Find the Fun

The week of Christmas.

Every year, on the Sunday before Christmas, we gather at my grandmother’s house and celebrate. Celebrate=eating and lazing about.

The house is cold and has funny smells. It’s an old, large house so the smells could be many things: the renters upstairs—smoking cigarettes and cooking on hot plates; the occupants downstairs—natural gas, human gas, perfume, stale cookies in the cookie jar, turkey, deviled eggs, homemade stuffing, unbathed elderly people, dirty children, unwashed crocheted afghans, well-worn rugs, mothballs, fake logs, fake trees, fake food. Even fake has a smell. “Guess the Smell” could have been a fun, family tradition. But it seems that fun was not the focus of these feasts. Kids, though, steal fun whenever they can.

My sister, my nephew (only a few months younger than me) and I ran from room to room, trying to find the fun. If any was to be had. Sometimes, our same-age cousins were there to horse around and magnify any fun-having. We normally played outside, played games, told jokes, made jokes or snooped around the tree room, looking for the presents with our names. I think it’s socks again. Tube socks.

I am sitting across from Cousin Julie. I was asked to sit. Otherwise, I would be swiping food or fun. I don’t know what to say. People think I’m shy, but I just really don’t know what to say. I feel uncomfortable to look at Julie. Not because she is repulsive to me, but because I am scared that I will stare and ask questions.

Julie has spina bifida. That means her spine is open. She was born that way. She has a wheelchair, which is cool. I would like to ride around in it. That seems like it would be fun, but you can’t do that when someone needs it. I want to ask, but I’m not supposed to ask those questions.

“How are you doing?” Julie asks. Julie is beautiful. No one else thinks so, but I do. She has soft, light brown hair, large eyes, large red lips and a sweet, smiling face. I’m not sure if Julie combs her own hair. I don’t know if she is capable of combing her own hair. Her shoulder-length bob is curled and shiny, but looks slightly bygone. Her mother must comb it.

She is so kind. She has on a cozy holiday sweater and plain, stiff skirt. She is slightly overweight, but so am I. She’s so different from my own family. My sister would never ask how I was. But in my mind, I can’t accept Julie. She’s different.

My family does not engage weakness, illness or difference. Julie was rolled into the family room and locked into place. The people who happened by are the only contact she has. There are older people sitting with her, talking to her, but she is not capable of finding the fun. The moments she steals are connection and kindness.
Why is Julie so happy? I am sad for her. Sad that she can’t run, play, hide, snoop. Sad that she only has old people talking at her. I am sad for Julie because I see that people treat her with sympathy. They approach her wheelchair as a casket. I do too because that is what I see. That is what I learn.

I want to play with her. These are my goals. But she doesn’t play. She can’t play. I want to know Julie, but I can’t ask any questions. But Julie is happy. I see it in her smile. She makes me feel cute. I silently squirm, answering questions when asked, until I am released to find the fun again. I want to understand how to discover Julie, but the desire fades as soon as I am freed.

I never know Julie. I never seek her out. She is gone before I graduate high school and her memories and ideas are lost. We lose her to ovarian cancer and her experiences are not shared with me. I love Julie. I am thankful for her tenderness and brief kindness. I understand now why Julie is happy. She is happy to be alive. She was taught to be nice.

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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.

Nice Attack

Founded by the Greeks in 350 BC, Nice, France was originally named Nikaia. The Greek goddess Nike (goddess for victory) was the inspiration for the name. Victorious over the Ligurians, the Greeks would have considered Nice an important coastal city for trading. Nice was very near a Roman trading port, essential to stay competitive on the Mediterranean.

Nice is a nice town. One of the nicest.  The Mediterranean south of France is one of the most opulent places a person could go. A popular vacation spot of the rich. The south of France has been developed into the height of culture and extravagance. Built up from a trade city into a resort destination.

And on a day of celebration of independence for Nice and all of France, a madman bloodied the street. 10 days after our own national holiday of independence. (Can you imagine a terrorist attack on the 4th of July in Florida? Almost, it happened just a few weeks ago.) Both days symbolizing freedom from oppression and tyranny. Born out of the same century. France has been our ally for hundreds of years. An international symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty is a gift from our French sister.

I am heartbroken, tearful and sad after looking at the graphic pictures of violence. A wake of blood left in the path of some misguided lunatic. Mournful for our brothers and sisters in France. Devastated at the cries of those grieving their loved ones on a lonely street, in the middle of the night. I can’t imagine losing my daughter or husband in an act of violence or terrorism.

This would be a big victory for ISIS. To destroy something so nice. To pierce the darkness with terror and bloodshed. No claim to the attack has been issued at the writing of the blog post. But what other organization or state has a stake in such an attack? An ISIS victory over all that it hates: life, freedom and, in their minds, our sinful lifestyle.

But the victory is this:
we continue.
Civilization will continue and you will be counted as its enemy, ISIS.
History will remember you as thugs.

ISIS: Like the Nazis of Europe, your days are numbered. You may have small victories, but you will not win. Just like the Hitlers and Bin Ladens of the world, you will die. You and those like you will never know peace because you choose war.

Your families have been killed. I know. Your children have been hurt. I know. Your land has been scarred. I know. But the only path to peace is restraint.

In the face of death, destruction, personal injury, theft and molestation of an entire people, Gandhi promoted restraint and resistance. The Indians were being restricted and killed by England in their own country, and Gandhi called for passive resistance. They were quietly tortured, imprisoned, beaten and killed, one by one, until the world could no longer ignore what was happening. It took a long time. Longer than innate, rightful independence. But ISIS, and others like you–you have been at war even longer.

I do not totally agree with American foreign policy in the Middle East, but you have to stop. You do not have a right to kill because we believe in different things. Many came to this country (USA) to escape intolerance. To establish religious freedom. That is one of the basic principles of our nation. Our way of life. And you threaten that, ISIS.

The Malalas of the world will continue to be educated and rewarded. Culture will continue to thrive. Free markets are unstoppable. Soldiers will defend our peaceful nations and way of life. Whatever mistakes we made or make, the answer is never blood for blood. The Holy Bible reminds us that revenge is in the hands of God. You worship a god that has no power if you must do his work. Your time on this planet is coming to an end. And so is your ideology. The world won’t bear you. Civilization won’t carry you. The righteous won’t tolerate your violence.

This we know from history: Nice will endure. Civilization will be victorious. Love will win. And the terrorists of the world will spit and kick at the heels of culture and refinement. But Nice-ness will have the last say.