Falling Asleep

A late April snowstorm has melted in the sun and what’s left is freezing with the moonrise. The gravel alley is pocked and mudslick despite the steady dripping of a drainpipe grate. It makes that sound whether you’re standing over it, motionless, or not.

I look down past my feet and think, well that would be a bad place to die.

Two ducks touch wings and swoop, silent, overhead. You follow them into a blur of red and white car lights at the intersection – the one you crossed when, at age seven, you were first sent on your own to buy milk at the gas station.

Someone appears in front of a house wearing a neon cycling vest backed by a flashing red light. He’s on the phone promising his dad he’ll return for dinner next week. He does this while directing the bike with one hand toward a steep hill, in dim light. I stand aside.

I walk home. Beside the front walk there are two dozen neat miniature bootprints in the snow. You can image a line of little girls in rain boots standing there, saluting you, perhaps. In fact they are all my daughter, who knows nothing of salutes.

Inside I’m told she has requested a goodnight kiss, so I shake off my coat and scarf and pad softly into her room. If I snuggle her, she says, she knows she will be able to sleep right away, so can I just snuggle her for a minute?

Who could refuse this sort of question?

Her bed is pink and narrow and short, because it’s for kids, and although I hang off of it in several directions, I find it the most comfortable place in the house. She tells me she tried to keep her eyes closed but she just can’t, and I tell her that’s ok, you can just leave them open.

I tell her that the minutes before you fall asleep – before your eyelids get too heavy – those are the best part of the day. When you can think about how everything works and just look at the ceiling. You have nothing to do, and nothing you can do, really, except wait for sleep to come. And watch the dark fill up.

I tell her I’ll always protect her and help her, no matter what happens or where she goes. I tell her I think she’s amazing. I stroke her forehead and say I can’t wait to find out what will happen in her life; what she’ll learn, who she’ll meet, where she’ll end up, how she’ll get there.

This is my daughter, lying here beneath my right arm, breathing evenly, listening to me clumsily explain how much I love her.

This is my daughter falling asleep.

Night Duty

Ayla’s feet tucked under her upside-down-heart-shaped butt while she kneels in the bathtub in front of the faucet, lapping up water from the cold trickle I’ve left running for her.

I ignore her for part of the bath, playing games on my phone, variously feeling guilty and justified with my behavior. I’ve been with her all day, so a break for tongue-lolling-out time is deserved. On the other hand, it’s not the first time I’ve ignored her today, for video games or other reasons.

I eventually break from the phone’s magnetic hold, like a junked car breaking away from the giant magnet that spells its doom/new-life. And I watch her talking to her rubber baby bath toy, telling it to sit and saying other things that make little sense to me.

When common sense and the clock tell me it’s time to empty the bath and get the most important human being in the world to bed, I flick down the drain switch and sing the clean up song. She doesn’t notice (or doesn’t care), and keeps on playing long after the water’s gone. Adults never hang out in empty bathtubs. Only children.

Then I hoist her up on my lap in a towel and comb her ridiculously beautiful hair for a long time, being pointlessly thorough. I enjoy looking at her, even at the back of her head, and she’s not squirming.

We read several books several times, and then I catch her stubbornly rubbing her eyes. She knows she’s tired but tries to hide it. So I scoop her up and place her in bed with three pacifiers surrounding her. She samples each one, rotating (I think) to get the freshest. I pat her back, her legs extended long behind her as she lies on her stomach, toes pointed slightly inward, her right heel swaying rhythmically.

“Song?” She says, pushing up on her forearms. It’s late August; the sun is going down earlier and earlier, leaving something like dream-light coming through the sheer white curtains. I sing until she falls asleep.

Rubellus, Castaneus & Terrestris – A Short Odyssey

Three brown worms, soaked and bloated, writhed half-dead on the sleet-covered sidewalk. What would become of those worms? What chance, frankly, did they have?

Are there daring stories of worm survival? Homeric tales of chaotic spring floods and tortuous hours squirming on concrete deserts, searching for the way home to roots and dark earth and subterranean safety?

On this frigid spring day, as I hunched and grimaced toward my weekly tennis match, I thought, probably not. “These three worms are dead meat,” I thought.

The deaths of worms seem gruesome at first; smeared by sneakers, bisected by beaks, or simply drowned in pathetic puddles mere fractions of a centimeter deep. And then, when the weather passes and everyone is out enjoying the first warm hours of spring, baked by the sun into brittle mummification.

But our deaths are gruesome, too. And prolonged, usually, by modern medicine. And indoors, most likely, away from the light and the fresh air, however brisk this late in April.

Are there daring stories of human survival? Homeric or otherwise? Surely.

Every human story is one of daring survival, from first breath to last. Though our puddles are deeper and we are less prone to smearing.

Perhaps I underestimated them. Those worms. Maybe one would bravely bear hours of freezing drizzle while I slapped and scampered at tennis balls (for naught: I lost) and live to see the clouds break. Maybe a dozen sidewalk-goers’ random walks would miraculously eschew her. And then, spongy and addled (though brainless), she would blindly vermiculate in the lucky direction of the grass, not the street.

There she would rest a moment, marveling, tasting once more her native soil, before taking renewed strength in thoughts of loved ones, and burrowing down into the dirt.

Except I didn’t. Underestimate them. Because I came out of my match two hours later, sweaty and defeated, and saw the three of them right where I left them. Super dead. Seriously.

I took the loss better than usual, as you might imagine, since I was in a mental state of picturing deaths worse than my own. Any defeat is quite bearable, actually, compared to those sad, drowned, frozen worms.

Somehow just the possibility of their heroism – though not realized that day, still entirely plausible – buoyed me. Maybe it was the sunshine, but I got back in my car thinking not of my seven double-faults, but of resilience and determination and stoic bravery. And of loved ones

All those things and more standing between me and my own native soil, which I, too, will someday taste.

June, July, and August

The smell of humid dryer-air as I bolted from the laundry room where my mother was folding clothes. The cool rasp of galvanized steel as I hung from the crossbar of the clothesline pipes.

The grinding quarter turn of my sneakered heel in the sandy grass that was home plate, midway through a fully wild swing at an innocent, floating softball. The leather laces of my baseball glove, wet and chewy in my mouth, vaguely hoping for a pop fly.

The not-quite-painful metal barb of bicycle pedals on bare feet as we raced around in circles with whirring tires on parched sidewalks. Straddling the bike with the front wheel clenched between my thighs and yanking the handlebars back into alignment.

We twirled in the late evening air with clear-skied stars streaking above us and cool, damp grass and earth beneath. We waited for the lunar eclipse and got dizzy in thickening blue twilight.

My face pressed against the screen-window’s mesh, feeling the breath of mid-day moving in and out in hot languid waves, watching for kids to come out and play. Picking grains of sand from my skinned knee striped fleshy white and blood red.

The electric buzz of a light outside the kitchen table window way past bedtime learning to play chess with my father.

The instant drying bake of July-roasted cement beside the public pool’s shallow end, and the wet shadows of our bodies melting outward, sending rivulets back into the water. We vanished in shimmering heat.

My head double-weighted, hair pulled taut, laying too far back in the swing as trees and clouds and planes at thirty thousand feet flipped back and forth in brazen defiance of physics and reason.

Released from the summer-school bus at the top of the hill on crackling dry August grass and hearing the folding doors swoomp shut behind me. The belly rumble of the diesel engine; a few remaining kids framed by rectangular windows. Not quite the last stop.

String cheese, turkey sandwich, cool grapes, Doritos. Cereal with milk and sugar. Bomb pops.

Watching traffic backed up outside the fairground’s main gate; short-sleeved policemen with their thumbs squarely into belt loops tucked. Sunburned men in tank tops and fanny packs and families with strollers of sleeping, shrieking children.

Climbed the sledding hill to a spot where through branches I could see and barely hear fireworks above a spinning sliver of the Ferris Wheel’s lights. The mad random jubilant chaos of the midway just after dark.

Dinnertime. The sun is down. On the scratchy blue carpet in my bedroom the backpack’s neatly packed; still short two notebooks and a protractor.

Crickets. The light is off. Fifth grade tomorrow and for the first time in memory I can’t fall asleep.

The last day of summer.

Bases Loaded

Holy crap! This post is older than my children. Twice! Anyway, in honor of  Twins Opening Day, here you go:

I have always hated baseball. The standing around. The body-part scratching. The throwing and catching. Goofy socks.

There are so many ways to ridicule the game of baseball it’s difficult to choose where to start. Difficult, but not impossible.

As a kid whose parents were from South America, I grew up thinking fútbol was far superior. This despite the fact that neither my parents nor my Argentine relatives cared any more about fútbol than they cared about bais-bol. My parents considered it a sport for thugs. My mom worried about head injuries and tackling. Also drugs (Maradona, cocaine, etc.).

So I made a point of treating our national pastime with contempt. I decried it as a non-sport. It required no physical fitness, like golf or chess. It was the most poorly designed of  sports, in my mind, because the rules were strange and arbitrary and often self-conflicting.

So when the time came in gym class or on the playground to play what was, in the late 80s and early 90s, still The Nation’s Pastime, it was with glum satisfaction that I joined in. On one hand, I hated participating in that Sport Which Crushed All Other Sports. On the other hand, I could criticize to my heart’s delight, from the perfect vantage point: right field.

This happened throughout my childhood. Late summer nights spent watching wispy dead dandelions under the bright outfield lights. I even played on the neighborhood team in a ill-fated attempt at cultural assimilation.

In the short-term, at least, it didn’t work. I never fit in with the boys who collected baseball cards. They did it not because everyone else did, but because it was a fact of life, like breathing. These were kids who really did play catch with their dads in the back yard after dinner. My dad and I played multiplication tables.

But over time, baseball made a mark on me in a subtle, nearly undetectable way, like the sun on a painting hung on a south-facing wall. I remember running up the stairs the night the Twins won the 1991 World Series. We’d just moved into our first real house.

I remember getting my first fitted ‘Minnesota’ hat, now trapped in a grave of dust behind a dresser in my little brother’s room.

And I remember the sun going down over a slow freight train out behind right field. A reddish haze of gravel dust on my shoes and a gloved hand raised above my head to draw the gnats away.

There I stood; for all anyone knew I was waiting for a fly ball.

Somewhere between then and now I learned to love baseball. Not for the game itself, which still bores me to tears most of the time, but for the way it burrowed into my memory. Uninvited, unwelcome and out-of-place, baseball carved out a niche for itself in my life.

It is the end of summer. It is the Twins and the Braves. It the bright crack of a high fly ball, sailing into the summer sky.

Up, out, and into right field.

Still Working on This …

I am the king of unfinished things. I’m the captain of the Just Good Enough. I often know where to start but not where to stop.

I am a jack of all trades, or, if I’m honest, a 10 of spades. And “all” is meant figuratively. Secretly I yearn to be the joker.

I am the cabinet door left open. I have again forgotten to close it. I have made a trip somewhere to pick up one specific thing and have –  despite reminders by phone and text – returned home without it.

Where is my wallet? Where are my keys? Why is my car rolling away?

Oh. I left it in neutral.

I am texting while I drive. I am reading my e-mail. I am taking business calls on the toilet. I mute while I flush.

I am napping under a desk in an abandoned cubicle on the fifth floor of the corporate office building where I work. I am taking excessively long walks over my lunch break. I see a deer and her fawn in the woods behind the parking lot in the sunlight.

Let’s face it: I’m just rinsing most of these dishes. The sponge has long been out of soap.

I am overdue for an oil change. My wiper fluid is out.

My dentist’s receptionist has sent a series of e-mails. Polite. Concerned. Annoyed. Disgusted. I have missed many cleanings.

I did not wash that fruit. I told you I did, but I didn’t.

I did not wash my hands. I lifted the lever and ran the water for a subterfugeous second.

I am my keychain, left in plain view on my unlocked car’s passenger seat. Overnight. Again. I have been running on empty for over two days.

I am scores of dead houseplants, starved by neglect, then overwatered into oblivion.

I am thirty thousand undone sit ups coalesced and marching in formation back and forth across the sky.

Where is my phone? Where are those stamps? What is this letter from the IRS?

They have seen fit to get in touch with me directly.

I am the king of unfinished things, and I don’t know if it’s good or if it’s bad. I think I am trying to change it.

But I’m not trying very hard.

The Man and the Lady – A Heroic Escape

I know he’s still in here. He’s just crouched down on the carpet where I can’t see him. I hear sounds, and I can’t make them out. Is it a man moving around on the floor of my bedroom, or is it something else?

There are strange sounds at night and I can’t get used to them. The outside ones and the inside ones get mixed up. The warm air blower thingy groans and creaks. That elephant who blows steam from his face grumbles and rattles.

The Man’s arm is here, so the Man must also be here. But I can’t see him and this makes me furious. The arm puts the tiny rubber booby in my mouth. I love the tiny rubber booby, but not now, arm! I spit it out, and the arm puts it back in.

Monkey is here, too. I loathe Monkey. The Man forever tries to make me hug it, but Monkey just smothers me. Yesterday I awoke with his fluffy body suffocating me. I was so terrified. I did rolling and screaming – at the same time – to get him off. Then I struggled for half an hour to get to the other side of the crib. Monkey is immobile; he can’t follow me.

I keep the booby in for a while so the arm will leave me alone. My goal this morning, as ever, is simple: escape.

I dream about freedom. About the food chair and about the sweet potato purée and about grabbing it and rubbing it all over my forehead. But most of all I dream about the Lady, and her soft skin and quiet voice and her red hair.

I am distracted. I do push ups. I try to make my head go backwards. I have a mouth! I put everything in there. I try doing noises. I turn to my back.

This was my first big breakthrough, several months into captivity. At first the Man and Lady would only allow me to sleep on my stomach. And I was so enfeebled from the Very Long Dark Swim that I couldn’t turn over. But finally, after much struggling, I learned the kicky side roll. Most of my weight is in my head, and if I can some momentum going, it brings the rest of me along. Now I can turn over whenever I want, and the Lady usually lets me stay that way. The Man often forces me back on my stomach, but right now he hasn’t noticed (or he’s gone).

Now here is a pickle. The mobile has snagged my attention. I admit it; I’m a sucker for the mobile. It turns so slow! Will it speed up? Who makes it turn? How does it float up there? I grab my feet and try to eat them.

Do you know your mouth hole can make sounds? I knew my poop hole could make sounds, but then I saw the People moving their mouths all the time and now I can do two sounds: ‘da’ and ‘ba’. I practice putting the sounds together into long strings, doing them really loud, and then really quiet.

I try: “da-da DA! DA! daaaah d-dd-d-da DAAA! da d-um bum bu ba ba da YEAAAAAA!

I try: “Ungghghggh! AGGHGHG!”

The Man is back. He is standing over me with his arms crossed, looking annoyed. But there is some blue light now coming through from behind the curtains, just enough for me to see that he’s trying not to smile.

“A dah! A dah! A daaaah daaaah daaaaah DGHAAAAGHGHG!”

Now he laughs a bit. This is good. This is working. He begins talking to me. Praising my noises, presumably.

The door opens, and behind it comes the Lady.

I now flail, I believe the word is, uncontrollably.

The Lady is coming. She’s coming to get me. I am so close! I know what I need to do:

I open my mandibles extremely wide and bare my teeth. She can not resist them. She reaches down and picks me up, and I look at the Man with a victory glare I reserve for just these sorts of moments.

Now about those sweet potatoes.

The Vegetable Power Rankings

Onion –  The only vegetable capable of self-defense. Impossible to cook without.

Brussel Sprout – Still my favorite to win it all after last year’s impressive post-season run. It’s a tasty, miniature cabbage. When I’m eating them I like to imagine they’re little crunchy marinated chipmunk skulls. Ok no I don’t, and you’re right, that’s gross.

Cauliflower – Great name. What is a cauli? Is that a tree? Only albino version of another vegetable.

Artichoke – Just a badass, deadly-sounding dude of a vegetable. Deadly.

Asparagus – It can make your pee more horribler smelling.

Peas – Why did it take me thirty years to realize that this vegetable is the plural of ‘pee’? Good for rolling. Only spherical vegetable.

Celery – For when you run out of floss.

Corn – Or else what would there be in your throw up?

Spinach – The liver of vegetables.

Garlic – Good for masking finger smells. Like when you’ve been scratching your butthole. Then you go cook something with garlic in it and no one will know!

Shallot – Why do recipes call for shallots? Where are all these shallots? What is a shallot, anyway? Gene Shallot?

Jicama – For when you wanted packing peanuts in your salad, but you already ate all the packing peanuts.

Beet – Mr. Stainy.

Potato – Potato, you stupid, ugly vegetable. I would feel bad for the potato if it just weren’t so … ugly. Just, go look at a potato that’s starting to sprout. You’ll know what I mean. If I really wanted to insult someone I would tell them “Potato-face”. I can’t think of anyone I dislike enough to say that to. Yes, I know it’s a tuber.

Carrots – Usually safe, just don’t eat a whole bag. Long story. Ulcers.

A Sledding Accident, and Death

Two little boys, legs askew, bodies tilted in opposite directions, about two feet off the ground. One wore a green down jacket, the other was dressed in brown with a red hat. Beneath them, the sled tracked their downward progress, ready to catch them again at the end of the short flight.

Except, of course, after all that mid-air rotation, when they hit the sled again, their bodies didn’t fit neatly in, as they had when their grandparents had packed them safely at the top of the hill. So one boy’s rear end hit squarely on the edge of the plastic sled, flipping the other edge up and catapulting the brother skyward. Continue reading “A Sledding Accident, and Death”

Moon Shadows

When I was a kid, my sister’s room had a splatter of glow-in-the-dark sticky stars on the ceiling. They had been put there by the previous occupants; college-aged tenants, since the house was a rental before we bought it. And the ceiling tiles in her bedroom were painted alternative squares of blue and white, except where they weren’t, because someone’s final exam had gotten in the way of finishing the job. Or maybe a girlfriend stormed in demanding answers.

Whatever the reason, the stars, constellatorily incomplete, and the half-painted tiles remained, unaltered, throughout our adolescence. Continue reading “Moon Shadows”

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