So. One Christmas. Can’t remember how old I was. Some age below puberty. I wanted a Barbie Dream Cottage. The one with the elevator.
My mom had made a dollhouse years ago out of cardboard and leftover scraps. It was amazing! It had furniture and everything. It wasn’t very big, but the time and effort she put into it was much appreciated. We wore it out and tore it up.
But now. A few years later. I wanted a big-girl Barbie Dream Cottage. The real deal. And she got it.
She put it in her closet. In plain sight. The box was so big that you could just walk in their room and see the bright-white box gleaming from the closet shelf. Even if she would have wrapped it, I would have known what I was getting. Subtlety had been
prison-stabbed a long time ago in this family.
So. I saw it. Probably a week or more before Christmas. When I saw it, I immediately started begging my mother to let me open it early.
Please, please, please. *Heavy breathing and groaning*
I just had this deep, deep anxiety, anticipation, worry, eagerness. If I didn’t get the cottage now, I will have wasted all of this Christmas vacation play time.
Kids have several days off before Christmas. Sitting at home. Waiting for Christmas to arrive. Swallowing their excitement over and over like big gulps of air until they hyperventilate on Christmas. It’s completely and totally insane.
While adults are preparing the food, and the tree, and the food, and the presents, the food and the food, and the nog, and the food. Kids are watching TV, filling their gobs with bon-bons, hopefully running in and out of the snow and shaking presents like Polaroid pictures.
What did she expect? From me? Slobberbox McWhiny-Pants?
Please. Please. Pleeeeease.
I could tell she was upset and very disappointed. Frustrated. Mad. She hated my lack of self-control in that moment. I know she did.
But she left me have it. (LOL, oh boy, did she left me have it) On one condition. No, and I mean no, help in putting it together.
I ran to the closet. I tore that box open like a box of Twinkies. Laid out all the parts and started assembling. I looked at the instructions briefly, but intuitively knew what went where. Mostly. I got to a point where something had to be screwed.
I knew where the screwdriver was and I ran to get it. I started screwing that Barbie cottage up. Royally.
Something went wrong and I put the wrong screw in the wrong hole or screwed it too far or something. I warped the heavy plastic on the roof and it turned a lighter shade of orange. Some parts had to be taped. Scotch tape. But I put it together.
I was mildly disappointed. But at the same time thrilled and slightly proud of myself for wrestling my mother into a rarely-achieved coup, putting together a complex gift, and to be immediately playing with my new toy before Christmas. I was the only one with a gift! Ha!
That pride and newness quickly waned. When Christmas finally arrived, I had lost any thrill and was jealous of those receiving presents and I had none to open.
I learned a hard lesson that day. One that my mother was willing to teach me. Best to wait. Wait for help. Wait for others. Enjoy each moment, with or without a gift. Wait for joy. It’s better when you wait. Or! Joy is not in receiving a gift, joy is found in obedience, patience and self-control. Restraint is its own reward.
But I had that Barbie Dream Cottage until I was 15? I hadn’t played with it for years, but I held on to it. It was the most expensive thing I owned, to that point. Ha. Then I gave it to another little girl.
Forgotten fried chicken.
Used, cold skillet.
Shimmering in congealed bacon fat.
Brown, yellow, orange matted carpet.
Clutter. Papers. Fly swatter. Plants.
Hum of the dingy fridge.
Greasy haze of low-light air.
Stale-flavored ice that can’t be cracked with mere teeth.
Dish upon dish.
So much that the sink disappears and one large dinner plate/utensil mound erupts from the countertop.
Dripping faucet plinking against tin.
Sad, somber, soft.
Dark, dirty, dull.
A small photo soaking in the developer of my brain.
Your watery image takes shape and fades quick.
You existed. I remember.
Hooks and hay
Legs, arms, hair, feet
Pulleys and rope
Dangle like hope
From these loft floor cracks and old barn rafters
High on sunshine, shade and sugar
Soft difference between water and air
Swaying, yellow grass grazing the crisscrosses on my overalled back
I won’t touch this ground again with my pink toes
Only with my mind
Harms from self-reflection
Are immune to charms of self-protection.
Stalled on a sticky web of tangled thoughts
Tenderness trapped like flailing, flapping flies
Wrapped and stranded
On silk and surrendered sighs
Dripping like honey dewdrops
Dotting my dusty desk at dusk
I feast and toast this bitter roast of memory.
This is not the surface of Mars. But I wish it was. A sci-fi Bradbury story and not my life.
Scared and Scarred
I am 6. Tender. Overly sensitive. Idealistic. In the living room watching TV (listening to my parents scream).
My father is chasing my mother from the bedroom to the living room. She sits on the sofa by the window. He grabs her leg and drags her from the cushion. Her pants rip and she awkwardly falls to the floor, pinned between the sofa and coffee table.
My brother jumps up and tangles himself with my father. My brother is 17 and a full-grown male. He might be one inch taller than my father. He weighs less, but not by much and has anger and youth on his side. They wrestle and fall into a window. The glass breaks and the fighting continues. They push each other away and stand panting and snarling, waiting for each other to make a move.
My brother walks out of the house into the yard and my father follows. They exchange violent words and my father threatens to stab my brother. He holds his hand in his pocket, standing at a distance from my brother, claiming to have a knife.
I will cut your gizzards out.
One of the many delusional things my father utters. It makes little sense. He is embarrassingly profane and foaming at the mouth. He taunts my brother to attack again. I can’t remember how it’s resolved.
Sometime later, I crawl up on the sofa to look at the broken window and wonder why our afternoon was disturbed. I cut my knee with a shard of broken glass hidden in the cushion. I still have the scar today. It looks like a soggy piece of puffed rice
cereal landed on my knee and stuck.
The cut was deep. Huge beads of blood. The emotional hurt was even deeper.
Complex PTSD is real. This memory was written in present tense to show how real memories can seem. You can relive some trauma at the slightest trigger: smell (cigarette smoke), action (washing hands), word (gizzards), threat (humiliation), similar circumstance (injustice). Reliving some nightmare from the past isn’t easy. In fact, it’s soul crushing. Mind melting. Scariest thing a person ever has to do–walk into the past like a darkened, grimy hallway of a forgotten house of pain. With no skills, lights or way to defend yourself. Anyone with C-PTSD does not want to be permanently haunted with ghosts. But the mind can’t erase severe hurt. It tries, but those imprints have power. Evict those ghosts with the Holy Spirit and this link: Self-Help Strategies for PTSD Visit this site as well: AnxietyBC
And get help. Talk to someone. Anyone.
This weekend I realized–I am serving my past, not my professed master Jesus. I am serving horrible memories and failing as a wife. I don’t want this. My past is not something to cling to in the storm. Jesus is.
I love our new apartment. Condo by the beach. Whatever you want to call it. I call it home.
The exterior is straight-up 70s with a fake, jagged flagstone walkway and mezzanine. (We call it the mezzie, lol) It’s sculpted or stamped cement with painted grout lines. This collection of condos has a horseshoe layout, but horseshoes are lucky, right? Brady Bunch styling, dirty-brown doors, flat roof with shingled, shallow gables. It looks like any roof from a 70s fast food eatery or miniature golf/arcade complex. But it’s surrounded by lush, well-kept palm trees and tropical flowers. Well-trimmed bushes and exotic vegetation. Rock garden with multiple pristine spiral-shaped shells. AND when you walk through that dirty-brown door? The entire interior has been remodeled. New carpet, new appliances, new vanities, new bathtub/shower. New ceiling fan. New granite countertop in the kitchen on top of??? The same old cabinets. Wah-wah. The cabinets are well-worn, but clean-ish. I can work on that. Who has dazzling cabinets? “Put your crap in and shut the door! Worry about it later…or not at all,” is what I tell myself. (Which is something I never tell myself!) Everything else is too beautiful to care. I am not complaining!! Plus, the beach. Sigh. I’m not going to be in my kitchen enough to care what the cabinets look like inside.
I love the old feel and design. New apartments don’t feel like a home. They feel like a big rectangle-ly box with lights. A space that you must carve out on your own. Some people love that. And I get it. But new apartments come with problems, too. Like badly installed plumbing and sinks. Like thermostats that tell YOU what the temperature should be. Like drunk people at the pool. Most Missourians that I’ve met assume Florida is one, big Margaritaville where everyone relaxes on the beach or at the pool with a lady cocktail, tiny umbrella skewering multiple citrus fruits and olives. They pretend to be Floridians by the pool, downing mas cervezas and burning their skin until they’re a dark-golden, fried Twinkie. They don’t do that here. At least on our beach. We go out after 4 pm. We wear sunscreen. We don’t drink on the beach. And we don’t have any tiny umbrellas. It’s usually just our little family of 3 on the beach. It’s nice. All to ourselves.
New apartments come with noisy neighbors. I haven’t heard one person make a peep here. Except a few workmen during the day downstairs. I’m sure it’s different during the busy season. But we have 6-8 months of peace.
At my old apartment, I had a rude upstairs neighbor who used to dance on my head. Dance is too graceful a term for what she did up there. It’s nice not having Twinkle Toes on top of me.
Our apartment building feels like a summer camp dorm on a lake. When all the campers have left. I feel like a kid again on vacation. I feel like I did when we stayed at the Owl Haven Motel in Stockton, MO.
The Owl Haven. Kitchenettes. Wood paneling. Outdoor pool! The Owl Haven still stands.
We stayed at The Owl Haven a few times. Once or twice as a kid, once when I was a bit older, a teen.
I loved it. It was one of the few times that my dad would venture on vacation. He usually had 4-6 weeks off during the year as he was a long-tenured diesel mechanic. He worked at the same company for 25 years. It was a hard job, but came with a few perks. One was a good amount of vacation time.
I think my dad loved fishing. He at least loved being near water. Maybe love is too strong a word for a man like my dad. He enjoyed it. As much as a man with 2 young, noisy kids could enjoy the logistics of making our way to the lake.
It was a 2-3 hour drive. Most Kansas Citians (and KC suburbians), at some point or another, make their way south to enjoy the lakes in Missouri. Truman, Bagnell Dam, Osage Beach, Ozarks, and Stockton. I never heard many kids talk about Stockton as their vacation retreat, but as I said, we went there more than once.
Beautiful. Serene. Not a lot of people. That’s what my dad liked. Not a lot of people. He liked having elbow room. At the dinner table and in life. We moved to 14 acres when I was 5 so Dad could have some elbow room.
He liked being outside, but he also liked A/C. He kept the air conditioner so low that all you had to do, if you were too hot in the summer, is run inside, lay your face down near the floor vent and let the air blow on your hair, teeth and eyeballs for about a minute. Good as new. And he kept the shades drawn most of the time. Our dark-wood paneling and drawn curtains made the inside look like…well, The Owl Haven! lol
The Owl Haven offered an outdoor pool. A coveted asset of the 70s and 80s. In-ground complete with a diving board and slide. For a south-Missouri motel to have such a delightful treat was mind boggling. How? Me want.
My mother allowed us to go to the pool if our older brother went with us. Can we go now?
Can we go now?
Mike?? Can we go now?
We finally went.
Within minutes of being in the pool. I threw up. In the pool. I don’t know why, but I did. It could have been because I just had lunch? It could have been because I usually swallowed a bunch of pool water on accident? It could have been because I was so excited and keyed up for swimming that I bubbled over? I don’t know.
I wasn’t the kind of kid who threw up. Quite the opposite. If it went down, it stayed down. Forever. A lot of food went down, too.
I hated throwing up. Still do. The awful feeling of knowing your insides are about to come outside. I fight it. I fight it for hours. But this urp came out of nowhere.
I just remember everyone being completely disgusted. Mainly because it was chunky. Sorry.
Mike made me sit out for a while. THAT was excruciating! I’m very near a pool and I can’t go in. What a living hell. Cool, clear water. Slide. Diving board. Water, pools and swimming were some of my favorite things. Especially water you could see through.
I didn’t so much like swimming in a pond. We had a pond at home. Turtles. Frogs. Spiders! One summer, our pond had hundreds of dead spiders curled up and floating on the surface. Very strange. But I still went swimming. That should tell you how much I like swimming. I swam with hundreds of dead spiders. Gah!
I eventually got back in the pool. Perhaps when my mom finally arrived. The cold water took her breath away when she dunked herself and her hair back. I thought she had hurt herself. No. Just cold.
“It’s cold??” I thought.
I never felt sick and I never threw up again that day. So strange.
My mom would make balonie sandwiches in the kitchenette. We would take a johnboat out for fishing on the lake. Smell of gas from an outboard motor on the water. Watching Dad steer the boat. Being quiet and watching the trees on the shoreline. It was peaceful. Fun. An adventure. And I feel like that all over again at our little Owl Haven.
Thank you, God, for such an opportunity. I’m so happy.
An excerpt from Volume 2 of my book, Present Tense. I haven’t published Vol. 2 yet, but here’s a taste. Find Volume 1 here this week for free!
We move into a small, cold, temporary house just in time to celebrate my Christmas #5. Christmas includes new nightgowns, an Easy Bake Oven for my sister and a “courage” (carriage/baby buggy) for me.
I can’t say carriage. I also can’t say commercial or spaghetti. Mah-ker-shull and pa-sketti.
This is the house my mother wallpapered for my grandmother. This is house where I pooped on the floor. This is the house of smoke and blood. This is the house of clawfoot-tub swimming.
There are Tarzan cartoons, Peanuts TV Specials, Hee-haw overalls, jingling reindeer hooves on the roof, cold winter mornings, mattresses on the living room floor. There is laughing/choking at late-night dinners. There are ABC-TV special presentation family movie nights of Deliverance, urine-stained pillows that I fall asleep on, cradling parents who tuck children who fall asleep on wet pillows in bed. And there is falling out of the top bunk at night.
At some point, my grandmother bought this home as a second, third or fourth property to build her empire of real estate. She buys many properties and rents or sells them for profit. She also runs a coin-operated laundry mat and washes people’s clothes for money. She is a woman who works hard and seldom rests. She does not tolerate humor or fuss. She is a force of will.
Grandma’s hair is yellowish white, faded from stress, time and negativity. She keeps it tight in a bun and hairnet. Her face is just as faded. Her beauty quickly spent on marriage, children and hard times. She always wears a dress. Not a fancy frock, but a well-worn print. The only days she didn’t wear a dress, were those spent in a factory during the war.
She has a large, round nose and large, droopy Buddha-like lobes. Those earlobes were made for clip earrings, but she never wears them.
Hard, metallic eyes that saw her father’s mistreatment of her mother. Grandma saw his fortune taken away as well. She saw her comfortable childhood home revoked and replaced by a dirt-floor shed.
She marries, only to quickly lose her husband’s farm to the tax collector. She rears 3 children through the depression, Dust Bowl and WWII. She raises and kills chickens, she milks cows, she sews, she cleans (not well), she cooks.
She hardens; she resolves. She is determined to forbid fate from having its destructive way again.
She works hard because she doesn’t know anything else. She works hard because she learned that you can’t rely on anyone except God and yourself. She works hard because that is her pathway to happiness.
If I stop moving, I’ll die.
These are her lonely, driven thoughts. She is an ever-swimming, scarred-up shark who’s tired of the frenzy and bloodbath.
Grandma lets us live in the house on 15th Street while we wait to move to the country. Our home near the lake has sold and the new house is not ready yet.
We lose our cat during the move. We drive for the last time from the lake to town with all our things. Grandma is holding the cat in the station wagon. Shark holding a lion. We arrive at the new place: the car door opens, cat scratches, takes off for parts unknown.