Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dear John

"Hello, this is Hannah."

After all these years, the sexy purr of her voice still overwhelmed him. He thought about hanging up. What could he possibly give her except more pain?

"Hi, it’s John." He offered gingerly.

"John? Wow ... John ... " Her voice trailed off, then she caught herself and cheerfully added, "It’s good to hear from you."

He smiled. That was just like her to save him from himself. She had every right to make him squirm for all the crap he'd put her through, but she wouldn't; she'd never let him feel bad if she could help it.

Now and again he'd thought about her. Who wouldn't? She was remarkable. However, lately it was more than just an occasional thought. It seemed like he couldn't think of anything else. Every time he found himself sleeping on the couch or escaping to the neighborhood bar, his mind would wander back to perfect moments wrapped up in her arms, private jokes they’d shared, and the way her face lit up when he walked in the room. As he remembered their time together, he wondered if he’d ever been happier. Why had he let her slip away? No ... why had he pushed her away?

"I’ve been thinking about you."

"How are Dawn and the kids?" she asked deliberately.

"They’re fine ... but listen," he took a deep breath and dared to be brave, brave the way he should have been a dozen years ago. "Hannah, I know it may be hard for you to believe, but I still think about you every day. I’ve never stopped loving you." He wanted to say more but she interrupted.

"So you and Dawn are having problems."

"Well, yes but ..."

She tenderly, but matter of factly began, "You feel miserable. You wonder if your marriage is hopeless and you're tired of the same old bullshit. So, you torture yourself by thinking about what might have been. I bet you're on your cell talking to me from a shopping mall parking lot right now. You’d rather sit in the dark imagining a different life than face the reality of your problems at home."

The conversation wasn’t going the way he'd hoped. He whispered, "That’s about right. How did you know?"

"Just a hunch, I guess."

"I’m sorry, Babe. I just thought ..."

She didn’t let him finish, "Go home and kiss your wife, John. You love her. Maybe you and I will talk again sometime, but no more now."

Three weeks later, a small note card arrived in the mail. The address was handwritten and the paper was scented with sandalwood. His hands shook as he opened it.

Dear John,
Our time with those we love is far too brief.
Don’t waste a second with regret. Strive to be happy instead.
You were the greatest Love of my life, Sweetheart.

The same afternoon, three other men, one in Boston, one in LA, and another in Rochester, Minnesota, received identical notes.

Hannah was buried the following day.
Ovarian cancer.

John realized that she must have been very sick the day he called. He lost control as he whispered aloud, "She'd never let me feel bad if she could help it."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm a Fool for You

I looked good Saturday night. It was probably the shoes: classic black pumps, sleek and slim, with a 4-inch heel. I’d spent a bit more for them, but it’s worth it to feel sexy walking across a room. The rest of my ensemble was just as nice, all black, topped with a double-strand pearl choker and rich-red lipstick.

I’d been at a work party, but it was hot, crowded and miserable, so I ditched out and picked my ex up from work. I felt lonely and I knew if I went home I’d spend the night crying, so I bribed him with beer and he agreed to go downtown with me for a while. The bar was a lot better than my other options, and even though I was over-dressed, I felt relieved to be there.

The guy at the bar looked to be all of about 21 going on fifteen. He and his friend were playing at the dartboard next to ours. I swear, every time I looked over, he was staring at me with his big defenseless brown eyes. He seemed surprised when I smiled and said hello; then he just mumbled and looked really embarrassed. I felt bad for him. I also felt flattered and forgot about my loneliness for a while.

I wanted to tell him that I understood his awkwardness. I wanted to tell him that no one in the universe has ever made a bigger fool of themselves than me. I wanted to tell him that he could have a do-over. But I knew all those things would have made it worse. Instead, I accidentally dropped my darts a few times and let him pick them up for me.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Day I Found Out I Was Black and Then I Wasn't

When I was growing up, one of the games my family used to play was an imaginary game where we made up stories about our ancestry. Because my Dad was an orphan, we could change our heritage every day if we wanted to. One day we might be related to the Kennedy’s, and the next we might be Al Capone’s long lost grandchildren. Of course, all of our imaginary relatives were very wealthy and famous, and we were certain that as soon as they discovered our whereabouts they would buy us lots of candy and toys. My Dad was particularly fond of telling us he was from Mars. We didn’t like that so much because Martians don’t have candy and toys.

I remember one specific day in 1974. Dr. King had been gone for six years and the racial upheaval in the city next to ours was also several summers in the past. I was ten, so I didn’t think much about Dr. King or racial tension anyway. From my perspective, it seemed like the rest of the world never really touched our mostly white little college town. Everything upsetting and ugly happened in other places. If we wanted to avoid those things, all we had to do was stay home. We could read about things and people who were different without having to take any risks. On this particular day I was finishing a really cool book that I’d checked out from the Public Library. It was called Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis.

The novel is about a wounded World War II veteran, Neil Kingsblood. After returning to his hometown, Neil’s entire life changed when he started poking around into his ancestry. His curiosity was peaked when his father told him that the Kingsbloods were descended from English royalty. After Neil’s genealogical research convinced him that the Kingsbloods had no royal ancestors, he decided to explore his mother’s side of the family. While tracing her family history, he came across Xavier Pic, who described himself in a letter as a full-blooded Negro. From this research, Neil realized that he was 1/32 Negro.

When he first learned about his mixed racial ancestry, Neil faced many fears about how this truth would impact his life. He even considered suicide. But when he announced his race, first to some new black friends, then to his family, and finally to everyone in town, Neil began to understand true racial hatred. Friends disappeared, his in-laws disowned him, he and his wife received hate-mail, and he got fired from his job. The developer who sold him his house offered to buy it back, suggesting that if he didn’t take the offer, he might be sued for violating a housing covenant that restricted the residence of undesirables in their development. At the end of the story, a white mob surrounded the house. When the police responded to the riot, they arrested Neil, rather than his attackers.

I was completely mesmerized by this book. I was right there, living inside Neil Kingsblood in 1947. When he first learned of Xavier Pic, I was just as surprised as he was. As he battled with the decision to keep his secret forever, or be proud and true to himself, I was brave with him. I felt the betrayal and the horror of racisim, cried for all of the sacrifices, and struggled against the injustice. However, the most significant information that stuck to my ten-year old brain was that Neil looked white, he had red curly hair, and he had freckles. OH MY GOD!!! He was my Dad’s long-lost identical twin brother!!! What a fantastic discovery I had made.

As soon as I finished the book, I ran downstairs with joy to announce to my family that I had solved the mystery of our ancestry. My parents were having coffee in the kitchen with a neighbor, and my brother and sister were in the next room fighting over which Saturday morning cartoon they were going to watch. I was panting when I entered the kitchen, more from enthusiasm than the flight downstairs. I gave the precious book a squeeze and held it to my chest as I made my announcement.

"Hey, guess what? We’re Black!" I proclaimed with satisfaction.

My mother looked over at me, obviously seeing her blond, blue-eyed child standing in the doorway. She said, "What in God’s name are you talking about?"

I looked to my Dad for help, but by then he was looking down and chuckling a bit. He often did that when I made one of my astonishing announcements.

"Really Mom," I said earnestly "it’s right here in this book. There’s a guy just like Dad except he’s black. So that means we could be black too."

"We are not black." She said emphatically.

"But, why can’t we be black?" I argued. "You don’t know we’re not black. The book says you only need to have 1/32 black blood and then you get to be black."

"I don’t care what that book says. We are not black." She said again, only louder.

I could tell that she was getting angry, but I didn’t know why. This announcement wasn’t going at all the way I’d planned. Why weren’t they excited? Why didn’t they want to know more about it?

As I saw both my parents give the neighbor guy an exasperated look and whisper something to him, I realized that perhaps they didn’t want to be black. I decided that my discovery was a failure. Even if I was right, it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. I let out a heavy sigh and wandered back upstairs.

After that day, the imaginary ancestry game wasn’t fun for me. Every time someone brought it up, my only thought was that Neil Kingsblood was my Dad’s identical twin brother.

Sixteen years later my Dad finally found his birth mother. It turns out we’re 100% Norwegian on his side. There’s even a town in northern Norway with the same name as our last name. I guess the high cheekbones, fair complexion, and red/blond hair are a bit more consistent with Scandinavian than African ancestry. But in my heart, for a few short hours in 1974, I was black.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King, Jr.,
(January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968)

Story originally posted 1/16/2005 (tmk)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Second Sight

Invisible people tend to take up a lot of space. John was no different. It wasn’t that he demanded a lot of space, it was more because other people gave him a larger girth. Perhaps the effort to not see him required a few extra feet of buffer room.

John seemed accustomed to being invisible. He settled into the couch, drank his beer and watched. I noticed him watching me and wondered if he could tell what I was thinking. Those beautiful eyes seemed to know more than I wanted them to. Surely he could see my discomfort, my questions, my compassion … or was it pity? Even when I told funny stories and he laughed along with the others, I felt uneasy.

I poured another drink for courage and whispered, "The Emperor has no clothes on." Then, I sat on the floor next to a pair of twisted crippled legs. The rest of the night John talked to me with his invisible voice, laughed with me with his invisible laugh, and shared invisible wisdom that I’ll never forget.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Almost as Good as Cunnilingus

While some of you may be making resolutions to improve yourselves through weight loss or reducing uncomely habits, such as, cursing or daily visits to porn sites, I prefer to use the turning of the calendar to force my will on society as a whole. Some of my past efforts have been more successful than others. For instance, in 2005, my campaign to celebrate cunnilingus was fabulously popular. From what I hear, the influence of my resolve was felt intimately by people across the globe (grateful participants may pay their respects with an anonymous donation to my personal bank account). I don’t have to tell you how thrilled I was every time I learned of the effectiveness of my efforts.

On the other hand, resolutions such as my attempt to revive the popularity of the After-Five Pill-Box hat, the reduction of unnatural shearing of nether-regions (trimming is encouraged), and the immediate outlawing of cell phone use in checkout lines at the grocery store … or any store for that matter, have not been nearly as successful. Nevertheless, my desire to better society with my own personal vision of Utopia is as powerful as ever.

In 2007, my influence will be felt in a rather subtle way. It’s my heartfelt desire to spread a calming wave of nostalgic gentility for the greater good. I shall disseminate the reassuring language of my blessed motherland, IOWA.

Little do you know, in the privacy of our own homes, and even in public when outsiders are scarce, we Iowans continue to speak in a sort of quaint retro-language long lost to the rest of society. This, I believe is the secret to our well-earned reputation as exceptionally friendly folk. Honestly, when people of other sub-cultures remark about how nice I am, I wince a little. By Iowa standards, I’m generally considered to be rude, thoughtless and socially inept. However, as my plan to infiltrate the greater American lexicon with the verbage of yore comes to fruition, we shall ALL become a nicer people … more Iowaegean, if you will. How can that be a bad thing?

I know what you’re thinking …
What the hell is this crazy chik talking about?
Well, first of all, did you forget that I’m your Love Goddess? Surely that gives me some influence, yes? My Love for you is abundant and heartfelt. Now, show me some respect and get on the bus!
Secondly, a more neighborly way to ask your question would be to say,
"Golly gee! What sort of shenanigans is this wacky Theresa up to?"
Well, just settle yourselves down, kids. I’m getting to it.

Let’s take a look at your average American couple from say, ohhh ... New Jersey. And for the sake of elucidation, lets call them, ohhh ... Laura and Dan (fictional, of course).

Dan: Go pull the car around. I want some ice cream.
Laura: Get it your damn self. I’m busy. Hey, who do you think will win Dancing With the Stars this season?
Dan: Who the hell cares? I was just trying to be nice and take you out.
Laura: Okay, I’ll go, but you have to drive.
Dan: Shit yes! I hate the way you drive.
Laura: What are you talking about?
Dan: You tailgate. You know how much I HATE that.
Laura: I do not. You’re a worse driver. You go crazy and think you own the damn road.
Dan: If everyone else learned to drive and got out of my way, I wouldn’t have a problem would I?
Laura: You over-react to everything when you’re behind the wheel.
Dan: Do not.
Laura: Do too.
Dan: Do not.
Laura: Just get the car, Dan.

Unfortunately, conversations like this one are happening all over the country every day. How do I know? Ahem! Haven’t we been over this already? I know this because I’m a Goddess and I have special powers. Jimminy Christmas! Stop your phooey old doubting!

In our new and improved world, rich with the civil language of folks like Jimmy Stewart and the Beav and his kinfolk, Laura and Dan’s conversation will go a little differently.

Dan: How would my favorite little filly like to go for some ice cream?
Laura: Gee whiz Dan, that sounds nifty!
Dan: Do you want to drive, or shall I?
Laura: I’d prefer if you do today, thank you.
Dan: That sounds swell. I sure hope the traffic isn’t too bad. Sometimes I get a little cross with other drivers.
Laura: I hope the traffic is good too. I got a little nervous the last time we were out when that other car was cattywampus across two lanes. You were in quite a tizzy.
Dan: Heaven’s to Betsy, Laura, I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ll try to be more patient.
Laura: Hot-diggety, you’re super-duper! Does that mean you’ll leave the 9mm Beretta M9 at home?
Dan: Sure, Laura. Anything for you!

See, isn’t that nice?

Lets all be neighborly, shall we?