Hoodies

I am a writer who inhabits places that can become chilly and/or wet at a moment’s notice. So while I’m not proud of it, I do wear hoodies.

I don’t like hoodies. It’s just that they’re so damn convenient for places that may be windy or misty, or for going from cold to warm and back. It’s this convenience that keeps hoodies in my wardrobe. I’m not proud of it. I prefer to wear nicer clothes, and on days when there is a likelihood that I will be seen by other living human beings outside of my immediate family, I do try to pick something more chic. A “summer sweater” or a neat little jacket or whatever. But as a writer, there are plenty of times when I could be dead for three days before anyone realized it because I have been closeted with a project. Under those circumstances, if and when they do find my body, I’ll probably be wearing a hoodie.

On the flip side of this, I do insist on wearing a little makeup every day. It’s part of my morning routine. I’m pretty convinced that if I don’t at least put on some eyeliner and lip gloss the world will implode. It’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

Mardi Gras

As someone with deep roots in the Southern Louisiana culture . . . I’ve always avoided Mardi Gras.

By which I mean, I’ve avoided the raucous street parties that Mardi Gras is known for. See, I don’t especially like having people step on my feet, jostle me, spill beer all over me, or puke on me. It’s just not my kind of fun.

I’m more of a take-me-to-the-ball kind of Cendrillion. And yes, there are Mardi Gras balls, and they are quite lovely, and sometimes only slightly less raucous depending on how the night goes on. But less crowded, too, so escape is easier.

I also enjoy the traditions. King cake. Costumes. The pageantry sparks my inner love of drama, I suppose.

And now my freezer is stocked with fish fingers so that if I choose (though I usually don’t, mostly because I forget) I can go without meat on Fridays for the next few weeks. But at least there’s nothing against eating beignets.

Things I Used to Do as an Undergraduate . . .

. . . Some of Which Would Probably Get Me Arrested Today
 

Talk to blackbirds. In French. (I still do this. No risk of arrest, though a crow once stole an earring.)

Run up to campus tour groups and yell, “Welcome to Jurassic Park!” . . . then run away.

Use a French accent in the library, pretending to be a foreign exchange student so the desk clerks would take pity on me and go find my books for me, thereby saving me the trouble.

Put on my “Scully” suit, hold a hand to my ear as if on a com, and run between the campus buildings glancing up at the roofs and saying loudly, “I don’t see him! I don’t see him!” (It was really fun to watch everyone start looking.)

Get to class really early, before anyone was in, and leave random business cards at just a few desks. The cards read, “Archangel Gabriel: Messenger Service, Baby Sales & Judgment Day Counseling”—Again, hugely amusing to watch people react when they found them.

“Raptor” my dorm mates.

Dive in and out of open dorm rooms with a water gun, shooting people while humming the theme to Mission: Impossible.

Put on a rock star wig, some glittery eye makeup, and a gold hoop earring and pretend to be “Ollie” from the Olive Branch Band. In fact, I once did this at the mall, using a banana as a phone, while a friend filmed it.

Put on my cloak and “haunt” the campus late at night. Sometimes I’d go into buildings that were still open and frighten the cleaning crews.

To My Valentine, My Blessing

I know you wonder whether it’s possible that I really, truly love you. Rest assured that I do.

You inspire me, and that is the greatest gift one can give to a writer. If I were to say there is a little bit of you in everything I write, it would not be a lie, or even a stretching of the truth. All my work is a silent dedication to you; your influence is like stardust sprinkled over the vault of heaven, a blessing and a delight.

I wish I could do more for you in return.

But I can only say again: I do love you, my greatest desire is for you to be happy, and if by some miracle I can be the one to make you happy, I consider that a true and wondrous gift of Divine Providence.

Moon

I found the moon in my night table drawer.

It’s the same moon I wrote to Rob about years ago:

Dear Rob,

Today I bought the moon.

I bought it hanging full in the branches of bare trees.

I bought it held hard and fast to a deep blue-and-purple sky.

I bought it spattered by golden starlight.

Today I bought the moon, so that I could have it when I wanted it.

And some day, when I die, someone will find it tucked into a drawer and say, “What is this moon doing here?”

They will flip it this way and that, trying to figure it out. But they never will.

Isn’t that fantastic?

Sincerely,
~M

I’ve been hiding it all this time, and now I will take it with me to the West Coast and hang it over the water on nights when I’m the only one around to see.

Strange Gravity

There is a strange gravity between bodies.

It is the force that causes two people standing near one another to sway towards and lean in.

It is the force that causes two people facing one another to embrace or kiss.

And like all heavenly bodies, some have more pull than others.

Some spin faster.

Some shine more brightly.

And some collapse inward, pulling everything around them down and into the darkness, the black hole.

There is a strange gravity between bodies. It is the force that causes them to collide, and to sometimes consume one another.

My first job was as a library page for the public library in our town. It was within walking distance of my school, so after classes I would walk over for work. Sometimes, if I wasn’t scheduled to start right away, I would go to the fast food place across the street for something to eat. A lot of kids went there after school, and one day a table of boys behind me thought it’d be funny to smash ketchup packets, the result being that the back of my shirt ended up covered in ketchup. The boys just laughed.

It was lucky, I suppose, that the shirt was a chambray/denim affair I was wearing over a white tank top. I was able to take it off and go over to work, then rinse the shirt in the break room sink.

At that time, we had a man named Mike working at the library with us; it was part of his community service for some misdemeanor, the facts of which I never learned. I’ve never known a man named Mike who wasn’t simply a huge fellow (not at all true of people I know who go by “Michael,” by the way), and Mike stood well over six feet. It would have taken at least another half of me to be as wide as his chest and shoulders, and it was all muscle; Mike was a black belt and religious about his fitness. And I was the only person he could be bothered to talk to, ostensibly because the two dried-up hags who ran the library were unpleasant to him (as they were to me and everyone who worked under them), and the other page—a girl named Vicky who wore black bras under yellow sweaters—was actually too forward for his tastes. Vicky was a gossip to boot, and she was constantly coming up with stories about what Mike had supposedly done to get community service, none of which were likely to be true. I mean, I don’t think you get community service for having killed someone, even involuntarily.

The day I came in with my soiled shirt, Mike was in the break room. He immediately wanted to know what had happened, and I told him, and he got up and left. Not to go into the library, but out the door that led to the parking (that was the door employees were told to use, like servants, always the back entrance). I thought his shift must be over, and the fact Mike never said anything to me didn’t surprise me at all because he was strange that way. But later I found out he’d gone over to the restaurant and, though no one bothered to give me the details (not even Vicky, who herself quit the job soon after), did something to the boys who’d ruined my clothes. He’d done this, even knowing it would compound the trouble he was in, and even though he had less than a month left on his community service.

It occurs to me, looking back at a lifetime of similar incidents, that despite my independent streak I seem to inspire protectiveness in others. I’ve come to the conclusion this is because I’m intelligent in a way that causes me to spend a lot of time in my own head, and so in turn I have proven somewhat incapable of taking care of myself.

When I lived alone, I had friends who visited regularly to make sure I’d remembered to buy food. (I often hadn’t.) A particularly kind couple from my workplace would take me home with them once or twice a week to feed me. A big Italian guy once fought off some insistent sailors for me in a bar in Florence. A kind man in the British Museum walked me not only to the exit but back to my hotel when I got lost on my first trip to London. The same happened when I got lost in Paris during a rainstorm.

I don’t mean to be helpless. And I’m very good at taking care of other people. I just can’t seem to do for myself.

I do wonder what happened to Mike. He never came back to the library. I don’t know if he received additional probation or jail time or what. But I do know the boys at my school never bothered me after that. So thank you, Mike, for making my life a little easier at the expense of making yours more difficult.

Something That Came to Me Upon Waking

He was hot and she was willing,
or she was hot and he was willing;
it didn’t matter much between them.
He knew her touch would both sting and heal,
was surprised to find it soft and smooth and cool
upon his cheek
though it delivered fever and desire,
all the side effects of lust.
He leaned his forehead against her shoulder,
lay it against his longing
for a stranger on a street corner.

Chad

For some reason I’ve had old friends on my mind lately, and just the last couple days one in particular. I knew him in high school and he committed suicide some years ago. I’m not sure why I’m thinking of him.

I don’t know that Chad and I would have been friends if not for the fact we had so many other friends in common. Both of us were smart and shy, though while I was intermittently unhappy (in the way of teenagers), Chad was consistently so. This is the burden of truly brilliant minds: they cannot be satisfied, not with themselves, nor with anything or anyone outside of themselves. They are driven, and they see and know too much, taking everything in until it turns on them and consumes them, swallows them like a black hole.

Chad used to come over to my house and just sit. He was always polite but mostly quiet. Sometimes we watched television, sometimes we sat out on the patio with my dad, sometimes we just sat on the sofa and did and said nothing. That probably seems strange, and in retrospect I might even agree, but it suited us. We were strange people. (I still am, I suppose.)

He came to escape his parents, I think. I never met them, never met Chad’s little brother, but I knew that Chad wanted to be an artist and his parents were insisting he become an engineer of some kind. Being brilliant, Chad could have done anything he chose and done it well, but he had a real gift and talent for art. In my industry there are so many artists, so many people who are good and even great at what they do, but I’ve still never known anyone who could draw or paint like Chad could. He once made for me a sort of booklet from artfully cut and decorated construction paper that featured famous quotes about love on every page, the first page being that line from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.”

It wasn’t that Chad had any romantic interest in me, of that I’m fairly certain (in fact, my guess is he might have been gay). It was more that he knew me as a girl who desperately needed to feel wanted and loved. It occurs to me now it must have taken a bit of courage for such a shy young man to go to such effort for me.

I don’t know the exact circumstances of his death; it’s not the kind of thing you go around asking about. After I left for university, I lost touch with Chad and just assumed he’d gone off somewhere too—in fact, I’m almost positive he did go to college, at least for a while, though I don’t know whether he finished. A few years ago some of those mutual high school friends were the ones to inform me that Chad had committed suicide, and I wasn’t surprised in the least, sadly enough; in fact, it felt like something I had always known. Maybe when one’s spirit dies, tossing the body after it becomes a technicality. That sounds terrible. I know it does. But that’s exactly what happened to Chad. Something had blocked him; he was left with no other outlet. He had nothing but the pull of that black hole, the mass and quantity of his life and knowledge and experience, and he made the decision to let it absorb his light.

So why am I thinking about him? I don’t know. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned in all this and my subconscious is trying to prod me to attention. Or maybe it’s just that someone mentioned Twelfth Night a couple days ago. Whatever the reason, though, I can’t seem to shake it. I must probe the edges of my own black hole and see what I can discover, all the while working not to be sucked in.

The Sentimentalist

No, it’s not a new television show, though maybe I should develop it?

Yesterday was Twelfth Night, and traditionally I bake a cake with a sixpence in it. For years and years I used the same sixpence, and I went on a hunt for it last night before remembering that it was also the same sixpence I’d worn in my shoe on my wedding day and that it is now encased in a glass shadowbox commemorating the event.

We used a nickel because I didn’t have another sixpence handy.

But during the hunt, I found myself going through many boxes of things. Because, you see, I keep things. Not junk, mind, I’m no hoarder. But items of sentimental value. I can’t bear to part with them. All my old report cards and school papers, copies of just about everything I’ve ever written (no matter how awful), [almost] every letter and card from a friend (so long as it had a note and not just a signature), postcards, diaries and datebooks, magazines with interesting articles that I might want to reference . . . And, of course, a lot of old photographs. It’s a cinch that, should a historian ever want to research me, he or she will have plenty of material.

And only some of it is here, where I live. My parents complain constantly about the huge amount of stuff I’ve left for them to store.

I know I need to go through it all. I know I need to pare it down to the bare bones of my memories. I need to make room for my future after all. And it’s amazing how much I looked at last night and thought, I don’t remember this at all, or, I’d forgotten about that! If I haven’t missed it, shouldn’t I toss it?

But no. Because finding it again is such a treasure in itself.