Default to Goodness

April 22, 1983

Earth Day and Day of My Last Drink

High Falls, New Jersey
The psychiatric male nurse rifled through my small canvas bag. With a black magic marker, he wrote “Smith” on the crotch of every pair of my white lace panties. Trembling, I stood silently beside him. Would I spend the rest of my life in this god-forsaken hellhole in the wilderness of New Jersey? Would a bored psychiatrist give me a shot, so that I would become just another inmate doing the Thorazine shuffle? Another Frances Farmer?

I have never been so scared in my whole life.

I got married six months ago.

Would my husband divorce me? Would I become a homeless woman sitting beside overflowing garbage bags on the streets of New York?

I felt like an astronaut floating in space whose umbilical cord to the spaceship that would return him to Earth had just been severed.

I was instructed to wait in another room. “Does your husband beat you?” the kind nurse asked.

“No, never,” I answered with quivering lips.

“How did you get all those bruises?” she asked.

“I bumped into the furniture and fell off my bicycle.”

It was true. I was riding an old Schwinn from the Pellisades health club to my apartment building in heavy traffic after dark. (Every alcoholic goes to a health club daily, right? I did; it was my futile attempt to exert some control over my behavior, which I hated, but could not stop.)

When I got married, I left my one shabby room in Manhattan for New Jersey. I hated New Jersey almost as much as I hated my alcoholism. Parts of New Jersey are really beautiful; I just didn’t live in any of them. Living in this congested town beside the George Washington Bridge represented unequivocal failure to me. It had all the disadvantages of an overcrowded city, as well as a boring suburb with insufficient parking places. I left Frenchtown (a suburb of Memphis), Tennessee, so that I could  end up in Port Lincoln, New Jersey?

Why was I traveling by bicycle? I hadn’t driven a car since I was 17 after having an almost fatal encounter with a tractor-trailer on a major east-west thoroughfare in Memphis. When I went to Thorncliff College in Westchester County, I didn’t need a car because I could take the train that runs alongside the scenic Hudson River to Grand Central Station.

Don’t know if she believed me or not, but the nurse sent me to a large room, essentially a holding pen, filled with men and women of all ages and all sizes. Each patient would be evaluated eventually and treatment–drugs and/or therapy–would begin. Being a well-bred Southerner, I attempted to make polite conversation with a muscular man, Douglas, a paranoid schizophrenic who had just been shipped over from a psycho ward in Connecticut. He started talking about Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy… what a cool bus ride they had together.

Five minutes later, I was lying on the cold linoleum floor spitting out large chips of teeth and lots of blood. Several of the male patients came to my rescue; they pulled Douglas off of me and held him until a doctor appeared. He  drugged Douglas and escorted him into a room with a solid, gray metal door. After his door was bolted, his bloodcurdling, scathing denunciations of me penetrated every room of that hospital.

Someone gave me an ice bag to hold on my throbbing cheek. Much of the attack is now just a blurry nightmare in my head.  I was assigned to a bedroom only three doors away from his. My skinny roommate, Melanie, sat on her bed with her knees clasped to her chin. She looked like a praying mantis cut in two.

“Why are you here?” the frail, depressed girl asked.

“I can’t stop drinking.”

“I slashed my wrists. See?” Melanie said.

I wasn’t really expecting a coherent conversation. Melanie exhibited her bony, scarred arms. I was really trying to be calm and sympathetic, but I just wanted to escape.

“I’ve been attacked. I want to leave this place now,” I told the nurse on duty who came in to check on us.

“You’re safe now. Don’t worry. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“Please let me use your phone.”  She pointed to a public telephone down the hall.

I made a collect call to my husband, Joseph.

“I hate you. I really hate you. An insane man just tried to kill me. Come and get me. Now. This place is filled with certified lunatics, and that’s no exaggeration.”

Joseph replied in a stern voice, “I’ll come tomorrow morning.”

During the night, he arranged to have me transferred to another hospital, Fair Hope, in Sumac, New Jersey. (What a strange coincidence; I remembered that my parents were married in Fair Hope, Alabama—I would have named their marriage rendezvous location: No Hope.)

The following morning the Walter-Mitty type staff psychiatrist tried to convince my husband and me, as we sat in his dark-brown dreary office with worn-out leather furniture, that I should stay put.

“Out of the question,” said my 53-year-old husband in his most authoritative executive voice.

He immediately drove me to Fair Hope Hospital where I lived for one month. A member of the cleaning staff stole my navy leather handbag–with the exquisite brass hardware and clasp–from my closet, but other than that, the experience of living with a group of men and women, who had endured far more than their share of life’s cruelties, injustices, and tragedies, was almost an epiphany; I began to believe that a different life was possible. During the day we had group therapy with counselors who all were recovering alcoholics and/or drug addicts. I was an oddity because I had never used drugs. Not once. Most patients in their 30s had at least experimented with every powder, pill, or injection available.

As Boris Pasternak wrote, “I   don’t like people who have never fallen or

stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless, and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its

beauty to them.”

He was right, of course. I wish that we had met; Dr. Zhivago is one of my all-

time favorites. And I’m very fond of late bloomers; he was sixty-eight when he won the

Nobel Prize for Literature.

We ate our tasteless meals in a bland cafeteria. Only decaf coffee was available from a large metal container, so I was really sleepy for the entire 30 days. Most of the patients were men, so my roommate, a pretty, blue-eyed  blonde, around my age,  and I got lots of attention. We also were among the youngest. We were the lucky ones, who had been forced into rehab before the devastating effects of alcoholism took their toll: debilitating neuropathy, memory loss, grizzled complexions. One patient had to have his arm amputated; he was drunk and waved his arm out the car window…a truck roared by, too close.

Every night we went to an A.A. meeting. I met a woman who had watched her brother hacked to death with an ax by a stranger in her backyard; a man who was just released from jail for grand larceny and who ran a prostitution ring from his Irish bar on First Avenue (He begged me to work for him as a call girl after we were discharged from Fair Hope); a good-looking, sanguine, irreverent man in his late twenties who had spent years traveling on luxury cruise ships pretending that he was a Catholic priest and befriending and bedding older women if they bought him enough champagne; another woman stood outside with her mother and sister as her father burned to death trapped in their suburban house; a shy, thirty-two-year-old female, who was the unwanted only child of an abusive alcoholic manic-depressive mother and charming, artistic homosexual father, who found neither the time nor the energy nor psychological fortitude to protect his daughter from his wife’s violent rages and relentless cruelties. That one was me.

[Tchaikovsky/Concert for Violin in D, op. 35]

 

OCTOBER 6, 2000

Friday

Port Lincoln, New Jersey

10:15 PM

The phone rang. I didn’t answer, but waited for the machine to record the

message.

It began: “This is Janet Emerald. I live next door to your mother. She’s in the Frenchtown jail. She was arrested for drunk driving after she drove her car into a restaurant. She called us from jail. We’ll post her bond and take her home. Call me. 901-751-3232.”

Immediately, I called her back. Janet sounded totally in control. She explained that my mother drove her Volvo through the side of the Trafalgar Cafeteria around 5:00 PM. Miraculously, no one was hurt. After she rammed through one side of the dining room, she backed up and totally demolished a lamp pole. My 81-year-old mother’s face was bruised, but she had no other injuries. Not even her glasses were broken. (Great TV ad for Volvo!)

I had been waiting for THE EMERGENCY for years. I had predicted that only a crisis would make it possible for me to move her out of her home and into an assisted-living facility.

When I entered her house– with the help of her lawyer (because she refused to give me a key; I might steal something!—and I was afraid that she would sue me)– I was horrified.

The walls were lined with empty half-gallon plastic jugs of cheap Scotch. The handle of each jug was precisely pointed to the right. Even in the throes of alcoholism and dementia, my mother’s obsessive-compulsive nature reigned. Cigarette butts covered the once beautiful parquet floor in the hallway that I had frequently polished on my hands and knees when I was a child, as she glowered above me like the Colossus of Rhodes.  Large black garbage bags filled every room; she never took the garbage out. But each bag was meticulously tied at the top with string. Stains in the shape of inchoate embryos covered the wooden floor and bedroom carpets upstairs. She was incontinent and had urinated everywhere. All of the toilets were stopped up and overflowing with shit. She had been using plastic buckets, which were never emptied. The kitchen appliances were almost black with filth; the dishwasher had not been used for more than a decade. The rubber and plastic inside of it had disintegrated like the yellowed pages from an ancient library book.

My relationship with my mother had always been strained; I was terrified of her. There had never been any kind of emotional intimacy between us: no affectionate caresses, no bedtime stories, no nicknames, no birthday parties, no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy, no hugs and kisses, no cuddling, no appearances at the camp horse show or water ballet or school spelling bee,  no phone calls, no care packages…nothing–even when I was very young.

Years later, she and my father boycotted my wedding and sent a neatly typed note on engraved eggshell stationery: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert R. Smith, Jr., will not attend.”

I waited for an explanation for their absence. I waited for decades, but it never came.

My mother and I  were master/slave; Hitler/Jew; shark/bloody leg; Mr. Murdstone/David Copperfield; Johan/Henrik in Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband.

Whenever someone asked about my “Mom,” my gut reaction would have been to answer, Mom? I don’t know anyone like that. Nancy, the popinjay, the vituperative termagant, was certainly no Stella Dallas.

To my mother every aspect of life was categorized as a bargain or overpriced. That included me: poor Return On Investment.

I had no siblings. To visit her after I left home for college, a formal invitation was required. If she didn’t want to see you, she wouldn’t open the door.

I remember looking down from the upstairs hall window in our saltbox colonial house to see my paternal grandmother standing at the front door and ringing the doorbell. She had driven from Cotton Fields, Arkansas, about a two-hour drive. My mother refused to open the door. My tired, old grandmother returned to her big Buick in our driveway and left.

Robert never intervened.

Not once in his  life did my father telephone me. Always, at camp, I eagerly awaited the sporadic arrival of his terse postcards, printed in perfect block letters and with a stamp meticulously aligned with his text.

A few times I dreamed that I had sex with my father. My way of getting him to be on my side against my mother? It would mean that he loved me so much that he would reject young men sexually and choose me instead?

Some people are born rich, others are born beautiful. The most fortunate are born wanted.

I began to sink under my cumbrous emotions.

 

JUNE 1955

Camp Hopewell

Oxford, Mississippi

My mother thought that I needed to become more independent; I was five years old.

Camp Hopewell didn’t accept five-year-olds, but my mother convinced them that I would be no trouble at all. There were no ghosts of Faulkner at that place. Nothing literary or artistic. Just a shit-brown lake, a roller-skating rink, and a few ramshackle cottages for all the boys and girls. The girls’ bathrooms had no curtains, just wooden partitions between the toilets, so I only could go to the bathroom when no one else was around; my innards are very modest.   We slept on lumpy bunk beds and ate on warped picnic tables covered with red ants.

I didn’t know how to swim then and almost drowned in that putrid lake. My counselor told me to swim from the shore to the floating rope in front of the diving platform. I doggy paddled toward it, as some older boys attempted to create a tsunami with their flailing arms and legs. Temporarily, I was blinded by the deluge. I paddled with all my might, coughed up brown water,  and finally made it back to a spot where my feet could reach the bottom.

In the lake, I was afraid of drowning. Out of the lake, I was afraid of being bitten by one of the cottonmouths that slithered through the dense brush surrounding the camp’s grounds.

[music: Handel’s Messiah: “My Redeemer Liveth”]

Frequently, we were ordered to hike. Long, long hikes on hot, humid afternoons. We returned to base camp covered with bites from mosquitoes and chiggers and open wounds from the barbed-wire fences we crawled under. From an early age, I learned that boys would rescue me if I were sweet and docile; cute Jimmy always carried a water canteen on these unpleasant perambulations. He shared his water with me and gallantly pulled up the barbed wire on the lower rungs of the pasture fences so that I wouldn’t cut myself while sliding under the wires. The next time we were rolling skating, [music: Strauss’s “Explosions Polka”]  I kissed him on the cheek and said, “Thank you.”

The kids around us went wild:

“Jimmy and Alexi sitting in a tree…

k…i….s…s…i…n…g.

First, comes love,

Then, comes marriage.

Next comes Alexi with a baby carriage.”

1957

I remember the first and only time my father expressed physical affection toward me. Nancy had gone out one night. He put me to bed, something which my mother never did. He read Sleeping Beauty to me from a worn-out book that I treasured. It was a strange shape—rectangular with a long length and short width, the binding was gone, the pages were faded.

When he finished the story, he gently caressed my forehead and softly sang, “Good night, Ladies, Good night, Gentlemen, we’re going to leave you now.”

It was one of the best nights of my childhood. To this day, if a man gently caresses my forehead and hair, I begin to feel as though I were melting and experience emotional stirring.

 

My father always reminded me of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited. His aloofness, detachment, even the extended trip to Central America to sketch and paint the Mayan architecture and coastal landscapes.

My father had his blond Sebastian, too, but it was a fully realized passionate, lengthy homosexual union. Even a cold, cruel father was in the picture. My Arkansas grandfather, the gruff, unhappy cotton farmer, the son of an alcoholic, relentlessly exerted his destructive influence over the emotional component of my father’s personality.

Robert seldom mentioned his childhood, but on one rare occasion—the only time he ever visited me alone in New York, he was en route to London to meet a client–he stated  matter-of-factly, “My father did everything possible to destroy my self-confidence.”

It was the only personal conversation that we ever had. We were sitting in Mme. Romaine de Lyon’s restaurant eating asparagus omelettes by a window with white lace curtains.

Was he aware that he and my mother flawlessly performed the same act upon me?

He also described a recurring dream that he had: He and my mother were standing in the yard of his childhood home in Cotton Fields, Arkansas.

“We’ve killed someone,”  he calmly stated to my mother.

I guess he felt guilty about his treatment of me, or rather his infinite indifference. It was his way to apologize, the best that he could do, under his steely emotional armor.

Another time he pretended to crack the ice—in August!— in the backyard birdbath, as my mother watched from a window. He wanted her to take him to a psychiatric hospital. But it was all a trick; he wanted to get her into the looney bin! They never made it there. On the way to the hospital, she grabbed the steering wheel and wrecked the car.

So my father retreated once again into his basement office with the sawhorses, pigeon holes for blueprints, and shelves lined with art books and Gore Vidal novels. He began planning his next extended escape to Monhegan island, off the coast of Maine.

 

1958

Memphis

Every night the three of us went to a restaurant for dinner, not fancy places at all. Nancy, my mother, would call Robert at his office to give instructions: time and name of restaurant. There was a large department store downtown, close to the Mississippi River, called Silversmith’s. It was my favorite; our waitress in her too short pink-and-white uniform always gave me a soft pat on my cheek and told me how much I had grown.

Both of my parents smoked after dinner, and I hated the smoke, but we always sat at the dinner table for an interminable amount of time. Nancy feverishly discussed current events, which usually involved vehemently lambasting the local politicians and complaining about the price of everything. That was the pattern: Nancy talked her staccato talk in her rebarbative tone. Robert and I listened. Sometimes I took a book to the restaurant. I knew that was very bad manners, but my parents permitted it, as I sat quiet and motionless, with my ankles daintily crossed. One of my favorite books was a biography of Julia Ward Howe; I was spellbound when I read about her writing theBattle Hymn of the Republic, which became a famous Civil War song. The orange-and-black hardcover book had been borrowed from the library. (I must give my mother credit where credit is due; she often drove me to various libraries, dropped me off, and picked me up hours later.)

Why did that book make such an indelible impression? At age eight, did I understand that to survive my childhood, it would take all my emotional strength? That not enough would be left over to support any kind of conventional life? That the battles that awaited me would color the rest of my days?

to be continued…

Then and Now

An essay…that I wrote for a literary magazine…

THEN AND NOW

 

September 7, 1980

 

“Thirty, forty, fifty? It doesn’t matter how old you are, only how old you look….” begins an eye-catching cosmetics ad.

            Jane Fonda, in retrospect, said, “Turning thirty was scary as hell.” Louise in Honoré de Balzac’s Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées (The Two Young Brides) wasn’t too thrilled about her thirtieth birthday either: “I shall soon be thirty, and at that age woman embarks upon dreadful inner lamentations. If I am still beautiful, I shall perceive the limits of feminine life; afterwards, what will become of me?” In Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Lily Bart found the approach of her thirtieth birthday to be more than she could bear.

            I wish I were immortal Athena living in the rent-free Parthenon. Instead, I’m thirty years old today, doubting my wisdom and inhabiting a New York City apartment that costs too much.

            In work and in love, I find myself lurching forward and backward. The romantic and the realist continually joust on the playing fields of my heart and my mind. My résumé covers a lot of territory; in schools and summer camps I’ve taught children how to read E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, to perform water ballet to the music of Ferrante and Teicher, and to jump horses over post-and-rail fences. I’ve been the administrative assistant to the president of a men’s clothing company and a production planner of mattress ticking (for jailbirds’ cots and cheap-motel beds) for a Fortune 100 textile corporation—the most horrendous job! Additionally, I’m a volunteer for an organization that helps autistic children and for a nonprofit group that promotes preventive medicine.

            Now,  I’m gainfully employed as the assistant editor at a medical magazine on Manhattan’s East 60th Street.

            On a pleasant summer day nine years ago on Bayswater Road in London, I met a swarthy Athenian—the kind you’re supposed to have a vacation romance with, but never marry. In rapid succession, Zorba, the Greek, became my lover, my husband, my ex-spouse. I married Zorba because he looked like a young Omar Sharif and spoke the little English he knew with a seductive accent and toss of the head. We shared zero history. I sought connubial bliss liberated from all traditional restraints. I got exactly what I wanted…for a while. That idyllic summer we communicated by drawing simple pictures, as we indolently reclined on green canvas chairs in Hyde Park. He was exotic, tempestuous, fiery, emotional. Everything I  (exceptionally reserved WASP from bucolic Frenchtown, Tennessee) was not.

            As husband and wife we traveled through the splendiferous Greek islands. The fragrance of white jasmine permeated the air as we nibbled fresh figs for breakfast on the tranquil island of Kos. We rode docile donkeys to the top of a steep hill on Lindos, Rhodes, for a breathtaking view of the blue Mediterranean. The countless cicadas hummed on Crete as we merrily wandered through the picturesque farms dotted with whirling windmills. Zorba enthusiastically guided me on an unforgettable Hellenic sojourn. I will always be grateful for having been sucked into the vortex of Greek culture.

            I’m passionate about all kinds of literature. It reveals the multifarious ways there are to think, to live. Biographies and autobiographies of writers also intrigue me, especially books limning the dark side of women and men considered to be artistic giants. Some rotten people have created great art.

            Discovering what I am about is the main thing—an illusion as good as any other. I’m a promiscuous reader, a dilettante, an autodidact. Creative agitation in women of thirty or thereabouts is not uncommon. Willa Cather’s The Troll Garden, a collection of short stories and novelettes, and Doris Lessing’s The Making of the Americans—their first literary achievements—were written when the authors were twenty-nine and thirty-one, respectively.

Simone de Beauvoir perfectly captures an aspect of The Quest:

“The books I liked became a Bible from which I drew advice and support; I copied out long passages from them; I memorized new canticles and new litanies, psalms, proverbs, and prophecies, and I sanctified every incident in my life by the recital of these sacred texts. My emotions, my tears, and my hopes were no less sincere on account of that; the words and the cadences, the lines and the verses were not aids to make believe: but they rescued from silent oblivion all those intimate adventures of the spirit that I couldn’t speak to anyone about; they created a kind of communion between myself and those twin souls which existed somewhere out of reach; instead of living out my small private existence, I was participating in a great spiritual epic.”
Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

            Physically, I’m in better shape than I was in at twenty. A low-sodium, low-cholesterol, high-fiber diet, and low-impact aerobics are integral parts of my ritualistic health routine.

            The rapid changes in women’s roles during the past decade have left me wobbly and straddled uncomfortably on the cutting edge of a social revolution. I don’t want to be defined by a job or lack of one. Evaluate my character, not my income!

            In truth, sometimes I fear I’m a latent Southern belle, an inchoate Blanche DuBois who prefers Wild Turkey to Colombian Gold, unmistakably more of a Jean Rhys woman than an Ann Beattie character.

            My idiosyncrasies are growing more pronounced. As Evelyn Waugh did, I detest the telephone and even prefer confirming appointments by mail. Always walking on the shady side of the street, always wearing sunglasses to prevent (I hope) the development of cataracts, never browsing in department stores, shopping for just about everything from mail-order catalogs, are among my myriad eccentricities.

            Until a year ago, keeping a diary seemed a waste of time, but now maintaining meticulous records of impressions, literature gobbled or savored, is as crucial as wearing mascara, lipstick, and perfume. Constructing chronological tables as I read is automatic. I want to know how old the women, whether real or fictional, were when they graduated, married, had children, gave birth to novels, had their first extramarital affair, divorced, murdered, committed suicide. I want to know the same about the men.

            My hypochondria is as evident as H. L. Mencken’s condition was, positively due to our mutual birthday. I am star struck by worry; Virgo is culpable. By working for a magazine where I have unlimited access to medical journals and textbooks, I’m relieved of the urge to move to an apartment within whispering distance of the New York Academy of Medicine.

            Between three and three-thirty in the morning, I frequently wake sweating, with heart palpitating. My milestone birthday ended one passage and began another. I agonize: This is it. No more mistakes allowed. Finality. Horror. No more living in the future. There is only now.

            According to recent National Institutes of Health statistics, the average life span of a thirty-year-old Caucasian female is eighty years. As a borderline optimist, I rationalize that I still have approximately ten years to go before tripping over the halfway marker.

            Please, dear Fate, now that I’m old enough to be a senator, I suggest your letting me live as long as the nonagenarian Georgia O’Keeffe.

            I bid a fond farewell to my twenties.

 

September 7, 1999

 

Forty-nine! Wow! How did that happen! I am firmly entrenched in glorious prime time!

            Physically, emotionally, and psychologically I’ve changed during the past nineteen years. Geographically, I moved nine miles—from midtown Manhattan to a small community just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

            Thankfully…I’ve become more adaptable, flexible, resilient; whatever life slaps me with, I have grown confident enough to handle it with equanimity.

            My marital status changed, too.  At age thirty-two I married a native New Yorker, the firstborn son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. My articulate husband and I share a love of Shavian plays, Mozart sonatas, and Verdi operas.

            Warm and loving, my spouse has taught me a lot about the redemptive powers of unconditional love and affection.  When I withdraw into seemingly impenetrable silence, my customary but unproductive way to deal with anger, he instinctively knows how to gently take the defensive wall down, brick by metaphorical brick.

            When I changed husbands, holiday customs were also altered. Instead of feasting at Easter on roasted lamb and mageiritsa (traditional soup made of sheep’s entrails), I politely swallow matzo  and gefilte fish at Passover.

            I wear the same size dress as I did a decade ago and have no new cavities. My hair—once the color of undiluted espresso—is heavily and naturally streaked with silver. I’m not going to dye it. The trichological transformation that I see in the mirror forces me to come to terms with aging. That’s meant in a positive way—acceptance of living, with more joy and more dignity, as a mature woman, never again to be called a pretty girl.

            The late Alfred Tom Kinsey, founder of the Institute for Sex Research, said that a woman reaches her sexual peak around age thirty-eight. (I say between thirty-eight and forty-eight; two years ago I had to replace my All-Flex arcing spring diaphragm.)

            Marrying for the second time and learning to drive a car (in effect, for the second time) coincided. Both require a lot of patience and a certain tolerance for risk. The year I left Tennessee, when I was seventeen, I had stopped driving after a near-fatal collision with a tractor-trailer on a major highway. Many years later, a girlfriend who owned a gleaming BMW persuaded me to sidle into the driver’s seat. I’ve been driving (unfortunately not BMWs) ever since. (The first time that I drove across the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York, I had to wipe off the steering wheel with a towel because my hands were sweating so much. If someone told me that I would have to travel to Mars in a spaceship…I could not have been more fearful.)

            My forties are better than my thirties. I sleep peacefully through the night. I know and accept that I’ll make lots of mistakes as long as I live; neurotic perfectionism is no longer part of the package. Living in the present is second nature to me now, like counting calories and the dollars in my mutual funds. I’ve grown more tolerant of my weaknesses and adamantly refuse to desert my most fantastic dreams. As Yogi Berra said: “It’s not over till it’s over.”

            Always searching for an illusive frontier, I still don’t really feel settled.  Deep down in my heart, I’m the worldly Somerset Maugham, the peripatetic Graham Greene, the restless Paul Theroux waiting for the next train. I look forward to change, to the next destination. I want to live in motion in a continually changing landscape with a changing cast of characters. Disliking quotidian routine, I want to be able to distinguish every day from all other days. I want to live fully in a rich phantasmagoria.

            Evolving and learning give me the greatest pleasure. In my imaginary perfect world, based on my criteria for adventure, next year I would become a race-car driver and five years later, a commercial airline pilot; I’d fly 747s to Hong Kong, Sydney, Cairo, and Berlin. My altruistic side would head a foundation that keeps every library in the United States open seven days a week, twelve hours a day.

            The unknown with both its disappointments and surprises enriches me. Being a quiet maverick of sorts, I suspect I’ve become somewhat addicted to those adrenaline rushes that invariably accompany the excitement of the unfamiliar.

            In Passages, Gail Sheehy writes, “We are becoming accustomed to the idea of serial marriages. It will be progress when we come to think of serial careers, not as signifying failure, but as a realistic way to prolong vitality.”

            However, I cling to my past eccentricities like white napkin fuzz to a black wool skirt, and I’ve generously added a few more. (Although occasionally now, I will amble into a department store when the inviting newspaper ad proclaims “40 percent off all merchandise.”) I can tell whether I like someone by the way she removes a paper lid from a jar or the way she organizes bills in her wallet. I’m critical of my own behavior as well…if I have more than ten items to buy, I never sneak into the express line at the supermarket. Anachronistic, chatty letters or e-mail (I LOVE E-MAIL!!!) are always preferable to disruptive telephone calls. And the other day I took my innocuous beige cloth coat to a tailor; per my request, he lined it in blazing-red satin: the anthropomorphic me.

            When standing in motionless movie lines, I inconspicuously eavesdrop. Women and men in Manhattan, it seems, habitually talk hyperbolically about money and jobs. I prefer to go to films alone, to sit on the aisle, and to be totally absorbed in the celluloid drama in front of me. As an intense observer, I don’t want anyone to break the spell immediately afterward.

            Modern life is too frenetic for my taste. Abandoning raucous aerobics, I spend more time these days practicing laid-back yoga. And I need more time alone.  In Gift from the Sea, a collection of poetic essays about the conflicts and challenges facing women, Anne Morrow Lindbergh felicitously wrote about the importance of solitude to a woman’s mental and spiritual well-being. Lindbergh said, “Woman must come of age by herself. This is the essence of ‘coming of age’–to learn how to stand alone. She must learn not to depend on another, nor to feel she must prove her strength by competing with another. In the past, she has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the center, the true center of being a whole woman. She must find her true center alone. She must become whole. She must, it seems to me, as a prelude to any ‘two solitudes’ relationship, follow the advice of the poet to become ‘world to oneself for another’s sake.’ ”

            I strongly identify with Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones and his lust for life as well as Binx Bolling, the protagonist of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. “The search,” Binx says, “is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

            Despair stalked me in my early years…but no more. I have what I want: not an easy life, but an interesting one.

            There are infinite paths of possibility. Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert Frost said it best:

            “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

              I took the one less traveled by,

              And that has made all the difference.” 

The Conversation Game: Flirting

When played, publicly or privately, by skilled contestants, it stimulates, comforts, and entertains. It needs no microchips, batteries, cards, balls, or boards, and it never wears outs. It is the favorite game played by women and men around the world: flirting.

Communications scholar Dr. Gerald Phillips explains: “When two dogs meet,  they sniff each other in order to decide what their relationship will be…People do their sniffing through some very highly structured communication exchanges.”

Flirting is like fly-casting—often you must cast more than once to get a bite. Remember to practice SOFTEN (smile, open posture with uncrossed arms, forward lean, touch, eye contact, nod).

Induce conversation by tossing ideas that provoke more than a responsive nibble. The weather is a boring subject. Hazy remarks about high humidity and dropping barometric pressure chill a conversation. Your diet is another topic about as tantalizing as last week’s iceberg lettuce.

Neither speech tics (“you know?” “right?” “listen” “um” “I mean” “like I said”) nor a persistent scowl is endearing.

An air of superiority stirs up resentment. Snobs lose in the flirting game. Interrupting and dominating the conversation are also violations. Never talk over someone; it is truly obnoxious.

To be treated like a fascinating flirt, master the trick of listening intently. Faking it is foul play and too many fumbles will banish the inept to society’s sidelines. An active listener improves her score by smiling at the appropriate moments, occasionally nodding, and practicing the echo technique (“You feel that way, too?”).

Just about everybody succumbs to the flattery of rapt attention. The patient, sympathetic listener possesses incalculable power.

Choose your words deliberately. Your flirting partner wants to slalom deftly, not suffocate in a verbal avalanche.

The poker player, when proficient in legerdemain, improves her odds. Likewise, the talented flirt clarifies or obfuscates (if that’s her intention) the meaning of her words by judiciously using “sleight-of-pause.” Stretch your intellect and exercise your sense of humor, but never at someone else’s expense.

Proffer compliments carefully. Sometimes they make people suspicious, embarrassed, defensive, or cynical.

The tone, pitch, and inflection of your voice provide information to your target. Don’t jeopardize your chances of victory by overexertion: the vocal chords are easily damaged. Screaming, shouting, or talking too loudly affect the muscles that control voice production.

A flirtation’s finale is as noteworthy as its overture. Always indicate interest in a future meeting (“See you later”).

Few of us will ever be as scintillating as Lewis Carroll:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

 

Introduction

DEFAULT TO GOODNESS

Prologue to (copyrighted, completed) novel (easily adapted to indie film):

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” meets “Mommie Dearest” in Memphis, New York, Athens, and London

Alexandra is the female David Copperfield. She is educated, polite, and kind, but the people in her world don’t appreciate those qualities very much. She is shy and becomes an acute observer of others. Her curiosity about people, their interests, their families fascinate her. Alexandra, an emotional and spiritual orphan,  is trying to learn how to live. Her mother is a bipolar alcoholic who frequently rages and does shockingly cruel things to Alexandra. Her father is a closet homosexual who is too busy with his affairs and secrets to pay any attention to his only child. Alexandra turns to men in a search for any semblance of love or affection. The results are frequently harrowing, often just funny. At the same time, she works very hard at many jobs: teacher, production planner of mattress ticking for a Fortune 100 textile company, and writer and editor at many magazines. But the traumatic experiences of her childhood continue to haunt her. She finds comfort in books and films and excitement from new men, preferably foreign. Will she find happiness? Or end up in a rusty garbage can?

Chapter One of “Default to Goodness”

DEFAULT TO GOODNESS

 

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.

—Louisa May Alcott

 

 [Breakfast at Tiffany’s meets Mommie Dearest in Memphis, New York, Athens, and London]

 

“If you cannot get rid  of  the family  skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”

     —George Bernard Shaw

 

All art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

 

“A happy childhood… is the worst possible preparation for life.”

—Kinky Friedman

 

[book cover:  marble statue of Medea (William Story/1868) holding knife/Metropolitan Museum]

Alexandra is the female David Copperfield. She is educated, polite, and kind, but the people in her world don’t appreciate those qualities very much. She is shy and becomes an acute observer of others. Her curiosity about people, their interests, their families fascinate her. Alexandra, an emotional and spiritual orphan,  is trying to learn how to live. Her mother is a bipolar alcoholic who frequently rages and does shockingly cruel things to Alexandra. Her father is a closet homosexual who is too busy with his affairs and secrets to pay any attention to his only child. Alexandra turns to men in a search for any semblance of love or affection. The results are frequently harrowing, often just funny. At the same time, she works very hard at many jobs: teacher, production planner of mattress ticking for a Fortune 100 textile company, and writer and editor at many magazines. But the traumatic experiences of her childhood continue to haunt her. She finds comfort in books and films and excitement from new men, preferably foreign. Will she get a happy ending or end up stuffed inside a rusty garbage bag by an unhappy suitor?

 

 [Music:     Twentieth Century Fox –The Doors]
 Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Dorothy Parker

 

[music/Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess]

April 22, 1983

Earth Day and Day of My Last Drink

High Falls, New Jersey
The psychiatric male nurse rifled through my small canvas bag. With a black magic marker, he wrote “Smith” on the crotch of every pair of my white lace panties. Trembling, I stood silently beside him. Would I spend the rest of my life in this god-forsaken hellhole in the wilderness of New Jersey? Would a bored psychiatrist give me a shot, so that I would become just another inmate doing the Thorazine shuffle? Another Frances Farmer?

I have never been so scared in my whole life.

I got married six months ago.

Would my husband divorce me? Would I become a homeless woman sitting beside overflowing garbage bags on the streets of New York?

I felt like an astronaut floating in space whose umbilical cord to the spaceship that would return him to Earth had just been severed.

I was instructed to wait in another room. “Does your husband beat you?” the kind nurse asked.

“No, never,” I answered with quivering lips.

“How did you get all those bruises?” she asked.

“I bumped into the furniture and fell off my bicycle.”

It was true. I was riding an old Schwinn from the Pellisades health club to my apartment building in heavy traffic after dark. (Every alcoholic goes to a health club daily, right? I did; it was my futile attempt to exert some control over my behavior, which I hated, but could not stop.)

When I got married, I left my one shabby room in Manhattan for New Jersey. I hated New Jersey almost as much as I hated my alcoholism. Parts of New Jersey are really beautiful; I just didn’t live in any of them. Living in this congested town beside the George Washington Bridge represented unequivocal failure to me. It had all the disadvantages of an overcrowded city, as well as a boring suburb with insufficient parking places. I left Frenchtown (a suburb of Memphis), Tennessee, so that I could  end up in Port Lincoln, New Jersey?

Why was I traveling by bicycle? I hadn’t driven a car since I was 17 after having an almost fatal encounter with a tractor-trailer on a major east-west thoroughfare in Memphis. When I went to Thorncliff College in Westchester County, I didn’t need a car because I could take the train that runs alongside the scenic Hudson River to Grand Central Station.

Don’t know if she believed me or not, but the nurse sent me to a large room, essentially a holding pen, filled with men and women of all ages and all sizes. Each patient would be evaluated eventually and treatment–drugs and/or therapy–would begin. Being a well-bred Southerner, I attempted to make polite conversation with a muscular man, Douglas, a paranoid schizophrenic who had just been shipped over from a psycho ward in Connecticut. He started talking about Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy… what a cool bus ride they had together.

Five minutes later, I was lying on the cold linoleum floor spitting out large chips of teeth and lots of blood. Several of the male patients came to my rescue; they pulled Douglas off of me and held him until a doctor appeared. He  drugged Douglas and escorted him into a room with a solid, gray metal door. After his door was bolted, his bloodcurdling, scathing denunciations of me penetrated every room of that hospital.

Someone gave me an ice bag to hold on my throbbing cheek. Much of the attack is now just a blurry nightmare in my head.  I was assigned to a bedroom only three doors away from his. My skinny roommate, Melanie, sat on her bed with her knees clasped to her chin. She looked like a praying mantis cut in two.

“Why are you here?” the frail, depressed girl asked.

“I can’t stop drinking.”

“I slashed my wrists. See?” Melanie said.

I wasn’t really expecting a coherent conversation. Melanie exhibited her bony, scarred arms. I was really trying to be calm and sympathetic, but I just wanted to escape.

“I’ve been attacked. I want to leave this place now,” I told the nurse on duty who came in to check on us.

“You’re safe now. Don’t worry. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“Please let me use your phone.”  She pointed to a public telephone down the hall.

I made a collect call to my husband, Joseph.

“I hate you. I really hate you. An insane man just tried to kill me. Come and get me. Now. This place is filled with certified lunatics, and that’s no exaggeration.”

Joseph replied in a stern voice, “I’ll come tomorrow morning.”

During the night, he arranged to have me transferred to another hospital, Fair Hope, in Sumac, New Jersey. (What a strange coincidence; I remembered that my parents were married in Fair Hope, Alabama—I would have named their marriage rendezvous location: No Hope.)

The following morning the Walter-Mitty type staff psychiatrist tried to convince my husband and me, as we sat in his dark-brown dreary office with worn-out leather furniture, that I should stay put.

“Out of the question,” said my 53-year-old husband in his most authoritative executive voice.

He immediately drove me to Fair Hope Hospital where I lived for one month. A member of the cleaning staff stole my navy leather handbag–with the exquisite brass hardware and clasp–from my closet, but other than that, the experience of living with a group of men and women, who had endured far more than their share of life’s cruelties, injustices, and tragedies, was almost an epiphany; I began to believe that a different life was possible. During the day we had group therapy with counselors who all were recovering alcoholics and/or drug addicts. I was an oddity because I had never used drugs. Not once. Most patients in their 30s had at least experimented with every powder, pill, or injection available.

As Boris Pasternak wrote, “I   don’t like people who have never fallen or

stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless, and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its

beauty to them.”

He was right, of course. I wish that we had met; Dr. Zhivago is one of my all-

time favorites. And I’m very fond of late bloomers; he was sixty-eight when he won the

Nobel Prize for Literature.

We ate our tasteless meals in a bland cafeteria. Only decaf coffee was available from a large metal container, so I was really sleepy for the entire 30 days. Most of the patients were men, so my roommate, a pretty, blue-eyed  blonde, around my age,  and I got lots of attention. We also were among the youngest. We were the lucky ones, who had been forced into rehab before the devastating effects of alcoholism took their toll: debilitating neuropathy, memory loss, grizzled complexions. One patient had to have his arm amputated; he was drunk and waved his arm out the car window…a truck roared by, too close.

Every night we went to an A.A. meeting. I met a woman who had watched her brother hacked to death with an ax by a stranger in her backyard; a man who was just released from jail for grand larceny and who ran a prostitution ring from his Irish bar on First Avenue (He begged me to work for him as a call girl after we were discharged from Fair Hope); a good-looking, sanguine, irreverent man in his late twenties who had spent years traveling on luxury cruise ships pretending that he was a Catholic priest and befriending and bedding older women if they bought him enough champagne; another woman stood outside with her mother and sister as her father burned to death trapped in their suburban house; a shy, thirty-two-year-old female, who was the unwanted only child of an abusive alcoholic manic-depressive mother and charming, artistic homosexual father, who found neither the time nor the energy nor psychological fortitude to protect his daughter from his wife’s violent rages and relentless cruelties. That one was me.

[Tchaikovsky/Concert for Violin in D, op. 35]

 

October 6, 2000

Friday

Port Lincoln, New Jersey

10:15 PM

The phone rang. I didn’t answer, but waited for the machine to record the

message.

It began: “This is Janet Emerald. I live next door to your mother. She’s in the Frenchtown jail. She was arrested for drunk driving after she drove her car into a restaurant. She called us from jail. We’ll post her bond and take her home. Call me. 901-751-3232.”

Immediately, I called her back. Janet sounded totally in control. She explained that my mother drove her Volvo through the side of the Trafalgar Cafeteria around 5:00 PM. Miraculously, no one was hurt. After she rammed through one side of the dining room, she backed up and totally demolished a lamp pole. My 81-year-old mother’s face was bruised, but she had no other injuries. Not even her glasses were broken. (Great TV ad for Volvo!)

I had been waiting for THE EMERGENCY for years. I had predicted that only a crisis would make it possible for me to move her out of her home and into an assisted-living facility.

When I entered her house– with the help of her lawyer (because she refused to give me a key; I might steal something!—and I was afraid that she would sue me)– I was horrified.

The walls were lined with empty half-gallon plastic jugs of cheap Scotch. The handle of each jug was precisely pointed to the right. Even in the throes of alcoholism and dementia, my mother’s obsessive-compulsive nature reigned. Cigarette butts covered the once beautiful parquet floor in the hallway that I had frequently polished on my hands and knees when I was a child, as she glowered above me like the Colossus of Rhodes.  Large black garbage bags filled every room; she never took the garbage out. But each bag was meticulously tied at the top with string. Stains in the shape of inchoate embryos covered the wooden floor and bedroom carpets upstairs. She was incontinent and had urinated everywhere. All of the toilets were stopped up and overflowing with shit. She had been using plastic buckets, which were never emptied. The kitchen appliances were almost black with filth; the dishwasher had not been used for more than a decade. The rubber and plastic inside of it had disintegrated like the yellowed pages from an ancient library book.

My relationship with my mother had always been strained; I was terrified of her. There had never been any kind of emotional intimacy between us: no affectionate caresses, no bedtime stories, no nicknames, no birthday parties, no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy, no hugs and kisses, no cuddling, no appearances at the camp horse show or water ballet or school spelling bee,  no phone calls, no care packages…nothing–even when I was very young.

Years later, she and my father boycotted my wedding and sent a neatly typed note on engraved eggshell stationery: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert R. Smith, Jr., will not attend.”

I waited for an explanation for their absence. I waited for decades, but it never came.

My mother and I  were master/slave; Hitler/Jew; shark/bloody leg; Mr. Murdstone/David Copperfield; Johan/Henrik in Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband.

Whenever someone asked about my “Mom,” my gut reaction would have been to answer, Mom? I don’t know anyone like that. Nancy, the popinjay, the vituperative termagant, was certainly no Stella Dallas.

To my mother every aspect of life was categorized as a bargain or overpriced. That included me: poor Return On Investment.

I had no siblings. To visit her after I left home for college, a formal invitation was required. If she didn’t want to see you, she wouldn’t open the door.

I remember looking down from the upstairs hall window in our saltbox colonial house to see my paternal grandmother standing at the front door and ringing the doorbell. She had driven from Cotton Fields, Arkansas, about a two-hour drive. My mother refused to open the door. My tired, old grandmother returned to her big Buick in our driveway and left.

Robert never intervened.

Not once in his  life did my father telephone me. Always, at camp, I eagerly awaited the sporadic arrival of his terse postcards, printed in perfect block letters and with a stamp meticulously aligned with his text.

A few times I dreamed that I had sex with my father. My way of getting him to be on my side against my mother? It would mean that he loved me so much that he would reject young men sexually and choose me instead?

Some people are born rich, others are born beautiful. The most fortunate are born wanted.

I began to sink under my cumbrous emotions.

 

June 1955

Camp Hopewell

Oxford, Mississippi

My mother thought that I needed to become more independent; I was five years old.

Camp Hopewell didn’t accept five-year-olds, but my mother convinced them that I would be no trouble at all. There were no ghosts of Faulkner at that place. Nothing literary or artistic. Just a shit-brown lake, a roller-skating rink, and a few ramshackle cottages for all the boys and girls. The girls’ bathrooms had no curtains, just wooden partitions between the toilets, so I only could go to the bathroom when no one else was around; my innards are very modest.   We slept on lumpy bunk beds and ate on warped picnic tables covered with red ants.

I didn’t know how to swim then and almost drowned in that putrid lake. My counselor told me to swim from the shore to the floating rope in front of the diving platform. I doggy paddled toward it, as some older boys attempted to create a tsunami with their flailing arms and legs. Temporarily, I was blinded by the deluge. I paddled with all my might, coughed up brown water,  and finally made it back to a spot where my feet could reach the bottom.

In the lake, I was afraid of drowning. Out of the lake, I was afraid of being bitten by one of the cottonmouths that slithered through the dense brush surrounding the camp’s grounds.

[music: Handel’s Messiah: “My Redeemer Liveth”]

Frequently, we were ordered to hike. Long, long hikes on hot, humid afternoons. We returned to base camp covered with bites from mosquitoes and chiggers and open wounds from the barbed-wire fences we crawled under. From an early age, I learned that boys would rescue me if I were sweet and docile; cute Jimmy always carried a water canteen on these unpleasant perambulations. He shared his water with me and gallantly pulled up the barbed wire on the lower rungs of the pasture fences so that I wouldn’t cut myself while sliding under the wires. The next time we were rolling skating, [music: Strauss’s “Explosions Polka”]  I kissed him on the cheek and said, “Thank you.”

The kids around us went wild:

“Jimmy and Alexi sitting in a tree…

k…i….s…s…i…n…g.

First, comes love,

Then, comes marriage.

Next comes Alexi with a baby carriage.”

1957

I remember the first and only time my father expressed physical affection toward me. Nancy had gone out one night. He put me to bed, something which my mother never did. He read Sleeping Beauty to me from a worn-out book that I treasured. It was a strange shape—rectangular with a long length and short width, the binding was gone, the pages were faded.

When he finished the story, he gently caressed my forehead and softly sang, “Good night, Ladies, Good night, Gentlemen, we’re going to leave you now.”

It was one of the best nights of my childhood. To this day, if a man gently caresses my forehead and hair, I begin to feel as though I were melting and experience emotional stirring.

 

My father always reminded me of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited. His aloofness, detachment, even the extended trip to Central America to sketch and paint the Mayan architecture and coastal landscapes.

My father had his blond Sebastian, too, but it was a fully realized passionate, lengthy homosexual union. Even a cold, cruel father was in the picture. My Arkansas grandfather, the gruff, unhappy cotton farmer, the son of an alcoholic, relentlessly exerted his destructive influence over the emotional component of my father’s personality.

Robert seldom mentioned his childhood, but on one rare occasion—the only time he ever visited me alone in New York, he was en route to London to meet a client–he stated  matter-of-factly, “My father did everything possible to destroy my self-confidence.”

It was the only personal conversation that we ever had. We were sitting in Mme. Romaine de Lyon’s restaurant eating asparagus omelettes by a window with white lace curtains.

Was he aware that he and my mother flawlessly performed the same act upon me?

He also described a recurring dream that he had: He and my mother were standing in the yard of his childhood home in Cotton Fields, Arkansas.

“We’ve killed someone,”  he calmly stated to my mother.

I guess he felt guilty about his treatment of me, or rather his infinite indifference. It was his way to apologize, the best that he could do, under his steely emotional armor.

Another time he pretended to crack the ice—in August!— in the backyard birdbath, as my mother watched from a window. He wanted her to take him to a psychiatric hospital. But it was all a trick; he wanted to get her into the looney bin! They never made it there. On the way to the hospital, she grabbed the steering wheel and wrecked the car.

So my father retreated once again into his basement office with the sawhorses, pigeon holes for blueprints, and shelves lined with art books and Gore Vidal novels. He began planning his next extended escape to Monhegan island, off the coast of Maine.

 

1958

Memphis

Every night the three of us went to a restaurant for dinner, not fancy places at all. Nancy, my mother, would call Robert at his office to give instructions: time and name of restaurant. There was a large department store downtown, close to the Mississippi River, called Silversmith’s. It was my favorite; our waitress in her too short pink-and-white uniform always gave me a soft pat on my cheek and told me how much I had grown.

Both of my parents smoked after dinner, and I hated the smoke, but we always sat at the dinner table for an interminable amount of time. Nancy feverishly discussed current events, which usually involved vehemently lambasting the local politicians and complaining about the price of everything. That was the pattern: Nancy talked her staccato talk in her rebarbative tone. Robert and I listened. Sometimes I took a book to the restaurant. I knew that was very bad manners, but my parents permitted it, as I sat quiet and motionless, with my ankles daintily crossed. One of my favorite books was a biography of Julia Ward Howe; I was spellbound when I read about her writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which became a famous Civil War song. The orange-and-black hardcover book had been borrowed from the library. (I must give my mother credit where credit is due; she often drove me to various libraries, dropped me off, and picked me up hours later.)

Why did that book make such an indelible impression? At age eight, did I understand that to survive my childhood, it would take all my emotional strength? That not enough would be left over to support any kind of conventional life? That the battles that awaited me would color the rest of my days?

to be continued…

Wistful

WISTFUL

 

She would never have a life of

Children, lawnmowers, storm windows with built-in screens.

No fertilized lawns.

No, infertility was not the problem.

It was the rock garden in her head.

Wistful, she envisioned the lost innocence of

Her youth. Her willingness and eagerness to

Trust others. The traumatic disappointments artfully

Concealed behind

Quiet smiles and politely folded hands.

About so much, she was obviously wrong. Especially when

She was certain she was absolutely

Right.

Horizon

HORIZON

 

 

The jagged edge of lightning pricks the sky. The

Clouds explode with vociferous clapping as

Rain heaves on the torrid pavement.

Thunder groans as the

Roofs sigh from the sudden weight of the

Uneasy sky. The sluggish drains regurgitate.

Dragged indoors are the weary workers, incapable this

Evening of a summer stroll. The parking lots

Belch from overfeeding. Black tires

Plow asphalt fields. No dust settles.

There is none.

The sky gargles with electricity.

Horizon ran away.

 

Rage

Rage

Women are such pathetic creatures, always concerned about

Withering features. Forever seeking to please we are, looking around the

Corner…on par? Competition supersedes the Indy 500. Blondes and brunettes

Exude Chanel, number 600. We do compete with glistening teeth, with pubic

Hair sheared to impeccable wreath. Ah, God, we do try to please! We stalk the

Men and we appease. For all the laws in all the lands cannot forsake that

Man is Man and Woman, still, against her will, must comply, or sooner

Die, to the complexities of the Modern Age that inevitably terminate in

Rage.

Allure

ALLURE

Blood-red sky sits upon navy clouds. Splashes of charcoal-gray above one great celestial

Puddle pursued by lesser configurations. They do not mingle but maintain

Identities of individuality. Nature hovers over mankind’s electric bulbs.

Tonight, I see no stars. But the ground is stardust. Flickering, sparkling,

Enticing, alluring. Horizons far, far away—combined with fear and

Frequently dismay. The colors are the emotions of the soul. Always seeking

Construction of the whole. The sun and moon never have to choose; they simply

Follow courses. Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are up above

The world so high, you are a diamond in the sky, upon which dangle the

Dreams and drooling fantasies of those transgressed, seeking always to

Possess qualities never to exist, according to

Nature’s laws of existence.

Furrow

FURROW

We are detached hearts that

Flutter in the breeze.

One appeases, another pleases.

Sacrosanctity sought by both in wrinkled

Cloaks of naïveté and knowledge.

Pummeling, seeking more of both:

Intensity of love and hope.

And we impoverished mortals that

We are, no longer quote the raven

“Nevermore.” But furrow for sustenance in

Deeper realms where only the impenetrable

Dwells.

What joy is found is so translucent, always a

Conduit of confusion. The only

Answers do evaporate into a kingdom of

Almighty fate.

We wish we had control of all but slowly

Realize for the door of cruelest mortality,

Acceptance is the sole key to any kind of

Sanity.