I was thinking about relationships lately. Watching “Scott Pilgrim” will do that to you. I was wondering if I had seven deadly exes, and the funny thing is, if you count my very first boyfriend then yeah I do. Mind you, I was only six years old at the time, but even back then I was apparently breaking hearts.
His name was Roger. I can’t remember his last name, which is funny because I distinctly remember there being two Rogers in my morning Kindergarten class which made his last name extremely important at the time. “You like ROGER” some little friend would declare aghast, and I would have to explain, “Not Roger Somebodyorother, Roger Whathisname!” Not that which Roger really made any difference to any of my little friends because I was really the first in my group to like boys in any way at all.
Roger, with his buzzed hair and his glasses that were held onto his face firmly by an elastic sports band. It gave his glasses a goggle quality that reminded childhood me of airplane pilots. Why I pictured my airplane pilots as the steampunk variety I do not know, but I did. I was ahead of my time. SteamPunk Roger (SPR) asked me out the old fashioned way, via note passed by his older sister.
The note was cliche, “Will you be my girlfriend? Circle Yes or No.” It was passed to me while the classes were gathering in the gym. Sandridge Elementary School was relatively small and it took in the children from the local farms along with the trailer park kids of which I was one. Grades K through 12 could form little herds of screaming chaos in the gym each morning before filing off to class in some semblance of order. This was how SPR’s older sister, a wise forth grader, could tap little bird-boned me on the shoulder and hand me a note. She giggled the whole time and stood next to me until I read the note and handed it back to her.
You must remember, I was new to academia, so reading took me a moment, especially the large, wandering scrawl of a five year old. Oh, did I mention I was an older woman? My parents held me back a year because they had gotten the impression I just wasn’t ready to go to school yet. They got this impression from the fact that on the morning of my first day of school I squeezed myself into the furthest corner under the bed and against the wall and no one could reach me to drag me out. I stayed under there all day. I wasn’t taking any chances. My parents were pretty wise, and felt that waiting a year was not going to stunt my development. I was able to make up that time later by taking two years in one while home schooled. I don’t think I’m the worse for wear. However, I digress! So at six I was first totally terrified by this older girl approaching me, and then intimidated by her hovering as I stumbled my way through a five year old’s note written in crayon.
Somehow, even at six, I kind of felt as if I were too young for this business of boyfriend and girlfriend. Still, SPR’s big sister was waiting, and she kept giggling and calling the whole ordeal cute, so I circled yes. I mean, why not, I had plenty of friends who were boys, so this boyfriend deal couldn’t be much different right?
Well I was wrong.
I discovered this on the playground that afternoon.
As I mentioned before, while I was used to playing with boys many of my school friends were not. Boys were gross and loud and vulgar and went against the delicate sensibilities of my fellow kindergarten females. This meant that, when SPR wanted to glue himself to my side all during recess, he chased away the rest of my friends. Isn’t this the age old struggle, balancing a boyfriend and a social life? Who knew it started so early?
I tried to regulate things, spending a little time letting SPR try to impress me by leaping off the swings or standing on the monkey bars, and then running over towards the end of recess to sit and have tea with my girlfriends, but SPR would always run over and pretend to fight ninjas and do leaps and kick sand and generally upset a very proper tea ceremony with boyishness.
It become glaringly obvious to me that things were just not working out with SPR when I invited him over to my house on a playdate with me and my friend Katie. Katie was a quiet girl with straight long brown hair that went past her waist and deep set brown eyes. She was taller than me, but her personality folded her into looking smaller. Especially when I was bone thin and small but my personality exploded to fill a room, even at six. I liked Katie because she was one of the few girls who wouldn’t pick on me for being myself and who seemed to be able to tolerate SPR. I needed to be able to play with my boyfriend AND my girlfriends and know that everyone got along.
Well, it worked for awhile. We walked down to the Tot-Lot, an empty trailer lot that the owner filled with sand and placed a little mini park on for the children of the trailer community. It consisted of a set of three swings, a wooden slide/fort, and an odd vertical jungle gym thing that I could always climb up but then never climb back down because it was too high. The first few hours went relatively well. I have always been a swing-loving girl and while that may feel like a group activity it is also okay alone so there was no pressure for Katie to mingle with SPR.
After the swings SPR came up with the idea of playing tag. I picked him to be it, since it seemed only logical. The boys were always chasing the girls on the playground. We would run in fear, hiding behind trees or grouping for safety in giggling gaggles. We weren’t sure what would happen if they caught us, and from this vantage point I think I can safely say the boys probably weren’t quite so sure themselves. So at first the day went well; however, to this day I find that I can’t do one thing for too long. I get restless and bored. This is why I rarely finish first person shooter games. After awhile, I just get tired of shooting things. Too repetitive, my brain needs stimulation. I could tell that Katie was feeling the same way, but every time I yelled for SPR to stop chasing, we were done, he would just chase more. And he always went after me.
Apparently, even at the age of six, I easily felt smothered by clingy boys.
SPR, for the entire week of our brief little romance, attached himself to me in everything. The games in gym, he would pick me as a partner, on the playground he only chased me, during art he would sit in the chair right next to mine and demand my opinion on everything he drew. I didn’t have time to spend with anyone else and even at six I just couldn’t take it.
So I talked to his older sister.
I figured she had gotten me into the mess, so she had better help get me out of it.
I approached the towering gang of fourth grade girls with trepidation. They seemed so grown up, and aside from the day SPR’s sister passed me that note I never had any reason to talk with the older girls. I think the first thing I said was “Uhm?” Which made the whole crowd instantly stop talking as all of them whipped their side-ponytails around to glare at me. “It’s okay, she’s my lil’brother’s girlfriend,” SPR’s sister said. She asked me what I wanted and I remember I burst into tears. I was so stressed, after one week of having a boyfriend, all I wanted was to break up with him and just be a little girl. I begged her to tell him.
At first she wouldn’t. At first I was told I would have to do it myself, which only made me cry harder. In the end she finally relented. It was probably because the whole front of my shirt was soaked and snot was stringing down to my little arms that just couldn’t mop up everything.
Roger was not pleased.
I don’t remember him ever talking to me again. I DO remember him dragging me under the slide in third grade and trying to look down my shirt. An act for which he was promptly smacked soundly across his little face and sent crying to the playground monitor. The one and only time I hit someone hard enough to leave a hand print, and just my luck the playground monitor was Roger’s Aunt, who once she heard why he was slapped quickly smacked him across the head too, just for good measure.
Apparently relationships for me have just never been easy. Right from the start I was pretty much juggling the same things that get juggled as an adult. How to balance your love life and social life, how to find someone who doesn’t hold you so close you suffocate, and even how hard it can be to let someone go even when you know you just aren’t ready for them yet.
I know we all think of childhood as innocent and easier, but when I really sit back and remember it, there were times when it was just as hard if not harder than adulthood. Relationships are never easy. Even after seven “evil” exes.
The night was mild, but I took a jacket,
yet no shoes.
I needed to clear my head
so I decided to fill my lungs with smoke.
Hopping through the doors
the cement felt cool and smooth
beneath my feet.
Antsy, I can’t linger by the door.
I meander, as smokers do, to the corner
of the apartment complex;
letting my feet guide me.
I don’t even live here.
The sidewalk stops at the corner of the brick,
a little landscaped patch out front;
seven baby evergreens trapped in
concrete blocks, for the road to see.
I take a drag, blocking oxygen
from my brain, my chest swims.
A single star is strong enough
to cut through the umbrella
of the streetlamp.
I balance beam across the blocks,
circling the brown evergreens
back to the start. Puffing a train
of smoke in my wake.
A white truck slows down, watching,
but doesn’t stop.
The light down the street changes
from red to green, but the one way
sign remains constant.
Is it really green if you can only go
A dark figure limps by across the street
and I can hear his flipflops;
we don’t acknowledge each other.
I am a phantom in bare feet
holding up a wall beneath the spotlight
of a streetlamp.
Souls in automobiles drive by,
so close but so removed.
How can anyone meet
when we are canned away in cars?
I smoke my clove too fast,
the wind puts out the rest
and I am hesitant to go inside.
The apartment is too warm and too confined.
Out here is potential coasting on the wind.
Out here is space and freedom.
Freedom from work, responsibility,
my own thoughts, myself.
I bend over and snub the butt
between my feet, tossing it aside.
Three of the evergreens are dead, gone;
four survive. What does that teach me?
That we are all planted in the same dirt;
but only some of us take root and thrive.
The light turns red, the one way sign
stays stubborn. I leap from my perch
and pad my way inside.
What did you think, Psyche, when admirers started knocking on your door?
How did you feel when you realized they were only there to look?
Without your knowing Love kept their hearts firmly in their chest,
the beat a metronome, no hint of flutter.
Did these men talk to you of lovers? Other women who could win their affections?
Did you have to sit and listen as one laments
about the girl who never loved him back;
matching his tears with your own, a fount of familiarity
rising from the wells in your chest.
Were you a good listener, Psyche, could they tell you everything?
Did you have to listen as your heart’s desire talked about your best friend,
asking your advice and how to make her notice him?
Did big brothers of best friends see through you, like candle smoke
that scents the air with invisible grace.
How many hands did you hold, how many aching backs did you ease?
How many men came to see you, seeking comfort in a warm body
of understanding and careful compassion?
How broken did you feel when you couldn’t find one to love you?
Did you believe the naysayers when they said you didn’t need dessert,
that you could be as skinny as your little sister if you only tried?
Did you listen when men mentioned you were too picky, or stubborn,
not submissive enough to be considered as a wife?
A bride’s maid in sisters’ weddings, how many tears did you hold inside
as you danced with the groomsmen and wondered when was your turn?
How many talents did you teach yourself,
hoping that maybe if you could cook a little better,
sing a little sweeter, draw, paint, write and dance
that maybe just maybe someone would to make you theirs?
Love was unkind to you, Psyche.
He kept you naive as you held out your heart,
pieces torn to tatters as each man took a souvenir.
Still you never pulled away, accepting affection in any form,
filling the ill-fitting gaps with patches of friendship,
wishing it was enough.
Love kept you to himself too long, torturing you with thoughts
of inadequacy, you felt simply unlovable.
Still, a hopeful romantic, you never wavered.
When Love fled you followed.
A soul in search of a heart.
Stumbling through the woods alone
lifting your lantern against the dark
hoping that the next face you see
will be the face of Love.
Why is it, that it seems, all poetry perambulates about the bad?
The boy who broke your spirit the day before you flew to China
on promises with empty wings. The sunny Wednesday afternoon
when your best friend called to tell you her father, the man named
uncle for eighteen years, died that morning of a heart attack
just forty-two years young. You cement the hitch in her voice
between black and white lines, and the smell of the lemon Pledge
locked in the tattered piece of shirt you used to dust family knick-knacks.
Always the wakes left by others leaving;
but never the moments of sunshine?
Why are good mothers only found in the folds
of Hallmark cards forgotten on restaurant tables,
and abusive fathers immortalized in memorized verse?
Is it only the emotions that maim who linger, kept in the creases
and crevasses of the mind in desperate need of exorcism?
Maybe we burn through the happy times.
Drinking in each drop of water from squirt gun fights with friends
barefoot in backyard as shoulders burn unnoticed and faces freckle.
Each seconded lived to its fullest until it is a sepia-tinged memory
fit only for filing away in some dusty scrapbook you swear
you will flip through but never find time for nostalgia.
It’s the moments we don’t want to live that are left to rattle through our skulls,
undefined and dangerous, like basement spiders in corner cobwebs.
It takes action to expel them. It takes staring the monster in the face
and accepting its reality, its presence in the closet that never completely closes.
Black memories like ticks on tender skin that have to be burned out
lest the head remains beneath the surface to poison the blood.
It takes living those memories over and over until the venom is pumped dry
and the vaccine ready for the inoculation.
My handwriting slants in the wrong direction
and I curve my A’s just like yours.
The only lefty in the family,
you are the only one in your right mind.
Without knowing, you raised a right-handed
girl in a left-handed world.
My pans rest on the right burner,
handles hanging over left side flames.
I tie my shoes inside out.
How else do you reflect in me?
My thrift store tastes and fly away hair;
the post-its above my desk?
I hope I have your patience,
when little girls spill gallons of milk
and then run and hide in my skirts
declaring their love, a sure sign of mischief.
I hope I have your kindness,
buying sandwiches for the hungry
and then driving them to job interviews;
Bandaging scraped knees
and kissing hurt feelings away.
I hope I have your strength,
raising three girls
who didn’t always show the appreciation
they hold deep in their hearts
for the Mom who stayed behind,
and built a sanctuary for them.
What would someone think of me
if all they ever saw was my desk?
Stacks of post-it notes, written to myself,
pens of many colors, a book of Bushido code.
Ganesha guards a wooden box, paperclips
on the inside, Hawaii etched on top.
A golden doorknob, stolen randomly
from a falling-apart efficiency apartment.
The blue glass calligraphy pen my parents
gave me for my birthday, floats in a clear
plastic case beside a big mouthed monkey
ashtray. He holds his lips wide, tongue out,
a mouth filled with alligator clips collected
from classrooms of confounded professors.
The angel my mother made for me
and my little sister; she still holds the hands
of the little girl frozen forever in time.
Photos freeze family in stages;
Christmas, one year ago, four,
me sixteen next to my sister
two years behind still.
A wooden frog that for as long
as I remember held my father’s guitar picks,
rests next to a glass pig with pink wings.
My desk, reflection of my cluttered mind,
which stores fantasies and family
fixed firmly eight inches from my heart.
My heart is made of glass,
delicately spun in spirals and curves.
Carefully cut and heated thin
like soap bubble skins, suspended in air;
Grip too tight and it will shatter,
into irreparable splinters or
I fear to pass it on
to hands too rough,
if I hang on too tight,
if I clasp my heart too close,
it could crush beyond repair.
I need to carefully cradle it,
just a little longer.
Has it only been months?
It feels like years.
Not a word have I heard
from you since I left.
Time simmers down my memories
until only the sweet remains.
Regret stops my throat
with swallowed tears.
Why did it end again?
Why did I leave?
I hear reports of you.
So changed from what
I remember, so altered.
Though I am told
this is not the case.
You have merely reverted back
to what you were before there was us.
This new you is old, wedging in
a fiction that was the you I loved,
between destructive personalities.
Was it ever real, the you who was mine?
Was it ever true?
Or were you just the man of my dreams,
and now we have both woken up.
Who is in charge of the projector
that plays the movies in my mind at night?
Is it my head, my heart?
Is Shakespeare right about the spleen,
forgotten organ, secretly in charge of emotion?
Someone has to tell this projectionist
to stop playing old reruns;
my life with you.
Dusting off the reels
of old black and whites.
Sound lost, now silent films;
spliced together seconds
of smiles and sighs.
I lie myself okay until I almost
believe it true;
until, every night,
the same steps of the same porch,
yellow light humming,
same flimsy screen, same windowless door,
same gleaming hardwood floors,
two orange tabbys;
and you, smiling.
When you kiss someone don’t close your mind
as tightly as you close your eyes.
Remember that butterflies don’t always mean love,
many moments can turn a stomach.
Stop chasing; you’re too clumsy for such sport;
be chased instead to know you aren’t the only player.
Be resolved to be resolved;
don’t let yourself be distracted by castles in the air
or promises just as light, for both are just mirage
and you will always find yourself with a mouth full of dirt
after you fall back to earth, broken once again.
A new year isn’t a clean slate, but maybe
it can be a start.
I wish we had met as children
where we could get our kissing
out of the way with innocence,
lacking all consequence,
weight placed upon adulthood.
Maybe then we could have
moved on as friends
no worse the wear for shared affection.
Then I could go on keeping you,
my favorite person.
Maybe then we could have grown up
without complication; content with us
as we have always been.
Kissing now creates confusion
mixed emotion, stirring of desires
at first thought out of reach.
But what will we lose if we chose to pursue
this beyond bounds of friendship?
I love too much lose you… but.
paper rainbows on the breeze,
pollinators of spring flowers;
yet, on the first day of class,
in front of the closed door
to the unknown,
they are nothing
but bugs in the belly.
So I carpooled with my parents up to my big sister’s house in Wisconsin. I was sitting in the back seat of their car thinking about all of the Christmases me and my sisters spent riding back there going to our aunts house. So, here is the poem I wrote while riding in the backseat wondering when I get to grow up. :-)
How long has it been
since I’ve seen the highway
from a backseat window?
Driving North through a cloud
of snowy rain, the world in silhouette;
both parents still fill the front seats,
only the color has drained to shades
of gray; their faces hold tight
to smile lines.
Instead of sisters crowding the space,
I stretch out, just me and my dog;
the only child not to provide
grandchildren; a family of one,
both sisters fill shotgun in their
own foreign cars.
I sit in the back and listen to banter,
marveling at love gone right and wonder
when will it be my turn
to ride up front?