December 11th, 1992

The day I lost my dad.


I am kneeling beside my father. He’s dead.

I look at him for a long time. I’ve never seen a dead body before.

I want to memorize his face and hands before he is in the ground.

His mouth is open. His eyes are fixed and wide. He is frozen with a look of surprise. I reach out to touch the back of his neck. My fingers barely land when I feel the prickle of shorn hair and cold, firm flesh.

I immediately withdraw my hand.

I am devastated that he’s gone. I never thought I would feel bad on this day.

My face is numb and tight from the departed tears that I didn’t bother to stop, catch or dry.

His hair is stiff and sharp. It’s cut so close and damaged from the radiation. It’s seems almost burnt.

His nose is pronounced and pointed. When he was healthy, it was round and red, but he’s lost so much weight. It’s chiseled bare.

His cheeks are waxy melting mounds. Smooth and brown.

His hands are large; dangerous. They are still, yet frightening. The monster strength is gone, but they summon the fear of what was possible, what was done.

He is a mechanic. But he has the cleanest, longest nails I’ve ever seen on a man. The palms are soft and tender, amazingly so.

My hands are close to his. The backs of my hands are rough, pale and dry. White with flakes. My nails are short and torn. Red and sore like my eyes.

I can sense that whatever lights the eye and warms the blood is gone from him. There is no recognition, not even a grimace.

His spirit has sighed away and what is left is just a heap of tumors, bones and bile. He will never talk, kiss, threaten, smoke, curse, drink, hit, hate, love, work, sacrifice, shame or wrestle on this earth again. He can’t hurt any more, but he also can’t fix a thing.

I have lost him. I. Am. Lost.

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Mystery

It’s a mystery as to why I can’t find a job. Why I would start my own business. What the name of my new party planning pop-up is going to be called.

Any suggestions???

Premise:

I wrote this murder mystery and published on Amazon: Updo! Now, I’m going to start hosting this adult role-playing game in my own local community. I’ve already done this with my friends, back in KC. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had at a party. And totally original. I also threw a similar party for my daughter, but age appropriate. They seemed to really like it. It was more of a junior high adventure with clues. I could even write new, customized mysteries for any theme: Western saloon, 50s diner, 40s detective noir.

The mystery for this one is: someone is murdered at a salon and all of the party guests are a character from the story. While relaxing with spa-like activities, the guests participate in clue-revealing sketches. Everyone takes a “stab” (LOL) at guessing who the killer is at the end. There are stations, silliness and a very funny makeup and hair makeover contest for all the ladies.

What should I call my new business?

Martha’s Murder Mysteries?
Pop-up Party Mysteries?

What would you call it? I would love your suggestions!

Les is More

More from Present Tense, Vol. 2


Les. His name is Les–in bright, white, shiny-stitched letters on a red oval just over the pocket. Dark gray uniform.
Mr. Les. Our elementary school janitor/maintenance man.

Les has a smiling face even when his lips may not be turned. His eyes are perpetually up/happy/sweet/youthful. Light blue, effervescent, smiling icicle eyes. Mr. Les takes our tickets at lunch. He takes our tickets and gives out winks and smiles.
He pinches the small carnival ticket between his thumb and the fleshy lower section of his curled up index finger. He does this with kindness, gentility and ease; as if he’s softly
offering his hand to a nervous dog.
His job does not diminish him in spirit or in body. He energetically does his tasks even
though his perfectly white hair reveals his age. And his pride does not grimace at the simplest/basest of tasks. He sprinkles magic janitor dust on vomit, pee and all manner of stains. Dutifully.
He is friendly to all. He is especially nice to me. I respect him. I have no reason not to. His humility and warmth are rare. He is decent. He is tender.
He is an uncommon man. Hero.
The air is crisp. The wind is swift. He carries me from the playground when I twist my ankle and can’t walk. He carries me all the way to the healthroom. I’m at least 100 lbs.

The air is warm. The wind is still. He puts his arm around me, pats my back, reassures me that I am loved and respected when a girl threatens my friends and me at recess. “We’re going to miss you around here when you leave.” Tears.


I love you, Mr. Les. I don’t know where you are, or if you’re even still here, but you were/are a good man. And you made this child happier. Thank you.

Black Stove, Purple Lamp

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense


We are standing in the living room. We are moving our belongings out of the house because my parents are fighting again. My brother is now married and lives in a nearby town with his wife. He is helping us move.

My father confronts my brother in the living room with a baseball bat and threatens to hurt each of us if we do not leave the house immediately.
My father swings the bat to show his intention. Lands a blow on the free-standing wood-burning stove. He leaves quite a dent in the black sheet metal exterior. A dent that will live with us for all time.
He then swings again to assert his presence and smashes my mother’s favorite lamp. It was a beautiful purple lamp. Two lights, beautiful hand-painted designs on the glass shades and delicate gold filigree edging. Gone with one blow.
He smashes the lamp, I imagine, to see the pained look of surprise on her face. He wants to see her hurt.

Tiny little shards embedded in the carpet. Gouges torn in the wood of the end table. Hearts shattered at the violence, but not for things. Splinters of feelings scattered and strewn.


This would not be the last time I would see this house. It should have been.
The house is gone now. Swallowed up in time. Rotted with weather and neglect and turmoil. But it housed our violent, chaotic family for nearly 20 years. It existed and so did we. A new house stands in its place.
So long now. But the violence persists in my mind.
Sometimes, I wish my mind or memories would rot, but they are rock solid. The negativity built on unshaken cliffs of time-battered trauma.

Memories can be swept away like sand on the shore, but this bedrock is immovable. Formed in liquid lava and cooled to stone for all time.


We moved back very soon after this incident. Perhaps 1-2 months later. We left several times, but never for very long. Unfortunately.

’66 Chevelle

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense.


I am 14 or 15 years old. Saturday morning. I’m lying down, but awake. I am in my bedroom with the door closed. There is one loud voice and one scared voice in the next room.
“Where is she?”
He is choking my sister. He is pulling her hair. He is threatening her. He is hurting my sister because my mother isn’t there to hurt.
He leaves her bedroom. I stop moving, thinking, inhaling in the hope that I will not be next. Not quickly enough, I hear the back door bang.
I hear my sister stir. I hear her muffled, wet breaths. She is crying.
I hear my father opening the hood of my sister’s car, the car that she shares with my mother.


’66 Chevelle Malibu. The one with the rusted-out hole in the floor board. The one with white paint and blue vinyl seats. The one with jagged rear window posts that cut your hand when you’re not careful. The one that an old lady drove to church and the store and only had several thousand miles when we bought it almost 20 years after it was made. The classic. The sweet-ass sportster. The muscle car from Malibu. The one that will take a beating.


I look out the window of my bedroom and see my father ripping wires out of the engine. He slams the hood closed and now takes a hammer he must have grabbed on the way out. He pounds the metal repeatedly with quick, powerful blasts and leaves at least two dozen or more marks.
These are not dings. These are not dimples. These are deep, hate-filled holes.
“Get out of here.”
My sister calls my brother and we leave. We wait at the end of our driveway for my brother to pick us up. We don’t speak to one another. I am powerless to change what is happening. I can only follow, obey and relinquish any hope of being normal.


Every time I tell this story, it makes me afraid all over again. But. I lived. So I am thankful for this story. It reminds me that I can survive. And that I never have to live that way again.

Let’s All Go To the Movies.

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense


My mother and father have lost the will to parent. I am sitting in a dark movie theatre with Mom, Dad and my sister. I am five, almost six.
Alien.
Oh, God. That man’s face has just been attacked by an octopus egg.
Oh, God. The android’s head is decapitated from his body and milky fluid is shooting out from his neck.
I am screaming. I am crying. I am being ushered quickly to the lobby by my mother.

We lounge for about a minute.
“Ready to go back?”
Okay, there are no more bodiless robots. Popcorn.
I have to have my legs in my seat. I am sitting cross-legged. No aliens can possibly eat my dangling legs if they are safely tucked up, away from their snotty teeth.
Oh, God. There’s spaghetti exploding from that guy’s open stomach.
Oh, God. It’s a baby alien. I am screaming. I am crying. I am being ushered.
A minute.
“Ready to go back?”
My parents also let me watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Deliverance (ABC Presentation of the Week). Also, A Thief in the Night.
This 1972 (made before I was even born) Christian classic talks about end times. Christians are taken to heaven in the rapture and non-believers are left behind. Everyone has to take the 666-Mark of the Beast tattoo or they can’t buy eggs and butter. People who just want a little breakfast are arrested for trying to buy groceries, and a girl with a balloon gets beheaded on a guillotine. There’s a fun song at the end, too.
I wish we’d all been ready…

The synopsis of this movie may be slightly inaccurate. It’s what I remember and the impression that remains.


I lived through what seemed like a very real threat of nuclear annihilation during the height of the Cold War and was constantly worried about being microwaved to oblivion by a nuke. These movie nights and paranoid world destruction fantasies could be considered the bright, sunny moments of my childhood with an abusive father. My prayer, as I got older, became this:

If I have to die–God, just don’t let me die a virgin.

Vol. 2 (continued)

More from my second volume of Present Tense. These excerpts have not been published or seen. This is from the time I visited my dad in the hospital, just before he passed. He was very sick. End-stage cancer.


Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em


Lung cancer. He smoked for over 45 years. Sometimes 3 packs a day. Sometimes a pipe. Rarely marijuana.
He is laying in bed in a hospital room. I walk into the room with my mother and sister. He’s in a gown, head shaved and Sharpie marks on his scalp. That’s where they focus the radiation. That’s where the brain tumors are. There are several marks. There are other places in his body that have cancer. Leg. Stomach. Chest.
He’s uncomfortable. He starts to squirm. He rolls onto his stomach, props himself up on his elbows and knees. My mother rubs his back. She whispers softly in his ear. She looks scared. So does he. This is the most vulnerable, tender moment I have ever seen them share. The pain passes.
He looks at me and asks me to buy him a pack of cigarettes. He hands me several dollar bills. I agree.
Our philosophies were in agreement on this day and many to follow. The world is a brief, harsh place and you find pleasure where you can.
I was not going to deny a dying man his last want or need.
We are on our way to my grandmother’s funeral.

Vol. 2 (More)

This is more of unpublished Vol. 2. The next 3 chapters deal with my attempted suicide at the age of 15. It wasn’t a question of “if I would try to kill myself,” but “when?” I am not suicidal at this point in my life. I have put that demon down. Teens are the most susceptible demographic IMO, but you know, they don’t have a fully developed brain either.
Depression is rage turned inward. Suicide is an expression of that rage against self. Or can be. It’s also a hopelessness. Hopeless that anything will ever be better or different.

I can verify; it does get better. Get help at any cost.


The Day I Decide to Kill Myself


I am wandering around the basketball court. It’s gym class and I am lost. A girl is dribbling the ball up and down the court, complaining that no one is trying. No one is paying attention to her as she plays by herself, weaving in and out of reluctant, zombified teammates and opponents. No one even tries to defend the goal. I would call this forcible sport. No one gives a shit. This isn’t real basketball. This isn’t a game for points that leads you to a championship. This is gym. Required by the state.
The girl is abusive. She is hateful and accusatory. I was randomly selected to be on her team and she is disappointed by my performance so far. She tells me that I’m worthless. You’re not even trying. You’re lazy.
These are all things that my father says. We would all rather not have to change into shorts and tennis shoes in the middle of the day to sweat and mangle our makeup and hair. We would all rather not have to look at each other naked or shower together. We would all rather be somewhere else living life and not playing basketball. Except for this girl.
And what does it matter anyway? What does it matter if I play basketball in gym class? It doesn’t matter because I will never play on a team. I will never be this girl’s friend. An afternoon class of basketball will never change anything. It won’t earn me money. It won’t make me lose weight. It won’t make a boy fall in love with me. What is the point?
If I had any courage or care, I would say:
Bitch, pass the ball and maybe somebody could have a fucking chance.
But nice girls don’t say things like that. Nice girls don’t say anything at all. Nice girls let people walk all over them. I’m not really nice though.
I’m supposed to be nice. Being nice is what separates me from my father.
I’m just scared. I’m not scared of this girl. I’m scared of not being able to stop once I let go of all mannered society and beat this girl until she’s bloodied and unconscious. I am afraid to become what terrorizes me at home. I’m afraid that if I mess up then I will lose
my mother’s acceptance. My mother never taught me to stand up for myself, even when it was necessary. She taught me to take it. She taught me to keep it inside. She taught me through her own silence and inaction.
If I behaved like my father then no one would love me, not even my own mother. I can’t take any more abuse; in school, at home, in life, from this girl.
And I cannot be unloved by my mother.
I cannot go unloved one more day; by this girl, by my father, by the boys I want, by the world in general. I am completely alone and I want to die. There is no other option. I will kill myself today. When I get home, I’m taking the aspirin.

Algebraic Expressions (Basic Algebra Made Me Want to Kill Myself)


I am sitting in algebra class. I am completely uninterested in basic algebra and the teacher makes the material even more pathetic with his ridiculously poor presentation skills.
He’s actually a football coach who has to teach to have a job. No one pays
attention to this man. We all talk freely in his class. Also, we pass notes openly, seldom
listening to his demonstrations. He is a sad man who doesn’t require any of us to actually respect him. I am brazenly resting my head on my small desk as I listen to the conversations around me.
A girl behind me is whispering about taking an entire bottle of aspirin.
It makes your stomach bleed. That’s one way to kill yourself.
Why are they talking about suicide? Would it really work? How many aspirin though? A whole bottle of how many? Fifty? Five hundred?
That could really kill you? I asked as I slightly turned in my chair.
Yeah.
Hm.

Final Blowout


I am at home now. No one else around. I am scrambling through the cabinet above the refrigerator for the aspirin. There. A whole bottle. There are some missing, but the bottle says 500 tablets. Probably at least 400 left. Maybe 300. Surely that will kill me. I gobble them down. All at once. Chewing, swallowing, crying. Then I wait. I only wait for a few minutes before I panic. I don’t want to die.
I am laying in a hospital bed. I am drinking Ipecac (which is the sound you make after taking it) and liquid charcoal. I have an IV attached to my right hand. I have a pan on my stomach. 2 nurses, 1 doctor and my mother are staring at me, waiting for me to vomit. Everyone’s being nice to me.
My mother is stroking my hair and the nurses are showing me sympathy. The doctor is highly interested in my stomach contents and is excitedly anticipating their arrival.
Drinking the charcoal is better than having your stomach pumped, the nurse reassures me.
They have to stick a tube down your throat and then pump the same liquid down the tube.
Well, at least I wouldn’t have to taste it. That might be better. This ain’t no chocolate shake, bitch. I think this, but I just give a wincing smile while I chug-a-lug. The doctor keeps checking the pan.
Nothing yet?
I shake my head no. I don’t feel nauseous at all. I begin to wonder what the charcoal is doing. Does it just absorb all the bad stuff? Does aspirin really do anything to you?
Am I supposed to throw up? I don’t ask a lot of questions because I’m embarrassed to
speak.
A nurse asks me if I need to be admitted. My mother is there and I shake my head no. She asks me if I still feel like harming myself. I don’t.
No. I made a mistake.
My mother makes it clear that I will be safe in her care. She doesn’t think that I need to stay. They release me. I haven’t vomited yet, but they say it’s only a matter of time and if I don’t get rid of everything soon, I should return.
I stand up and walk to the nurses station, ready to leave. I should go to the bathroom before we leave.
I am sitting down. Without warning, I have to vomit. No time to pull up my pants, only enough time to stand, turn and bend. My throat tightens, my temples vein, my eyes tear and my stomach, back and chest spasm until the black is gone.
It’s like a horror movie. I vomit black liquid all over the toilet, the wall, the floor. I begin to clean the charcoal from all the surfaces and then it comes again. More black. Now I wait just a few minutes before I start to clean again. It takes several paper towels
to wipe most of it away. I’m not able to remove all of it. I’m ashamed to tell the nurse.
She is thankful. She is not at all disturbed by the condition of the bathroom.
I ask for my hospital admittance bracelet that they cut and trashed. We head home.
I realize that I was so desperate for affection that I was willing to go to great lengths to get attention of any kind. I am dying on the inside to be held, kissed and loved. I just want to be seen. I don’t want to die. I just want to be loved. At any cost, by anyone.

Present Tense

Here is a link to the video on Youtube. My daughter made the video when she was 10 yo. Thanks, Lil.


I am four years old.  They are fighting.  I don’t remember the words now, but they are yelling.  Fuzzy scenes, like cloudy dreams, blurring in and out of focus.  Down in the basement, in the laundry room, I hear hot voices and cold words.  I peek around the corner.  He pushes her down on the concrete floor.  She’s weak, flailing, grabbing with desperate hands.  She can’t resist.  She scrambles up when she sees that I’m there.  She stutters a lie through tears, “I’m okay.”  She says it certainly.  Forcefully almost.  But I see the truth in her eyes.  She’s scared and we both think she’s going to die.

My mother has long, dark hair.  She would look like a Native American mother warrior with her tan, lined face and downward-turned eyes/mouth except for her bangs.  She won’t wear her hair without bangs.  She fell out of a moving car when she was just five years old.

Her forehead is scarred from the accident.  It is a terrible mark.  It’s dull purple with blue and yellow streaks, permanently bruised somehow.  It has deep white ridges where the flesh comes together to hold back brains, blood and skull.  It looks as if the bone just under the skin is broken and could spill its contents from the slightest pressure.

I touch it as if it could bite me.  It is tough though, surprisingly and sufficiently.  It’s troubling, remarkable and totally unbelievable that someone could have such a scar and be walking around performing everyday tasks.

I’m staring up at her from the front seat of the car.  She’s seatbeltless.  Hair full of wind and eyes on the road.  Her fingers are wrapped around the thin metallic wheel.  Her forehead is rough, but her cheeks are feathery and thin, soft under my tiny hand.  When I trace her lips, she playfully snarls, bares her teeth and chomps at my fingers.  She has beautiful, somber eyes, full of pain and pensiveness.  She doesn’t often have a smile, but when she does, you know it’s for you and you know it’s for real.

She is five years old.  She is riding quietly in the backseat of the sedan.  She falls asleep.  Her hand, arm or knee gently releases the door latch.  Within a breath, she is inches from the road, ground rushing under her.  My grandmother, from the front seat, is holding her hand or arm so she won’t fall.  My grandfather is braking.  My mother will be crushed by the turning back tire unless Grandma lets go.

Grandma lets go.

Li’l Lil is taken to the hospital and that sickening cut at the top of her sadly-sweet baby face is her rippling flag of salvation.  Her never-ending experiment of bangs begins.  On some level, consciously or not, this must make her feel like a little girl for the rest of her life.  A scared, torn-up little girl who hides her secrets behind those bangs.  I know how she feels.

Dear Reader,

This is an excerpt from my book Present Tense.  It’s a very short, vignette-style memoir. Quick read with lots of imagery.  You can find the rest of my book Present Tense at amazon.com.  Here’s the link: Present Tense.  You can read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Thanks for reading!


This was from Vol. 1. More of Vol. 2 later today!

Vol. 2

The plan was always to release a Vol. 2 of my book Present Tense. But, as with most things, I was unable to complete the final version. I have many stories to publish and I thought, “Life is too short to leave them unread.” So I’m publishing them here. One by one. They are just little snippets of childhood. Sometimes, difficult to read. But all real, all precious. Mainly because they show my heart and where it’s been.


This new house is where I will spend the rest of my adolescence and teenage years. This is the house of sunken tubs and cigarette stains. This is the house of deep divides and dark, fake paneling. This is the house where I decide to kill myself.
I am lying in bed, shaking. I can’t stop shaking. I am some age between 5 and 15. I am scared. For mom and me. My parents are only 10 feet from my bedroom door. The door is shut, but it is cheap and he is screaming.
She is crying. She begs him to leave her alone. He keeps verbally attacking her, calling her a pig, threatening to kill her. I can hear him pushing her down. I can hear her land hard on the sofa. I can hear him hitting her. Spitting words through teeth. Seething, growling, possessed and angry.
I can hear every agonizing detail and only until I am shaking violently do I realize I’m shaking at all. I can’t stand it. I resolve to defend my mother and end the encounter. I walk quickly into the room and I scream at my father to stop. I can’t remember anything that happens after that.