therefore less vested in his future with Slutty O’Hara. I spend nearly all of my time with Elle and Daniel. People are staying inside their houses more because of the cold, and I don’t like getting stuck overnight away from home.

I have come into town with Daniel and Elle to go to the market. Trina is here, shopping with her mother. I shy away from her, as though she can see me and sense my conflicting feelings swishing behind her as she walks in front of me. I go and wait for Elle and Daniel by the car.

The crib is done. It’s in a cleared out space in Elle and Daniel’s giant bedroom where the desk used to be. The desk is now in the root cellar. I’ve never gone to the root cellar, not because I’m afraid, I just don’t fancy getting stuck down there since neither one of them go into it very often. It’s snowing outside and Elle is waddling around the kitchen baking. She keeps taking breaks. Her belly is so big that she has to reach just to get to the stove and she can barely wash dishes. She tells Daniel in her sweet perfect voice, with a tinkle of a laugh, that she has broken the last three eggs onto the floor. He tells her to scoop them up that he like his snickerdoodles with bits of kitchen dirt. She goes into the living room and sits on his lap. He groans like a man squashed by a piano. She giggles and tells him how much their son or daughter will need last minute things and this will be good practice for him to run to the store to fetch the eggs.

He groans again, kisses her on the tip of her nose, stands her up, kisses her belly and gets his coat. I decided to go with him. I don’t need a coat because I can’t feel the weather. But I can smell it. It’s crisp and sends a whoosh of winter up my nose. The air is fragile, like a good hard sneeze will break or shatter it. I get into in Daniel’s car with him and we drive into town. The snow is only just starting to lay and that must make the road slippery. Because when we are going around the last bend that turns into the Walmart road, his tires skid and we careen into the guard rail and my arm explodes with pain. It’s fear. Only I’m not afraid for myself. I never even once give a thought to me. I don’t know if you can die when you’re already dead or whatever I am anyway. I see Elle and her protruding belly and their unmade bed and the blue door and Daniel kissing her belly, whistling while he cooks and Elle standing over his grave weeping and that’s when my arm feels pierced. I am shouting and the shout becomes audible for the merest fraction of a second. I doubt Daniel even hears it because he is being thrown sideways and a great billowing, cracking, rushing sound comes from his side of the car as the side airbag deploys and he bounces against it hard and back so far his head bangs into my knee. Of course he doesn’t feel it, it’s just the seat of the car to him. But he is awake. And okay. And alive. And I check my arm to make sure relief is not a word fading away because that’s the only thing I feel at that moment. FEAR has gone.

 

8.

It’s Christmas Eve. Daniel has a new car. Elle is so big with pregnancy she almost has to keep herself bent slightly backwards to walk normally. The house is decorated with a twinkling Christmas tree and a fire crackles in the wood stove every night.  The town is having a Christmas caroling event at the square. Everything is decorated so beautifully. The children in the statue have wreathes on their heads. The posts of the veranda are weaved with holly leaves and they shimmer with tinsel.  A giant red bow is in the center of each post. The streetlamps that encircle the square each have evergreen twisting down their shafts and little bells hung in sections. Everyone is here, it’s the largest crowd I’ve seen. Elle and Daniel of course, Daniel’s students, the high school kids, the people who work at Walmart and the post office. Dom is here with his mother and his brother. Trina is not. They have broken up. Dom was sullen and sulky for a little while, but he’s recently started hanging at the square again. There is a core group of people in the front singing, and everyone else is scattered in clumps around the square and many of them are singing too. The night is lit not only by the streetlamps but also by the moon, which stands sentry in the sky, a brilliant disk hanging in doughy blackness. People are bundled up and huddled together, it must be very cold. Swirls of breath circle each group of people, glittering as songs exit their mouths. I stand behind Elle and Daniel who are arm in arm. I can hear Elle’s sweet voice over everyone else’s. I don’t think she’s singing louder, only it’s the loudest voice to my ears. Daniel moves his hand up and down her back tilting his head closer hers. He kisses her cheek. I feel it coming. I sense the buildup of the burning starting, not in my arm, but in my heart. It’s hot and pointy like an arrow. It starts in my heart and runs through my shoulder and down my arm where it explodes from my bare sleeved skin and the place with the last tattoo. Then Elle gasps, it’s sound of surprise and she takes a step back. She doubles over in pain and I see the wetness down her legs, even through her layers of clothes.

I let out a wail, and suddenly I am not standing in the square at all. I am in a place full of people. It’s a very bright place. It has a glowing light that I’m not sure is coming from anywhere, and yet it’s everywhere. All the people in this place are like me. They all wear blue jeans and white t-shirts. White tennis shoes. I am flying through this place like a memory reel in a film. Only fast like the subway. I see blurred tattooed arms whizzing by me, and faces. Tons and tons of faces. I laugh then out loud. I hear the sound of it and feel the stabbing pain again and then I arrive screaming, kicking, slick and wrinkled, into Elle and Daniel’s world. I am a girl.