Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Closet Monster (Redux)

Hello, Shadow World.

It's October, so it's a good time to talk about monsters, ghosts, and ghoulies and distract ourselves from the pain of the all-too-real world for a few minutes, right?

I realize the evening news brings us evil in tangible form each and every night now. Terrorism. Mother Nature. Capitol Hill. Fire, death. Wind, death. Water, death. Anger, death. Guns, death. Bombs, death.

It hurts. It burns in our bellies and souls like a cureless cancer.

I've reached a point where I tune in to the local morning news long enough to hear traffic and weather, and then I turn it off. My a.m. commute past the White House and the orange menace puts knots in my gut and dark clouds in my head, so I flip 1600 Penn the bird and go to my happy place with music turned up to 11. 

Sometimes it helps. Most of the time, it doesn't. 





So, how about we talk about some less real things that go bump—and don't threaten nuclear annihilation—in the night? How about the monsters that held us spellbound in terror and fascination as kids, but couldn't really harm us? Yeah. Those guys.

My first monster was born was born of unnecessary (and super creepyobligation.

Obligation is a bitch. A right royal biyotch—the polar opposite of spontaneous joy.

Sometimes I hold onto things far too long out of a sense of obligationor out of a twisted, misplaced guilt (obligation's neighbor in the Duplex of Misery). Sometimes I hold onto people that same way. It's an old habit from a Catholic childhood, and it encompasses everything from odd, tiny gifts from kind people who don't fathom my likes—or dislikes—all the way to random people who brushed past me in the cocktail party of social media, and I made the mistake of acknowledging. With a shrug and an "accept friend request," there have been a few times when I've found myself with a closet racist or casual bigot tapping on my shoulder, hiding ugliness behind a big smile. I'm reluctant to give away gifts, and I'm conflicted about leaving people behind, hopeful for redemption and something better inside to lighten a dark heart.

But sometimes, there isn't anything redeemable. You have to recycle the hideous gifts and part ways with the bigots and the willfully ignorant.

When I moved to my new apartment, I donated a box of offerings from the motley (and tiny) group of men who have deigned to go on a single date with me. It was a bit like a Whitman sampler of dead mice brought to you by overeager tomcats, except I didn't immediately toss these things or shovel them into a Hefty bag, like I should have. 

There was: 
  • the dollar store cookie jar (price tag still on bottom) in the shape of a badly deformed kitten with one unpainted eye—this from a guy it turns out had a cat hoarding disorder and had been evicted from his apartment
  • the I 💙Toronto ashtray from a guy who told me it "might come in handy someday" (to throw at someone's head? for when I think asthma, Benson, and Hedges should be my squad goals?)
  • unsolicited World of Warcraft rip-off game disks from the guy who said I could be a gamer if I really, really tried (nope)
  • the sad-faced teddy bear wearing a button that read "U R BEAUTIFUL 2 ME" (and nothing compares 2 donating U)
  • a huge roll of glittery stickers that said LUV U on them
Sorry, Goodwill shoppers. Really sorry 4 U.

I'm not exactly the kind of woman who gets many gifts from single, available men. So, there was this little voice that said, "Hey, at least this guy thought you were worth $2.98." And so, I added each awful gift to the beat-up, recycled Amazon Box of Sadness and shoved it to the back of my bedroom closet.

I am ashamed that little voice ever spoke to me. I'm worth more than $2.98. We all are. (But I do hope the deformed feline crock found a nice home with a non-judgmental child or cat lady.)

It's harder to get rid of humans, but I have started blocking people who've outed themselves as racist, homophobic, or weirdly, casually cruel toward anyone who doesn't fit in their limited world view. I usually find myself at the end of someone's pitchfork of dudgeon if I try to explain why I'm walking away. (This includes the time someone set up an online group called—and this is not a joke, and yes, this was done by an adult—"I Know What a Real Friend Is and You are Not a Real Friend" in response to me moving on.) So, I've stopped explaining. *click*

I recognize it might be difficult for some people to believe—especially considering how often it seems I have to stick up for myself and be fierce—but I am actually conflict averse. It exhausts me to be confrontational, and negative experiences—real ones in-person, anonymous ones online, or even imaginary things, deep in the quicksand of sleepcan haunt me for days. 

In some cases, weeks or months. Hell, in some cases, years. 

That started young, too. Really young, in the case of my dreams. 

I had a recurring nightmare from my pre-kindergarten days until I was almost in high school. I can see it clear as day in my mind right now. A big man, Paul Bunyan-sized, stands in the darkness outside a blue church with red shutters. There is no sound, save for a howling wind, and the man just stands there, a shovel in his hand, next to an open grave.

I mean, sweet baybee Jeezus, what happens in a child's mind to cause the demonic Brawny Man to clutch at her dreams? I don't know. Honestly, I don't. But clearly, monsters have haunted me from the beginning. 

But it wasn't just in my sleep that something reached for me.

See, I had a monster in my bedroom closet until I was 18 years old. I defy you to tell me otherwise.

I started to tell the closet monster story out here six years ago. I got an entry or two in, but then I misplaced the notebook in which I'd scribbled pages and pages of text. I started again, typing in a new version straight from my brain to laptop, but in the middle of the work, my Blogger screen went blank, and all was lost. I was way too focused on ideas to bother hitting "save" now and again. Gone. Bye bye. Adios, words.


Older and wiser now. Save, save, save. But at the time, I was so annoyed, I just walked away from finishing the damn thing.

Now I'm taking another shot at writing the story of my monsters. Other than the return of pumpkin spice lattes and sweater weather, October hasn't started well this year. Let me tell you of my imaginary monsters to take your mind off the real ones.

For the five people who read Part One of my Closet Monster story years ago, I apologize for the edited repeat here, but I have to start again somewhere. So, let's go!

To be continued...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I Suck at Poetry: the Pomegranate Edition

Yesterday was National Poetry Day, and today was National Coffee Day. I was caught in a deadline deluge yesterday, so I could not produce any half-assed free verse within the span of the fake holiday. However, tonight, liquored up on that addictive substance known as the Starbuck's seasonal coffee (tonight's weapon of choice: the maple pecan latte), I scribbled out a few lines inspired by a memory of an afternoon in Armenia, a million years ago, eating a difficult fruit for the first time. 

I have no idea why this tiny memory came back to me. I was walking upstairs to my apartment, and, BOOM, I was on a side street in Yerevan a lifetime away from now. After I scribbled down a few lines, I thought about what the pomegranate means in Armenia — good fortune, fertility, hope. An old tradition in Western Armenia sees brides throwing and breaking a pomegranate, scattering the seeds to ensure the birth of healthy children.

Without meaning to, I think I wrote something about people other than myself and my friend eating sweet seeds for the first time. I think I wrote about people longing for something they do not have.

But hey, it's just broken lines of bad verse. It can mean anything you want.


It was cold in in Yerevan
that day when you bought
a pomegranate for us
to share.

You cut it open
with a pocket knife
splitting the dull rind
exposing the richness inside.

Purple-red beads
heavy with juice.

I plucked one out
and placed it on my tongue
crushing it against my teeth.

“Looks like caviar,” you said
turning an aril between
thumb and forefinger.

Sweet caviar.

and sweet
and glistening.

“It means good fortune here.
Fertility,” I said.

We sat on a swingset
in an empty playground
eating gems from a shell.

Fingers stained and wet
no napkins in my pocket
to sop the harvest blood.

I held my hands out before me
the color of garnets
drying in the breeze.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Once more, with (terrified) feeling

Back in... oh... 2011 or so, I started a multi-part post about the monster that lived in my bedroom closet when I was a kid. I posted the first part with a "to be continued" note at the end. A few days later, I started typing in the second part, which, as sometimes happens, grew and changed as my fingers hit the keys and my mind continued to spin and edit. But when I was nearly done—and too stupid to have hit "save" at some point—my old computer crashed, the text was lost, and in a fit of frustration, I never returned to the story. 

Roughly six months ago, I came across the pages of the unfinished monster story, and thought, "Hey, I should type this stuff in. Again. FINALLY." Then I saw some shiny object, got distracted, and I promptly forgot all about it.

Last weekend, I started writing something new, about how we (or at least I) hold onto some things far too long—out of guilt, out of misplaced responsibility. It reminded me of the closet monster, which had its origins in an awful item I felt obligated to keep. Now, I want to finish the story, and I can't find the damn pages again. I guess I'll have to just pick up the thread as a fresh tale.

Since the season of pumpkin spice is upon us, Halloween must be around the corner.* It's a good time to ponder stories of things that go bump in the night, right? I'm going to re-post Part One of the Closet Monster story, and go from there. Who knows how it will turn out this time?

*According to a tragically premature local ad I heard today, the holidays that far off. Jingle, jingle, ho ho ho, kill me now, oh Christmas Creep.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

August, Cherries, and the Pizza Man

August, despite the miserable heat it usually brings, is one of my favorite months in Washington. Reason? People are vacating, and the commuting is easy. Well, easier. Easy-ish. Also, the cicadas are in full voice, and my local grocery store has $1.99 specials on a pound of cherries.

I should make a sugar-free clafoutis while the cherries are plentiful, in honor of my friend Sam who shuffled off this mortal coil last year, dammit. I never met Sam, other than through the ether. We became acquainted via the forum on Thomas Dolby's website. Sam was a roadie and crew member for Blue Öyster Cult for years and years. He had great stories, a fantastic sense of humor, and he always beamed with so much love for his wife and daughters. One of his daughters is a Russia specialist, so we talked All Things Russian now and then.

Sam liked to cook, and we discovered we both had a love of the fab French peasant dessert (or, hell, breakfast!) clafoutis. Sam had mastered a sugar-free version, and I had sent him a message last year asking for his recipe. I got caught up in the regular flow of mental traffic that makes up life, and didn't notice that he hadn't responded for a while. Then I noticed he hadn't posted to Facebook for a while, and then I found out he was gone.

I felt like a crappy friend. I really did. How did I miss him leaving this life? Although "knowing" Sam from his warmth and wicked humor online, I doubt he would have minded. We all get busy, we all have our own circles of life and calamity and obligation. We all fall down holes that suck up our time and our thoughts, and we have to forgive ourselves. And we have to forgive others when they are consumed with the minutiae of their lives. Friends circle back. Good friends? The old chestnut is usually true: it's as if you're just picking up the same thread of conversation, just with some more strands to weave into the tapestry of your story.

Sam's probably tuning a guitar in Heaven for one of the many musicians we lost last year, too, so his dance card is full. And I'll have to find a good sugar-free clafoutis recipe on my own.

I'm not a very good cook. Wait  that's too kind. I'm an awful cook, unless it's avocado dip, hamburgers, or something that can be mixed easily in a pan or pot bachelor-style. My skills at baking are limited, too. I can make clafoutis, sour cream chocolate chip coffee cake, my mom's chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and these amazing, impossible-to-screw-up lemon blueberry muffins from the New York Cookbook. (Buy the book - SO worth it! Get a used copy on Amazon for a buck!) I can watch cooking shows 'til I'm blue in the face, and it's not going to make me Gordon Ramsay. (Although I can swear like him, no problem.)

I have been known to make biscuit bricks, a rice pilaf that deserves its own level in Hell, and once, a brownie so sickeningly sweet, my guests were all on the verge of diabetic coma. Let's face it: it's not my forte, but I try. My current lack of balance and strength makes any cooking (or doing dishes or laundry or dusting) a real pain in the ass. So, my less than admirable kitchen skills are even less admirable these days. Freezer bags of "steamer" veggies get the nod, along with odd combinations off the shelf that don't require much imagination or time in Julia Child's sensible shoes.

Hopefully, someday, this will pass. Not the bad cooking — I think I'm a lifer in that camp — but the balance and strength. Fingers crossed it returns. I'm too young to be this old.

I heard a knock at my door as I was writing that last sentence. I answered with healthy trepidation, not expecting anyone. It was one of the Georgian pizza guys. There is a group of Georgian men (as in Tbilisi, not Atlanta) who deliver for a handful of pizza and sub joints in my area. When any of them delivered to the trio of bachelors across the hall, they'd knock on my door for a little chat in Russian and just check and see how I was doing. This started after one of them saw me hobbling on my two sticks one afternoon at a strip mall on the Pike, and the Great Georgian Pizza Team grew concerned.

The man who stopped today usually has twinkling eyes and a load of charming compliments. Not today. He looked tired and thin, and every one of his sixty-some-odd years. For once, I asked him if he was okay before he could do the same for me. "Tired," he told me. "Old." Then I remembered something 
— the bachelors moved out last week. He explained he had a delivery in the next building, and he wanted to see if I was okay. Then he said, "My wife died three weeks ago. Everything is empty now. The house, my life..." 

He told me how he and his wife had been friends for many years in Georgia before they finally married. "It took too long for me to realize. For her, too. We should be together. But we were happy. Finally."

"Hаконец-то. Hаконец-то...."

"Then... she got sick. Cancer. Other things. It was fast. Now... the house is just walls and a roof. I get up, I take a shower, I put on this shirt, I eat breakfast, I go to work... I am still here, but I am not here. You understand, yes?"

He reached out and took my hand. "Do you have love in your life?"

"No." I had no idea why I felt compelled to express such simple honesty to him. "I don't."

"I hope you find it. I hope you do. We found it so late. Too late. Not much time. I hope you find it."

And then, the pizza man cried.

"Go out into the sun. I know you are a good person, a kind and beautiful person. I hope you find some love. I wish you love like we had." I felt bad. This grieving man was sharing profoundly generous thoughts, and I looked like a greeting card hag with my unbrushed hair in a banana clip, dressed in leopard-print leggings, slippers, and a t-shirt with holes in it. I was awkwardly gracious, fumbling in Russian for the right words of sympathy and embarrassed gratitude.

Then the pizza man let go of my hand. He walked downstairs, his shoulders shaking as he cried. My heart broke for him. 

I honestly don't think I'm a particularly good person, a kind person, or, most certainly, a beautiful person. I am just a person. I am a deeply, profoundly flawed person, invisible —  or laughable — to most other humans. But, just like most other humans, I do want love. And forgiveness. And kindness. And sometimes to just be left the hell alone —  and every other damn thing we all want.

And time moves faster now. Harder to catch dreams on the wind and hold on to them.

Still, we try to hold on, even when the wind wants to knock us off our feet.

As for me? I still have to find my balance first.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

I Suck at Poetry: the Moscow 1989 Edition

I know.

The five people who still come here (prompted by Facebook or Twitter) are pretty sure I've forgotten how to put more than 140 characters together anymore.

Not true! However, most of the writing I do now is focused on the requesting and gathering of cash for a nonprofit, and the expression of gratitude for said cash. In my non-work hours, my life has been focused on the difficult tasks of falling down a lot, sleeping, and watching awful documentaries on Netflix when my insomnia kicks in. (Seriously  there's a "documentary" out there about Atlantis that features clips from Gerry Anderson puppet shows. Puppet shows, people. Puppet Poseidon is not real. Well, for that matter, "real" Poseidon isn't real. Oh — and while I'm ranting — there's another documentary about ancient Egypt that includes — nope, nope, saving that for another post.)

As usual, I digress.

The other day, I was chatting with someone about life in Moscow back in the day. Back in the day being the late 80s, early 90s, when it was my home. Pretty sure I wouldn't recognize much of the city now — nor could I afford it. Honestly, that's okay. I'm never going back. My time there is over. And goodness (she writes, her fingers dripping with sarcasm), if I want a little Russia now in our time of brazen, ugly engagement with the Kremlin, I can listen to the Russian "news" that now plays on local DC radio where bluegrass music used to live.

The bitterness and distaste I feel for official Russia today has led me to divest myself of some once-prized items that have been in my home for many years. My folk art and fairy tale lithographs of another age altogether will remain. Ivan Bilibin didn't hack the election, after all. Neither did the wonderful artists I met over the years. It makes me sad sometimes. I invested many years of my life in that part of the world, but now I joke darkly that at least I speak the language of our future overlords.

I wouldn't trade the time I had living in Moscow for most things, although my memories are plagued by 20/20 hindsight  the curse of mental time travelers, always hoping to change the path already taken. A quarter of a century after dragging my baggage — literal and figurative — through the terminal at Sheremetyevo, I'm done. A European acquaintance took me to the airport when I moved home to the 'States. At one point, I would have called him a friend, but that designation had died under the weight of his lies and the crushing number of times he took strange advantage of me and my dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks-itude.

Some years later, he reached out to me via email in the hopes of a green card marriage. The email came through late at night while I was in the business center of a hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia, trying to get messages back to my office in DC. It had been a wretched day from the start, and this email was the bird poop icing on the cake. As I coughed through the tire fire haze that filled the hotel (part of a days-long protest over Russian energy blockades), I laughed at the message.

"Dearest M,

My friends are opening a restaurant in NYC. They would like me to manage it for them. It would be so wonderful if you would consider a marriage with me. Wouldn't it be fun for us?" 


I howled. And coughed.

And I answered:

"Are you fucking joking? I'm in a tire fire in Tbilisi. No."

I have to wonder if he thought "a tire fire in Tbilisi" was some sort of Americanism for "bad shit" that he didn't understand. Truth is, I didn't care (although I like the thought of him in Paris saying to people, "Mon ami, zis day has been like ze tire fire in Tbilisi.")

I never heard from him again, and, like leaving Moscow behind, I'm really, really good with that.

If I ever get hitched (about as likely now as flying pigs falling from the sky like Egyptian plague frogs), it will be to a relatively sane straight man. My track record for sane, straight, available men has been miserable. Can it be tracked in negative figures? In Moscow, it was just as bad as at home. Worse, possibly. Probably.

There was someone on whom I had a little crush my first few months in Moscow. He was erudite, funny, smarter than me by a mile, a Midwesterner (bonus points!) and a good ten years older than me. And my awkwardly crushy swoon was not returned. At all. I'm pretty sure I could have been a talking dog for all he cared. (I'm still waiting for my naiveté merit badge, you know.) Still, I liked him. Go figure.
Clue phone! Ring ring!

I took a car trip with him once from Moscow to Leningrad to meet up with his parents. We could not travel solo, so he needed another warm body in his car. He had to file travel plans with The Authorities for a road trip, which meant the police in every podunk town we passed through knew we were coming and wanted to check out his car. This made for a long trip, but the cops were thrilled to look under the hood at an Audi engine.

When we reached Leningrad, his parents hated me from the moment they set eyes on my schlubby self. I mean they HATED me. Screaming purple passion hate. It was almost funny how palpable their dislike for me was. It oozed from them like some liquid cancer anytime I walked into a room, and my mere appearance had enough gravity to pull Mom's mouth down into a disdainful frown.

I did see relief on their faces once that weekend, when it was explained to them that I was only a requisite traveling companion and coworker — not a girlfriend.

Whew, Mom and Dad. Whew.  Bullet. Dodged.

Don't worry, Mom and Dad, I'm just his coworker. 
I'll just take my glowing skull and be off, then!

These were uptight humans, plain and simple, and God knows, I fully admit to being an acquired taste. I'm weird, I'm fat. It was 1989, so I still owned stirrup pants, for the sake of all that's holy!

I tried my best to be invisible during our three days of shared captivity, nodding to the trio at breakfast in our swanky hotel, taking my kasha and tea at a separate table, and then setting out on my own (except when they wanted a spare interpreter), walking the avenues and side streets of Leningrad as a solo act. The ride from Leningrad back to Moscow was quiet on my part, even when the parents tried to pry information from me about my family. The initial "Ahhh, I see. You're a Catholic..." from Disapproving Dad was enough for me. Still, it was a free trip to Leningrad and back. I had a Walkman (A WALKMAN, PEOPLE!!) with fresh batteries, and I just watched the countryside roll by with ABBA in my ears.

Find the good in  everything, right?

After that trip, our friendship — if it ever was that — failed. I was ashamed that I had been judged in a split second by people — people of God yet, big, big G, ministers of God people — and that my assumed friend didn't have my back. (I can hear Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride saying, "Get used to disappointment." I should get that on a t-shirt.)

It was awkward and sad for a while, and I missed lunches with the one-time crush, discussing the ridiculous, hilarious, and sometimes wonderful aspects of life in Russia, switching with ease between English and Russian as we talked. Eventually, I got a new job in a different building. The potential for hallway hellos all but vanished, and when he left Moscow, I didn't even know he was gone for weeks.

Life goes on, right?

Still, memories are like tattoos on our brains. Good or bad, some last forever, while others fade in time. Here's a little brain tattoo from 1989. And remember, I really do suck at poetry.

Moscow 1989

When the ruble crashed?

We lived like kings
For a week
Or two

Gold and gems
And books 
And clocks 

And thick amber slices
Hiding insects caught
In honeyed time.

Breathless millionaires!

I snatched

Plane tickets
Samovars and china sets
Antique carpets
By the yard

(Then gave most of it away)

But the truth is
What I enjoyed
The most that year
Was simply

Lunch with you
In the dusty garden
Out behind
The filing room
At work

Smoked and dried and sliced
Wrapped up
With market herbs
So fragrant and so fresh
All crushed

Hunks of cheese
Sticky with jam
And lick-your-fingers honey
Melting on
Steaming wheels of
Hot lavash

We washed it down
With cheapest 
Georgian red
In cracked plastic cups
Bleeding on cement

While we talked
While we laughed
While we watched the city

Cost a kopek

Always priceless. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Red Line Prompt

This evening I asked my friend, the artist formerly known as the Sasquatch (and now known as Model Citizen Press), for a writing prompt. I have so many stalled stories piled up at home, it can be overwhelming, so I figured something fresh would be good. Mr. Model Citizen Press pondered and gave me the following words: sandals, manhole, and shopping bag (plastic or paper). I decided to do this as a roughly 45-minute writing sprint (in the spirit of Jane Espenson's Twitter-announced anyone-can-join sprints), and this is what I put together.

Be kind. Fiction is not my gift.

For my friends in DC: don't be offended. We've all had these days. Especially when it's 95 degrees outside and you're stuck on a train with the entire population of the world and all you want is to be a million miles away.

(Oh, and if you don't like profanity, fair warning!)


Red Line

Jen hated Metro. She hated Metro with every fiber of her being. She hated the delays. She hated the overcrowded trains, the single-tracking, the fires, the smoke, the assholes who ate whole meals on board and left the remnants on their seats, the guys who manspread, and the women who take up an extra seat for their precious shopping bags. She hated peak fares and broken escalators and the Red Line in particular.

Today Jen's Metro rage was fueled by the girl behind her who had propped her feet up on the top of Jen's seat, trapping her hair under a dirty-sandaled foot. She counted to ten, and then counted to ten again. She put her hand behind her head to try to free her hair, but she couldn't get the foot to budge. Jen knew the girl had headphones on since she could hear Taylor Swift dumping another boyfriend and throwing popstar shade at muffled high volume.

"Fuck you, Taylor," Jen muttered. "Fuck you and your whole squad."

The girl got off at Tenleytown. Jen pulled her hair into a scrunchie and sighed. The train disgorged a flow of commuters and students, and a new horde teemed inside. A nearly tangible wave of humidity and B.O. poured on board with them. Jesus. Not even 8:30 and some sorry bastard already smells like a corpse in Hell. That'll be a fun workday.

She scanned the crowd, observing women in summer dresses, men in rolled shirtsleeves, and other men in suits. Who could wear a suit on a day like today? 95 degrees outside. No mercy. The smelly dude has to be one of the suit guys. 

Between each station, the train would stop in the tunnel, lights flickering. Jen closed her eyes and heard the rapid rush of a northbound train, dank air whooshing in through cracks in the doors and windows. No one spoke. Everyone just waited in the dark, each in their own thoughts, their own Metro rage, their own to-do list:

Number One: get the fuck off this train.
Number Two: get the fuck off this train.

Farragut North was just a couple of stops ahead. Jen just needed to hang on to there and then it was a short walk to work. Past the coffee shop, past the CVS, past the alcove that always stank of urine, past the same homeless man who always said "Good morning, beautiful!" to every woman who passed by. Past the hotel where visiting politicians bedded expensive whores, up the block by the Indian carryout and over to her office. By then, the Metro rage would be gone, to be replaced by a quiet work rage as she tapped at a keyboard all day, making small talk with people she barely knew.

I hate my life.

She wanted to be an artist. She wanted to make art, be creative, and still be able to afford groceries.  She was hot, she was sweaty, she was miserable, and she wanted to leave the city. She wanted out now. Gone, gone, gonzo, gone. Out of here, making art. Right fucking now.

In that moment, in the unmoving dark, in a hot tunnel north of Dupont Circle, Jen had an epiphany: today would be her last day at the officeher last day on Metro, her last day in the city. Screw you, DC. She had enough cash in her account to get out of town. She didn't have much stuff to pack. No plants, no pets, no boyfriend. Why the hell not?

The train started up, jarring everyone on board. As it pulled into Dupont, the lights flashed. "This train is out of service." A chorus of swearing, muttering misery filled the car and everyone filed out, resigned to another Metro issue. Jen pulled her messenger bag across her shoulder and exited with the rest of the throng. For once, she didn't care. She was leaving. She was done.

Jen pushed through the packed platform to the escalator. She'd walk to her last day. What's ten minutes late matter if you're quitting on the spot?

She blinked in the sunlight as she climbed to the surface. A middle-aged man played "Tears in Heaven" on a guitar at the top of the escalator. Jen filled her lungs with city air. Last day, breathe it in. The air was a little... acrid.

She stepped into the crosswalk, headed toward Mass Ave, and the ground erupted beneath her feet. Jen flew 20 feet, 30 feet above the city. "Ass over teakettle," her mom would have said. Flames rose up behind her like rocket fuel in her wake.

She never saw the manhole cover below her, propelling her skyward. Oh, fucking DC. Jen thought her last thought.

"Goddamn exploding manholes." The forensic tech lifted a corner of the white sheet and frowned at the broken form underneath. "When the fuck are they gonna get this shit fixed, huh?" The cop next to him shrugged and looked down into Jen's lifeless eyes, frozen in her moment of surprise.

"Jesus, what a mess."

"Yep," the tech nodded his head pulling the sheet back over Jen's face. "Like goddamn abstract art. Goddamn masterpiece."

"Fuckin' DC."

FYI: exploding manholes is an actual thing in DC. For realz.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Shadow of a Bird

This morning, there was a minute in my normal commute when my heart froze in my chest and my mouth went dry. 

I was on Canal Road, stopped in traffic, smiling at the wild lilacs that have started to dot the hillsides lining the road winding along the C&O towpath. The bright blue sky suddenly darkened with a form outstretched across the lanes of traffic. Wings. There were great wings above me. I remember thinking initially it was a trick of the light and just a huge turkey vulture circling carrion along the road. Deer, a fox, a raccoon... Canal Road isn't a friend to distracted wildlife. 

The shadow grew, and as it passed in front of me, I realized it was the shape of a plane far too low above the rush hour world. I could see the shape of the plane shadowed on the pavement and the roofs of the other cars. I saw the woman in the car next to me look up at the jet, too, her jaw dropped open. The path the jet took was unfamiliar. I watched the wings dip and rise, and I held my breath as I waited for it to make the turn along the Potomac to begin approach for Reagan National. I'm sure it was only a matter of seconds, but it felt like forever as the plane continued on a route that made me grip the steering wheel harder than I had in a very long time. Finally, it vanished from my view behind the office buildings of Rosslyn. I rolled down my windows and turned off the radio. There was a stiff breeze that hit my face. Still unmoving in traffic, I waited. I didn't try to catch the scent of lilac on the air. I just waited. 

And nothing happened. Not a damn thing.

A plane, probably buffeted by high winds far above my head, made a very awkward, low approach (way too damn low) to an airport. Happens every day. Maybe it was a young pilot. Maybe it was just the wind. Maybe both. Probably a hell of a lot of silent passengers up there, white-knuckling the approach right along with the crew. Probably a lot of relieved humans when the landing gear touched the tarmac by the river.

Down below, some commuters in little metal boxes on a congested strip of concretecommuters who remembered the days after 9/11had a momentary flashback to the days of chaos, the days of seeing smoke rise from the Pentagon, the days of fear and sadness.

And then we breathed. In. Out. In. Out. The light changed, and we flowed into lower Georgetown and to our destinations across the District. Just another day. Nothing to see here. Move along. It bothers me that such a simple thing can shatter your concentration and put you in state of alarm and worry so damn quickly. Humans are resilient... generally tougher than we give ourselves credit for. But our memories are long, and just as the scent of the wild lilacs on Canal Road can return me to childhood, the shadow of a metal bird can carry me back to things remembered with no happiness. I thought about it through my morning meetings.

Resilience. Joy. Sadness. Fear. Love. Loss. Hope. All the little pieces that make up the experience of a human soul. How quickly we move between those. Moment to moment, day to day.

Tomorrow, I will focus on hope. Hell, maybe I'll even take a different route to work. Today ushered in a time of change for me at work, and the promise of new and good experiences lies ahead. Over the weekend, a very dear friend told me to let go of some difficult and frustrating elements of my past. "Don't let people who've harmed you continue to rent space in your head," he said to me. Damn good advice. I need to take it. Hopeful day, no shadows, here I come!