Thursday, June 11, 2020

These are Things My Family Gathers Around


A Christmas tree.

A baptismal font.

A wide-screen TV when Alabama plays.

These are things my family gathers around.


The dinner table.

A birthday cake.

An open casket.

These are things my family gathers around.



A Zoom screen.

The stovetop.

A vinyl recliner at the cancer clinic.

These are things my family gathers around.


The altar.

A puzzle.

A rocker on the front porch.

These are things my family gathers around.



A campfire.

A picnic table.

 A four-leaf clover.

These are things my family gathers around.



It was Joe and Marie who introduced us to these sacred places. They called us there, each little girl.  Christianne, Melanie, Caroline, Amanda.

Then they called the second wave. Paul, Audrey, Grant, Mandy, Bliss.

One day they will call a third wave.

(But for God's sake not any time soon. None of y'all are even out of college.)


Today I'm feeling grateful to be a part of it all.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Quarantine Walk



The dishes are done, the leftovers are in the fridge. It is time for our walk.

We step out onto the front porch. Over the words “ X actually” in black on the sidewalk.  I chalked a colorful phrase last week and did not know that the black was going to remain long after the other colors washed away. I can’t scrub it out. 

To be honest, it doesn't look like it would come out if I tried. 

Which I haven't. 

Because it wouldn't come out.

I have unintentionally tagged my neighborhood with a dark “X”, and at first I feel slightly guilty but this is 2020 after all. 

Why pick this one thing to feel guilty about?


Past a hydrangea bush in front of Laura’s house that is getting so big it almost hides the door.  So much rain lately. Why have the landscapers not trimmed the flowers back yet? 


Underneath a gold Toyota Camry suspended six feet in the air, on a metal lift, waiting to be fixed tomorrow. It is suspended motionless in the air above the cracked and oil-stained pavement of the Budget Brakes.


Past the Turnip Truck, which opened during quarantine. It is so new that the sweet, sticky smell of fresh lumber still lingers in the air around it. Audrey stops at the glass window and looks longingly inside, gazing at the shelves of almond flour and organic chick peas and collagen supplements. 


She asks if we can go in and she knows that I will shake my head and say that I am not going to waste my one trip to the grocery store this week on a hipster market. 

Quarantine is not a time to be sentimental.


Over the cockroaches, who scurry to and fro on the sidewalk in front of the gas station. We skip and dance to keep them from running over our feet or into our shoes. We don’t understand why there are so many cockroaches right here, big and fat and shiny. 

I tell stories about dodging flying cockroaches in Alabama when I was a child. Audrey and Grant groan. "Ugh, you tell us that story all the time! You try to make your childhood sound so terrible and Gigi says it wasn't and then she gets mad." 

I do, and she does.  


In the glow of the half light of the restaurants and shops along Charlotte Pike. They are not open and have not been all day and will not be tomorrow. They miss us and they don’t understand. Their storefront eyes are wide open and confused, waiting for us to explain.  

Each day they seem a little less hopeful that we ever will.


To the lawyer’s office on the corner by the park. His name is painted in gold shiny letters on the glass door. Just like they did back in the '40s, probably. We peer through the window and play the game of Spot the Difference.

That pen wasn’t there yesterday. 

He seems to have been there every day. I don’t understand why legal services are an essential service. Maybe they aren’t.

The lamp is on today. 

A door inside the office that leads to a back hallway is ajar.

That remote control for the air conditioner has been moved.

An umbrella has appeared.

And every night I lament that he isn’t watering his plants. One of them in particular is drying out. How can he come to his office every single day and never water this plant? I would water it but the office is locked.


As we walk back home we talk about the day’s news and COVID statistics and we make guesses about the future. We talk about our friends and how they are probably doing.


When we arrive back home it is just 9:30 but I’m ready to go to sleep and dream the vivid dreams of quarantine.


Of a  black X

      An out-of-control hydrangea

                                                        Cars in the air

Cockroaches running in fretful circles 

                       Collagen supplements just out of our reach

          Confused and empty storefronts 

And a plant 

that I cannot water


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

My Neck Hurts and I Have a Headache



George Floyd was 46 years old.
 
He was 6 feet 6 inches tall. A large, beautiful man.


When he was pinned to the ground,



he said please


and he called 



for his mama.




I am so sorry.









Monday, April 20, 2020

Just Enough Space to Get Out

The funny thing about a peak is that you don’t know you’re on it until it’s already over.

But I believe our collective national fever is hitting a peak.

I hope I’m talking about confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Surely we will not have another week with tens of thousands of new cases reported every single day.

Let’s hope new unemployment claims peaked this week too.


But I’m also talking about stress and anxiety and tension. Those were at a peak this week too.

At least, they were for me.

Were they for you too?


This week I decided that if I took part in a cult, I’d want it to be one of those cults that people talk about for years to come.  Like Heaven’s Gate.  Or Jonestown.  Or the Branch Davidian.

This is where I am.

Not that I want to join a cult. But if I did, I'd want it to be one that knew what they were doing.  One with colorful silks and expensive sneakers.

This is where I am.


This week I thought about the continuums in life.

The news continuum.  At one end of it are people who can’t get enough of it and check it every 15 minutes. 

At the other end are people who have stopped checking the news altogether. 

And then there are people all in between.


Then there’s the emotional continuum.  Some people can’t stop talking about how they feel, and they can’t stop asking others how they feel. 

At the other end are people who don’t feel anything and don’t want to talk about it. 

And then, there are people all in between. 


I am trying hard not to judge people for being where they are on these spectrums.  I try hard to say, “Oh, that’s where you are.  Interesting.” 

Because then it’s easier to look down at my own two trembling feet and observe, “Wow, here’s where I am.  Interesting.” 

I am trying hard not to imagine a marker in the middle of the spectrum that indicates where “normal” is. 

I am trying hard not to measure how far I might be from that marker. 


Yesterday a fly was in my room. I opened the window just enough for it to fly out.

Would the fly leave?

Would a bee fly in?


What does it mean to have just enough space to get out?




Saturday, May 25, 2019

Wednesday Nights in May

There's something rare and perfect about a Wednesday night in May.  While Grant practices with his team on the field, I am walking in Heartland Park.  It's late in the evening but it's still light outside.  Because it's summer.

Finally.

Summer.

Again.




Most people would say it's hot but to my body, which has been chilling in an American icebox office for many hours, the ambient air temperature is perfect. 

The breeze slips against my skin like silk.  Soft and smooth and light. 


I pass a family - a mom, dad and three children.  The dad is running next to one child on a tricycle.  One child is on a scooter.  And one child is sitting in a wagon, pulled by the mom.

Five people.

Five modes of transport.

I smile at the first child as she passes me.  She stares back at me menacingly and shouts something to her father over her shoulder.  I think she is shouting about me but I can't hear her because I have my ear buds in.

Also, I don't want to hear what she says.   



A man is pressure washing the cement steps of a fire escape.  Between us is a high fence with razor wire. 

For many months we thought it was a prison.  But it is a public water works building.

The razor wire is not there to keep people in.  It is to keep people out.



The air is cooling and practice will be over soon.  Grant and I will drive back home.  He will put his muddy cleats on my dashboard and I will get mad. 



None of this would have come to pass on a Tuesday night in June.  Or a Friday night in November.  It has to be a Wednesday night in May.


Wednesday nights in May are special.  

They are rare.  

They are perfect.  

It has to be a Wednesday night in May.











Saturday, April 27, 2019

Monday at the Moth

On Monday I texted the kids and told them to meet me for dinner at Miss Saigon at 5:30.  "Why are we eating so early?" Grant asked as I joined them in the booth.

The color of the vinyl on the seat of the booth was just slightly different than the back.  The seat is a greenish mustard, while the back is a mustardish green.  It's a nuance I wouldn't have noticed except that the owner pointed it out last time we were there.  It bothered him that he hadn't gotten a perfect match.  The factory that supplied the initial vinyl had discontinued it and he had to settle for the closest color match.  It was just slightly different.

If he hadn't said anything I would have thought it was just the lighting.   But when you look closely you see that something is - very slightly - different.

"I think I'm going to the Moth tonight and I might tell a story."

Audrey nodded.  "I think you should do that."   

After dinner I drove across town to the Basement East by myself and signed up to tell a story.  And about two hours later the host Eddie pulled my name out of the hat and called me up to the stage.  I was the very last story-teller to go up.

It is a weird trek to the stage at The Basement East.  I almost got lost, no joke.  And then, I was standing in front of 200 people and I was about to tell my story.  The spotlights on me were so bright  I couldn't see out into the crowd, except for two guys who were sitting at a high-top table at the right hand edge of the stage.  The microphone was so huge, or so unfortunately positioned, that it hid my face.

Maybe the positioning was fortunate.

It helped, a little, to hide behind it.  

All of the stories that came before me were lighthearted and funny but mine was not going to be.  I breathed in deep and said into the bright light, "My story is kind of heavy.  Are you guys down with that?"

"Bring it!" someone shouted.


I started talking about the night of my own personal Great Inhale.  The one that nearly killed me.  The one that, in some ways, did.



I almost cried.  In front of 200 strangers.  I guess I did cry, but not alone.  Because the Moth, as I have learned, is a special place where no one cries or laughs alone.


Days later when I told my friends about my experience, they asked if I could re-tell the story for them and I think maybe under the right circumstances I could.  In a dark room that smells like beer, with a concrete floor that shakes like plywood when you walk on it.  Under a bright spotlight blinding me from the gentle souls in front of me who welcome a heavy story.

But then again, I'm not sure I could.  I think when I told that story that night at the Moth, it got up on its legs and walked slowly away from me.  Out the back door of the Basement East and off into the open sky.

Maybe stories at the Moth have one brilliant chance at life and when their life has ended they cannot come back.

I think that's how it is.

I feel different after all of this.  Something about me is just slightly different.  I don't think anyone else would notice.  But I do.

If I didn't mention it you probably wouldn't notice. 

But something has most definitely shifted.






Wednesday, April 10, 2019

My 50th Birthday Gift to Myself


For my 50th birthday I gave myself a special gift. 

I cut the label off of the curtain in my living room.

It’s been there ever since I hung the curtains.  Backwards.  But it’s a sheer white panel and you really couldn’t tell that I hung it backwards except for that damn label.  When I watched TV I looked at it and wondered how much work it would be to cut it off.

Would the step ladder in the pantry do the trick?  

Or would I need the 6-foot ladder from the garage? 

Can I just wait until Grant grows tall enough to reach up and cut it off…?

Today I decided that it’s time.  I’m not sure why today felt like the right moment.  Maybe it’s related to me turning 50 today.  Maybe it’s not.  It’s possible I’m over-analyzing.

As it turns out, the stepladder in the pantry did the trick.  The whole process took less than 30 seconds.

So my present to myself for the next 50 years is that I won’t have to look at that label anymore and wonder how much work it would take to cut it off.

In exchange however, I will look at the curtain and remember how many hours I spent looking at it before, wondering how much work it would be to cut it off. 

Regret and self-doubt as a replacement for procrastination and inaction. 

This is The Downtown Diner, you knew that was coming. 

You might wonder how any of this is blog-worthy.  And really, it’s not.  I know most people will read it once and then again, and then will ask themselves what the point is.  Then they will shake their heads and close their laptop with a sigh.

But there are a few people out there who will read this and think about me and nod and smile and say, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”  They will think about my quirks and all my posts over the years and how much they love me. 

And you all, you are the best gift I have given myself over the past 50 years.  Thank you for being part of it all with me.  All my procrastination and inaction, all my regret and self-doubt.  My seemingly pointless posts and the live conversational versions of the same.  I love you all. 

Let’s do another 50 years of this.  


Sunday, February 17, 2019

What the Rain Came to Say


Drops of rain slide down the window glass.   This Sunday morning is dripping over Nashville like a thin coat of grey paint.

As I walk into the kitchen I remember I left the curry out on the stove last night.  I curse under my breath because now I'll have to throw it out.  But then I see that someone put the curry in tupperware and put it in the fridge last night before they went to bed.

I'm not the only adult in the house anymore.

Tip, tip, tap.  Raindrops tap on the kitchen window.

I make a hashbrown casserole and my 7-year-old niece Bliss plays with the Roomba.  Her parents had a date night last night so I got to have a sleepover with my red-headed elf-niece. 

The Roomba is a source of endless entertainment for her.  What happens if she puts it on the chair?

Feeds it a mint?

Feeds it ten mints?

Locks it in the bathroom?

Puts a pillow on top of it?

Lets it run over my foot?

Tip, tip, tap.

She is ready for the next thing.

"Alexa, play 'I Believe in You' by Dolly Par-ton."  She pronounces Dolly's last name very clearly, otherwise Alexa will play a Michael Buble song, which is not danceable at all.  While Bliss and I dance, Grant stumbles out of his bedroom to ask what time it is.

"9:00!" we say.  Bliss dances jazz hands at him, pointing at his knees.  I dance jazz hands, pointing at his shoulders.

Neither of us can reach his head.

It is too far up there.

Tip, tip, tap.

We picked Grant and Audrey up from the airport last night  - they were in China all week with their dad and grandparents celebrating Chinese New Year.



Tired and pale, Grant goes back to sleep some more.  Jet lag is a fact of life for my children.  This is what they looked like at midnight on Chinese New Year.


I feel pity and admiration for them, all at once.

I admire them because they deal with jet lag so well and always have.  They both took their first flight to Asia when they were tiny babies and even back then, they adjusted to the new time zone so quickly.  Not easily necessarily, but quickly.

I feel sad for them because their dad and I have put them in this position.  If they want to have a relationship with both of us, they have to get on a plane and criss-cross the Pacific.  Over and over again.

I'm sorry about this.

Tip, tip, tap.  The drops of rain land on the glass and they cling to it stubbornly.  It's almost as if they want to stay on the window as long as they can, watching us from the outside.  But soon the weight of their watery bellies pulls them down to the ground in a quiet splash. 

Audrey comes downstairs and hugs me. She yawns and hands me the Hello Kitty makeup she brought for me from China.

Tip, tip, tap.

My children are growing up and one day soon they will leave the house.  By this time next year Audrey will be away at college and three years from now Grant will be too.  All I will have is the occasional sleepover with Bliss and there will even come a day when I don't have that anymore.  Everyone is growing up.  
 
And finally I hear what the raindrops have been trying to tell me all morning long.

Tip, tip, tap.   

You are okay.

You are and you will be.

Cling to the glass.  Watch these moments for as long as you can. 

Tip, tip, tap.  

And amen.  



Friday, February 8, 2019

They've seen worse

Here's one from five years ago.  Why did I not post these?

The other day I had a huge problem.

At least, to me, it seemed huge.  

Audrey wasn't registered for the magnet school that we wanted her to go to next year.  I was sure I had filled in the right form and turned it in to the board of education on time and I remembered they had given me a receipt.

Which I threw away about 3 weeks ago.

I can tell you exactly where I was when I threw it away.  I was at the car wash and I was vacuuming out my car and I came across the receipt and figured I didn't need it anymore.  And I can tell you exactly which garbage can I threw it away in.  Three weeks ago.

And then I found out yesterday that she wasn't on the list for the magnet school.  Which, if true, is a disaster. 

So I went to the board of education this morning and prayed that the universe would save me.  By this point I was doubting myself - I was afraid I had actually forgotten to turn in the form and that the receipt was just a dream.  But the woman at the Board of Ed checked her records and found that I had done what I was supposed to do.  I had turned in the form on time, and someone at the Board of Ed had failed to add Audrey to the list for the magnet school.  Totally a clerical error and not my fault.  She even gave me a photocopy of the form I had turned in. 

I was so relieved I burst out into tears.  Because, we're talking about a really big deal school here. 

"Can I come over there and hug you?" I asked the receptionist. 

She paused for a minute and then said, "Sure!" 

I was surprised.  I kinda thought she would laugh at me and we would move on.  But she came out from behind the counter and hugged me.

A security guard standing nearby offered, "Don't worry, we see a lot worse around here." 

I wiped away my tears and sniffed, "Thank you for not thinking I'm crazy."  But as soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized he hadn't said I wasn't crazy.  He only said he sees a lot worse around there. 

That trip to the Board of Ed reminded me who I am.

I am a mom who usually does what she's supposed to do, on time.      

But one who rarely keeps evidence that she did it.

I am a woman who offers hugs, thinking most people will not take her up on it.

But often they do.

And while I may not be the most balanced person you will ever meet, there are worse. 

It has been independently confirmed by the security guard at the Davidson County Board of Education that there are worse.



Maybe that is the real meaning of life

I wrote this four years ago and never posted it.  

“I’m beginning to think that the real meaning of life is looking around us and recognizing that everything is extraordinary.” 

My pastor said that on Sunday. I am feeling the extraordinariness of it all myself. I’m sitting in church with Grant, who is sitting closer to me than he would if we were at home on the sofa. And our cell phones are packed away in my purse. In the still of the sanctuary I can hear his breath and I’m pretty sure I can even still smell his baby scent. My kids both came into this world with their own scent. Audrey smelled like honey and Grant smelled like butter. I remember smelling them as I nuzzled the tops of their heads when I nursed them. 

As they mutate now into teenagers, their smell is changing. But in a moment like this, when he sits still next to me and I put my cheek on the top of his head, I still smell butter. 

My new patent leather heels have a black scuff mark.

“Can I go now?” he asks.


I say what I always say. “I really want you to be here with me, but if you want to go you can.” 


“Will you be sad if I go?”

I nod yes. 


“I’ll stay with you for five more minutes and then I’m going to check on Audrey in the nursery,” he says. 

Five minutes later he slips away and heads towards the nursery. 

The choir is singing “Here I am, Lord” and the time of day is just perfect, because the sun is streaming in through the window behind them, illuminating each of them from behind.  They look less human to me and more alien. A chorus of extra-terrestrials who have landed in the sanctuary to speak to us in the language that we all understand, the language of song.

Audrey slides in next to me in the pew. “Why are you mad at me?” she asks. 

“I’m not mad at you,” I say, confused. 

“Grant came in the nursery and said you were mad at me and that it was his turn to be in the nursery.” 

“Well I have no idea where that came from. I’m not mad at you,” I said. 

She glares at the cross at the front of the church. Her clenched jaw tells me that she is not praying. Instead she is planning the revenge she would exact on her brother as soon as we sing the closing hymn. I have a feeling it will somehow involve their cell phones. 

Their cell phones. They’re a safety net and a bed of nettles at the same time. When I need to reach my kids, our phones are the constant connection. If I can’t find them, an app on my phone tells me where they are. 

And yet those devices also bring us so much heartache. They fight over their phones (which is particularly mystifying since they each have one). They lose them. They crack them. They live too much in the world of social media and too little in the moment. I wonder if the connectedness is worth it. Is it worth the stress? Is it worth the money? 

If this question was a prayer, it is going unanswered for now. The final hymn has been sung and we are walking to the car in the church parking lot. 

My shoe is scuffed. 

My children are arguing.   

Their heads smell like butter and honey.

And I realize that the meaning of life is to look around us and realize that everything really is extraordinary.