Out of Focus

  • The Crucial Journey
  • The Skate Key
  • Searching, Searching
  • Grandpa’s Trunk
  • The Somewhat Precis
  • A Bit of Bubblegum
  • The Pie Lie
  • A Dream
  • Water Ways
  • Digging Deeper
  • Fright Flight
  • The Journey Back

The Above↑ Follows Below↓

Into Focus

The Crucial Journey

The door closes. A figure stands, arms crossed, staring. The carpet is white: the walls are white, the drapes are white, the ceiling is white, the shelving is white. The mirror is dark: mementos piled up, surfaces overflow with books, trophies, photo albums. Family photographs stare into the room. Nothing moves. Nothing sounds.

Moves. Eleven steps. Stops. Looks down. The desk: white shaded lamp, left; typewriter, center; pen, pencil, paper, right. Top center, clock and calendar: October 9th, 1:43 PM. Outside, Southern California. Inside, cold shadows.

The bookcase. Eyes scan the titles. Pulls a book from the third shelf, reads the title, puts the book back. Turns again. White walls. Family photos, floor to ceiling. Hands stroke the photo albums, scrapbooks, mementos. Sits on the arm of the sofa, pulls out an album at random, opens, views the faces, places ― closes.

Back to the desk. Sits. The weight presses her into the chair. 1:46 PM. Fingers rest on the keyboard: reaches to the right, picks up a black pen and a blank piece of lined paper.

Writes the date at the upper right; only the date, nothing more. Script neat, small and precise: each letter, each number, definable, chillingly familiar. The lack of style is the style.

Pushes the chair back, stands, and stumbles to the door. Fingers grip the handle, pressing downward. Opens the door, hesitates. Right hand reaches out. The photograph is seventy-five years old. Fingers trace two figures. Smiles, nods her head, turns away, closes the door.

And now she walks down the hall staring at her feet, her walk, familiar, strangely familiar, and moves through the living room, into the kitchen to the refrigerator and opens the door, reaches for the bottom shelf and grabs a can of beer and then opens the freezer and finds a cold glass. She opens the can, pours and throws the can into the recycle bin and walks across the room to her armchair and sits with her feet up resting on the hassock. Then she takes out a cigarette, picks up the lighter, flicks the lighter, all the while watching her hands. She lifts the glass and takes a long drink, and leans back. She closes and opens her eyes and watches the smoke drifts out the window. Her glass is half empty.

She walked to the open front door, shrugged her shoulders, pushed open the screen door that’s never locked and stepped outside. She saw the roses. She walked across the gravel-covered yard, head down, each step creating a grinding sound. She turned around, tilted her head up and gazed at the house. Then she placed her right hand on the tree for support, lowered herself to the ground and sat with her back against the trunk of the Magnolia.

Beneath her were the sharp uneven rocks. She closed her eyes and gathered her legs under the robe, wrapping her arms around her knees. She was still, listening. “Alice, get my check book! I’ll write you a check right now and we will —” “But that’s $10,000 dollars!”

It started to come back to her. The narrow road, the rocks, the barbwire fencing, the endless expanse of weeds, the wild vines, wild gum and pepper trees, yellow flowering mustard. She looked down, picked up one of the jagged rocks, traced a rectangle in the dirt, heard old Ray, the builder — “Run the chalk line and let’s get started on the measurements. 1,100 square feet, slab foundation, cedar exterior, 1 X 12’ planks, two fireplaces, gray slate entry, white frame windows and the usual fixtures.”

Her eyes flashed open and she saw the house: gray cedar planking, gray roof, two white chimneys, gray slate entryway, white framed windows: Twenty years. She looked up through the leaves into the blue. Placed her right hand on the ground for support, stretched out her legs and pushed to a kneeling position. A branch of the tree touched her head. She took a deep breath sniffing the air. “What is it?” Who? Barbeque. No, onions and cloves with smoke flavor: Something, someone moves into her line of sight, near the barn entrance. “Where shall I go?”

She is unaware of the sunlight. She begins to walk, small careful steps to the orchard gate. Her hands automatically reaching forward to lift the cane latch. It strikes the adjoining fence with a sound so familiar that the goats don’t notice as they rush toward her.

“One, two, three, four.” She was counting her steps up the path. Counting each stride, “41, 42, 43 — 101, 102 103,” until she reached 247. The trees on either side of the path formed a sanctuary as she walked. She reached the chain-link fence and gate at the northern boundary of the property. She stood and stared, focusing on the 1888 farmhouse. Her position at the fence unchanging: still standing, hands gripping the wire. She doesn’t hear the trees rustling, the voices are too clear now: “Wish the old man who bought the place would keep up the old homestead.” ” I’ll bring the tractor for the heavy field work.” “You like potatoes? We’ll bring you some from the harvest.” “Them pigs is boars, girls.” “Why would you want to live in the country?”

She lowers herself to the ground, supported by the hand over hand grasp she has on the fence wire. On her knees now, her head buried in her hands, elbows on the ground. She didn’t feel the sweat rolling down her body. She crawled to the shelter of one of the trees, sat, her legs stretched out in front of her, her arms and hands out to the side. Her head was back, her gaze upward through the branches and leaves. Then she placed her open hands together, lowered her head, thumbs under her chin, fingers straight, like a prayer. Her eyes open, her gaze fixed, watching the path, framing the scene. “Is that someone standing in the orchard?” She sees a tall figure with thick wavy gray hair, dressed in white pants, white silk shirt, white shoes, Armani’s? She calls out, “Hello, there.” The sound of her own voice frightens her; she moves to get up. The figure disappears.

She drops back down into the thick layers of leaves, breathes in the earth’s aroma.

A warm comforting feeling is by her side, a weight across her left shoulder—”Mac, is that you?”

Mac, you wonderful dog, you are a comfort. “Comfort.” She speaks the word aloud. But, then, at this exact moment, in the filtered sunlight, she is determined not to think of words as she lies in the soft leaves, looking skyward, stroking Mac’s head and shoulders. She takes deep relaxed breaths, letting the pungent odors surround her. She closes her eyes, drifts back. Signs to the left, signs to the right. She sees people, places, objects; days and nights pass by. She feels hot, then cold, wet then dry. Sun, moon and stars blend into one glow. She listens: sounds are missing, voices are silenced, the noise is of the silence. She recognizes, one after the other, the streets and avenues. She hears herself pronouncing the words on the road signs.

`She has been down each one and back again. Is it her feet that are traveling so fast and easy along the road? She senses no contact. Then she wonders: am I the one in motion or is the road moving by my stationary body?

Her eyes open and close again. Leaves, bark, cobwebs surround her. And then, she is back living in Los Angeles, when it was a sleepy, sprawling town, more then sixty years past. 1937 Myra Street.

 

THE SKATE KEY

She stands there looking up at the craftsman house. It is a cloudless day, the first in months, in the spring of the year. She will begin public school in the fall.

Her thoughts of the dark winter times have faded. She is out of doors, in the shadow of the parkway tree, looking to her right and left, up at the branches of the tree, then down to see a pair of roller skates dangling in her right hand, her fingers wrapped around the leather straps. On the end of each strap is a buckle. The straps are attached to her skates. The shiny metal ball-bearing wheels are still, waiting. On her feet are loose-laced Buster Brown heavy-duty shoes: reinforced metal tips covering the toes, metal plates on the soles, both front and back. But, something is missing. She reaches up and touches her chest. Her skate key! It should be on a string hanging around her neck. In a flash she knows who has it. Where was he? He was not anywhere around! Not in the house, or the back yard, or in the garage. No! He is skating! She is not!

She is furious, so furious that she begins shouting and continues to shout his name, “Shelly! Shel—ly, where are you? Bring back my skate key! Shelly, I know you took it, bring it back! Now! SHELLY!”

She looks at the unscreened window of the house; expecting to see a face, see the front door open. She waits, she looks, and when no face appears, she pictures each of the three faces that could appear.

Thinking: Now if a brown face, with black hair appears it would smile at me, disappear, open the front door, walk to my side with soft said wise words. If a brown haired white face appears, there would be a smile, a nod, the front door would open gently, and this one would also move to me, to comfort and embrace me with reassuring arms. But, if a white face with blond hair appears there would be no smile. The pale face would disappear, the front door would be thrown open, and I would hear the sound of my name shouted from the porch in accusing tones.

Her first choice, the one she hoped to see at the window, was the brown face of Mae. Mae would move to open the front door, step across the porch, down the grassy path, to the sidewalk, and say, “Child, what are you squalling ‘bout? If you needs somethin’, go and get it direct, your shoutin’ won’t do a thing but exercise your mouth.

Your mom won’t have none of this shoutin’ neither. Don’t wake her up, make her upset.”

Then I would say, “I’ll quit shouting! But, Shelly has the skate key. My skate key! I know he does. He can’t find his. He is so stupid but he knows that without a skate key I can’t keep the skates on my shoes. He’s mean and selfish. Besides that he walks funny, big flat feet that point out like a ducks. I don’t know why he has to live with us. You and Mommy and I should be on our own. Shelly and his mom don’t need to live here.” And Mae would say, “Child, just get on with your business.”

Second choice was the white face with the brown hair. Not only would she smile from the window — it would be a worried smile, but still a smile— she would come out of the house, down the steps to the sidewalk, consoling, “Sh, sh, sh, don’t shout, you’ll wake your mother. Tell Aunt Willa what’s wrong.” I would tell her and then she would say, “Take my hand, baby, we’ll walk together. Let’s go and find Shelly and your skate key. Here, let me carry your skates. You’re so little to be skating let alone searching around the block by yourself.”

Her non-choice was the face she did not want to see: the white face with the blond hair; and no telling what would happen if she came out of the house. Look out me and look out Shelly!

Someone is home. Someone is always home: But no face comes to the window, no one opens the door, and nobody comes out onto the front porch, or down the path. “Skate key” has become more important then any other word; it is the only meaningful word that relates to an object of the highest value in her right-now life. Without it she is stranded. With it she could travel— going every place in general, but no place in particular. Her mouth is set in a tight, determined expression. She knows what she must do, what she expects of herself: The plan is simple. Find Shelly! Get the “skate key!”

First she puts her skates on the cement sidewalk. With both hands free she pulls up her socks, reties and double-bows her shoe laces, smoothes down her dress, sweeps her long dark curls away from her face grabs her skates by their straps and sets out marching along the sidewalk, down the street, moving toward the corner, chanting “Step on the cracks, Step on the cracks!” Pauses.

Or is it “Don’t step on the cracks?” She is kicking at stones with her steel tipped shoes, swinging her skates by their long buckle ended straps trying to remember the rest of the verse.

Even before she can reach the corner she hears the sound of a truck. It must be Wednesday! And there it comes. Moving along. Stopping at each home’s curbside.

The two black garbage collector men are about their business; one is driving, the other standing on a shelf that is attached to the right side of the tailgate. Gracefully he reaches out with his right arm, his hand grabs the bail of the bucket; in a nimble effortless movement the bucket is swinging in an arc over the back of the truck, the contents spilling out on the already high pile of garbage, disturbing only the flies that follow and ride along for the entire trip, and the pail, back on the curb only inches from its original position.

She is always amazed watching their skill and efficiency. The men are her friends. Each week she helps to put the garbage pail at the curb. Each week she waves to the men and each week they shout at her, smiling back.

She remembers her focus, her mission: Finding Shelly and the skate key. Now, where would he be? Not at the corner house. No. The German family lives there. I like the lady; she makes pickled pig’s feet. We’re not supposed to go into the house. Not to reach into the giant brine filled jar with our hands. Not to eat the pig’s feet. I don’t know why. I do talk to the lady, I reach into the jar, get one of the pig’s feet, that is whenever no one is around to tell on me¾ and that no one is Shelly. And where is that big tattletale crybaby?

She walks on and on, up the street, peering into each yard. There are trees in the front yards and shade, lots of shade. Cool dark shade. She decides to rest and think away from the glare of the cement sidewalk. She puts her skates down by the Elm tree trunk, plops down, sitting with her legs crossed Indian fashion, all but disappearing into the shadows.

She reasons. I need to be ready. When I find Shelly, how will I get my skate key? What would Mae say? I know, “Take care of your business. Do what you have to do.” Aunt Willa would tell me that kindness is the best way. Be polite. Just walk up to him and say please, that you need the skate key and that we can share.

But, what if that doesn’t work? I will be like mother. I will step out in front of him, plant my feet, my hands on my hips, give him the hard eye, put out my hand and wiggle my finger. Just stand, stare, wiggle that finger and wait. Which one?

And, then, she hears the sound of metal skate wheels grinding on the sidewalk. There he is! She does not move. She is watching him come closer. He rolls down the sidewalk. The key is dangling from its cord in his hand. She waits. Silently, she moves. Now she is standing. She has picked up her skates. They are hanging from her hands at the end on their straps. He is just about to whiz past. Out she jumps, yelling ¾ “Shelly, you stop right here, give me back my skate key!” He is so startled that he doesn’t see the crack in the sidewalk. It catches one of the skate wheels and, zippo; he turns into a sack of spilled beans, all over the place, on his back like a turtle.

One skate is flopping around his ankle. The other is still attached to his shoe. She is standing over him. Her tiny figure is hovering over his large body. He twists and turns and manages to rise to a standing, lopsided position.

“Give it to me!” She points to the object of her desire. The next moment she is on the ground.

Darkness overwhelms her: Stars flash, oceans roar, bells ring. Then silence. She regains her senses. She is surprised to find the sidewalk so close. Her head is throbbing. Her mouth hurts. She puts her free hand to the back of her head. There is an egg-size lump. She rubs the lump. She licks her lips. The taste is awful. She rolls over to her left side and manages to get herself to a sitting position. She moves her head from side to side, looks around. She is alone. It comes back. She had been reaching for her skate key. Shelly had pushed her. Where was he? She crawls over to the grass and into the shade. Her head is throbbing.

She thinks. If I were Shelly where would I be right now? What would I be doing? Hum, if I were Shelly. I‘d be hiding. Not too far away, but close by. Close enough to see me but unseen by me. So. She looked around and she saw a perfect place for observation and concealment. It had to be the porch of this house.

That’s where she would’ve hidden. But, she knew what he did not; that this front porch had only one entrance and one exit to the street. It would be a trap. If he were hiding there she would have to surprise him. He mustn’t get away. He still had the skate key and now she had another score to settle.

She got up without even a glance at the porch, walked a bit further up the street. Then, hidden by big bushes, she dashed up the neighboring driveway, crouching in the protection of the dense shrubs. Nothing hurt! She surveyed the lay of the land between herself and the porch. Figured that crawling next to the house, screened behind the bushes, would conceal her until the final dash.

She begins a careful, sightless, soundless move back through the skate key battlefield and closer to the Shellycave. She is stealth itself.

When she reaches the edge of the porch she pauses. Peeks over from behind the red Camellia and let her eyes become accustomed to the darker interior ─ she could see Shelly.

She could make out his crouched figure at the far end of the porch, his attention directed toward the street side. Just keep it that way, fool, she is thinking as she picked up a dirt clod and then, barely moving her body, tossed it out to the street side of the house.

Shelly leaned forward, peering in the direction that he heard the sound. She made her move!

Stooped over, feet moving, head low; she scurried around from the corner of the porch, to the entrance. Up the steps, to his corner, it took her just a few seconds, now she was the one hovering. Her hand was out. “Give me my skate key!” He tried to get to his feet. Not this time!

Swish! Womp! Smack! Somehow the skates still gripped by their ankle straps in her hand have come to life. They know how to “take care of their business.” His head is bowed and bloody, his feet are moving, the skate key is on the ground. He’s crying. He’s running. He’s bleeding. He’s screaming. “I’m gonna tell, I’m telling. My mom, your mom, they’re gonna get you. Just wait ‘till you get home. You be sorry!” He’s down the steps of the porch, across the yardskate key is on the ground. He’s crying. H’s running. He’s bleeding. He’s screaming. “I’m gonna tell, I’m telling. My mom, your mom, they’re gonna get you. Just wait ‘till you get home. You be sorry!” He’s down the steps of the porch, across the yardskate key is on the ground. He’s crying. Hs running. He’s bleeding. He’s screaming. “I’m gonna tell, I’m telling. My mom, your mom, they’re gonna get you. Just wait ‘till you get home. You be sorry!” He’s down the steps of the porch, across the yardskate key is on the ground. He’s crying. Hre that the skates are on for the duration. She looks down at her feet. She smiles and thinks aloud, I’m on my way!

She slides her bottom down one step; she stands; looks up as she suspends the skate key necklace over her head. The string becomes a rainbow colored ribbon; the skate key a silver star that glistens in the sunlight. She lowers her medal of valor, lets the ribbon settle on her shoulders, runs her fingers along the material, the emblem comes to rest on her chest. With great ceremony she strokes her medal and then, as she has been taught, transfers the key from front to back. She takes her first steps and then glides onto the surface of the smooth pavement, feeling like the winged horse in her storybook.

But, she didn’t get far before the picture of Shelly his face covered with blood floats up before her. She had, no, the skates had, cut his forehead open above his right eye. The magic skates became heavy, her feet and legs became wooden, uncooperative.

She tumbled off of her raceway onto the grass: I didn’t want to hurt him so much. The skates did it! I did it too. We did it.

She can feel her legs and feet come back to life. She zips up the street, around the corner; waves to no one, stops for no one. And there she is, in front of her house and there he is. Crying, bleeding, pointing. Mother, Aunt Jean, Aunt Willa and Mae appear.

There is enough ice for the both of them. They sat on the sofa nursing their wounds, he on one end and she on the other. An ice pack on the front of his head, an ice pack on the back of hers.

They sat there alone for a long time. Boredom. He looked miserable, the girl thoughtful. So, then, she glanced over to his defeated figure and said softly: “Shelly, hey, Shelly, want to go skating?”

SEARCHING , SEARCHING  

(a transition to Grandpa’s Trunk)

She was no longer sitting at the end of a couch; she was sitting, but on the ground, under the trees ―――. The sunlight had shifted so imperceptibly that the shadows had not yet caught up to the changes in the lengthening rays of sunlight, the trees were still; there was a curious absence of sounds. Then, after a long minute ― reality, she knew where she was: hidden, unseen, six trees, one hundred and five feet east of the road. Her lips were dry; she licked them; took a deep breath, exhaled, scents, impossible to differentiate one from the other. How to regain sensibility, balance? She was methodical: it was as though she was pulling open a file drawer, fingering the folders, reading the topics off of the cuts at the top. Searching ― the dog, she leaned over, reached down, cupped her hands under Mac’s head, tilted it upwards and looked into his eyes, saying, “Why have I always, always? No couldn’t have been always, been so removed, guarded from expressing sentiment, accused of having no feelings? ‘You’re so unsentimental,’ accused her Mother. How long has it been since I could display emotions like everyone else; joy and sadness, smiling, weeping, laughing uproariously, shedding copious tears; what has happened to me that the natural responses to great joys, to sorrows has departed? The joy of being has vanished; living is a confusing habit, emotionless, mechanical. And, I can’t even cry about that. And if it wasn’t so depressing, I could have a good laugh over it, but that’s gone. Tears and crying, crying and tears: when had tears deserted me? When had I deserted tears?”

 She no longer wants time to play its tricks on her memory, the past, too heavy a weight riding on her shoulders.

 Look, you can see her; overcome with despair, sitting in the present looking into the past, so many unanswered questions to probe, so many years to explore, sitting on the earth, among the trees, in the muted sunlight, under a canopy of leaves, embraced in a protective cloak of flannel, there next to her faithful friend. The presence of her body, inconsequential, the intellect was all she had:

Listen, you can hear as thinking begins: “Tears are generally a reflection of external irritation, pain or the recreation of a painful event, emotional tears, real or acted. You know, those relieving dual conscious/unconscious reactions to any type of a wound; the damage could be physical or emotional, pre or post event. They could be accompanied by deep wrenching sobs that would maim a body/mind configuration, like the sting of a thousand knife thrusts that bled but not always to ones death, leaving disguised festering wounds and permanent scars: Those human displays of the self: the surrender of control that renders a person powerless or with enormous power. Tears not only affected the crier but the witness to the crying.

 Well, what a shitty bit of elitist evasive thought that is.”

 Shitty or not she continued, in her fashion; “(1) I know that some past time I must have been capable of tears, after all (2) humans have built into the organism the crying response. (3) Crying out begins at birth. (4) That tears begin two weeks after birth. (5) So, when, why had I no longer sought the relieving power of tears, (6) had it been a gradual abandonment of this reactive emotion to physical and emotional pain, to loss, to the comfort of control; (7) was it sudden? So OK then, let’s get organized, efficient, systematic about this conundrum.”

 She stretches out, brushes the leaves off the front of her robe, they drop to the ground, shattered, she folds her arms across her prone body, notices the clarity of the sky, closes her eyes, the trace of blue sky lingers: she had read that when the eyes are shut, the truth begins; what, would be her best source, where could she find it, that one starting place to ignite her specific memory needs? The fingers of her left hand curls abound the fold of her robe; her right hand slips to the ground, her fingers shift from side to side; she waits for a sign, a marker, then without becoming conscious of a shift of time or place, she had before her an opened blue steamer trunk, it had been the one her grandfather packed for his voyage to America, she could detect the scent of age, it contains four generations of family memorabilia. She is astounded: yearbooks stacked to the left, theater programs, librettos, menus, stuffed animals, a pair of skates, a skate key, four stacks of letters in plastic coverings, loose pictures, photograph albums stacked one upon the other: “There’s my first baby book:” she feels a strong affection for this book with its brown, scared front cover of wood, emblazoned with her name, held together with crumbling leather bindings. She lifts it out, places it on the floor. She sees the fingers of her left hand: opening the album, placing the cover on the ground, the fingers of her right hand, stroking the first page smooth; as the pages are turned, one after the other, she is compelled to direct her biographical calendar back to 1933:

 There it rests in the garage, a place where items periodically needed, or the soon to be to be discarded reside, Grandpa’s steamer trunk. It has been stored in garages from Antwerp, Belgium, Brooklyn, New York to Los Angeles, California. It has traveled by horse cart, steamer ship, by train, by automobile, by moving truck, and finally in a 1976 yellow pick-up truck, to its current location. It is an ideal traveler, that willingly goes where it is taken, never argues, does exactly as expected; takes anything it’s given, to keep safe and secure no matter how long they are placed there. It takes responsibilities seriously

 It is twenty six inches wide, thirty-six inches tall, forty-two inches long. No longer in the original factory finish: originally beautiful, bright and handsome, then after so many years of use a faded green, the fake leather bands have become a discolored brown, but still with eight substantial thickset artistically designed triangular metal corner plates, five latches, two to keep the top securely in its place when closed, and three for fastening the lid to the base, one with a keyed lock, broken. Beneath the keyed hasp is a plate, a four-sided figure affixed with the point up.

 On this shield, is engraved: “Do not put labels over this notice, Tou-R-ist, V2053, This trunk is registered in case of loss, Trade mark registered National Veneer Product Company, Patent applied for, owner’s name obtained by sending trunk number to National Veneer Product Company. Mishawka, Indiana.” It was manufacture somewhere between 1903 –1925. Registration records have gone missing.

 There are double rows of one inch press-stud rivets along the top, sides, and bottom. Three hefty brass hinges at the back. The exterior is sound, the shape unchanged except for a few dents and scrapes.

 The interior smells of age. There is a removable four inch deep fitted shelf resting on thin supports that border the uppermost section. The floral printed fabric lining the inside, disintegrating, detaching itself away from the walls of once elegant splendor which being should be spiffed up a bit but will it probably have to wait for its next custodian.

 Several spray cans of blue paint altered the original exterior appearance but not the useful intent that the inner recesses offered: a dark hidden home for the accumulation of five generations of keepsakes, each one a story.

 When it first arrived at this site it was placed in the house against a wall in the living area, but as time passed needs changed; and it was moved to the current location, parked under a painted white, now grubby looking wooden shelf. It’s been there more than twenty-five years. Beneath are two sets of casters for easier movement; pulled out, opened every now and then to swallow up some new treasure. Then wiped clean, the area swept of debris that always includes mouse detritus, spiders and dirt blown in by the winds.

 It arrived at this, its latest home after a death; Grandpa’s death. Death was a criterion for a steamer trunks passage in families, an inherited ownership.

 Such it was with the many steamer trunks that made the journey from Europe after the First World War, to arrive in America packed with as much of a family’s possessions as possible. This specific trunk was owned by a ship’s cook who went ashore and disappeared into New York City after six voyages back and forth across the Atlantic. And like so many immigrants he had saved his wages after each voyage until there was enough to pay the passage for his family plus enough to begin a new life in America. They and the trunk arrived six months after he did, October 11, 1924, aboard the S.S Belafland a ship of the Red Star Line, all very legal, he was not. They left forever Europe and the tyranny of the Boche. And like so many émigrés who poured into America knowing that the war in Europe was not over, that it would begin again only to be more ugly and devastating.

 This particular trunk was imported from America. Its first voyage and the only time traveling empty; bought in a small shop in Antwerp that specialized in traveling cases of all sizes. Purchased by this family, who like so many others who took flight from the countries under siege had escaped to Belgium, a neutral county, its status ignored by the enemy and occupied; still suffering from the affects of war: starvation, unemployment, anti-Semitism, homelessness, and hopelessness with the foreboding of what the future would be should they remain. Their future was in the safety of America.

 Thus the trunk’s second journey was by a horse drawn cart to a small rented home. Packed like all the others with meager possessions: trousers, jackets, shirts, sweaters, underwear, socks, shoes, boots, shaving kit, pipes, beneath these essential traveling possessions were a multitude of family valuables.

 After each voyage to America, unpacked, the goods it held stored.

 It then resided in Brooklyn, New York and after many years shipped by rail to Los Angles, California. First residing in the Grandpa’s garage and then to his daughter’s garage until…then ―

 Grandpa’s trunk arrived at this garage empty, not empty anymore, stuffed full.

 There are photo albums dating back to 1915. The trinkets are a collection of cannot be thrown-away, can’t be parted with, bits and pieces from the bygone, that represents a lifetime of saved memories; the trunk’s greatest accomplishment. It is a holder of reminders from the good past.

 Out to the garage to pull open Grandpa’s steamer trunk.

She was no longer sitting at the end of a couch; she was sitting, but on the ground, under the trees ―――. The sunlight had shifted so imperceptibly that the shadows had not yet caught up to the changes in the lengthening rays of sunlight, the trees were still; there was a curious absence of sounds. Then, after a long minute ― reality, she knew where she was: hidden, unseen, six trees, one hundred and five feet east of the road. Her lips were dry; she licked them; took a deep breath, exhaled, scents, impossible to differentiate one from the other. How to regain sensibility, balance? She was methodical: it was as though she was pulling open a file drawer, fingering the folders, reading the topics off of the cuts at the top. Searching ― the dog, she leaned over, reached down, cupped her hands under Mac’s head, tilted it upwards and looked into his eyes, saying, “Why have I always, always? No couldn’t have been always, been so removed, guarded from expressing sentiment, accused of having no feelings? ‘You’re so unsentimental,’ accused her Mother. How long has it been since I could display emotions like everyone else; joy and sadness, smiling, weeping, laughing uproariously, shedding copious tears; what has happened to me that the natural responses to great joys, to sorrows has departed? The joy of being has vanished; living is a confusing habit, emotionless, mechanical. And, I can’t even cry about that. And if it wasn’t so depressing, I could have a good laugh over it, but that’s gone. Tears and crying, crying and tears: when had tears deserted me? When had I deserted tears?”

She no longer wants time to play its tricks on her memory, the past, too heavy a weight riding on her shoulders.


 Look, you can see her; overcome with despair, sitting in the present looking into the past, so many unanswered questions to probe, so many years to explore, sitting on the earth, among the trees, in the muted sunlight, under a canopy of leaves, embraced in a protective cloak of flannel, there next to her faithful friend. The presence of her body, inconsequential, the intellect was all she had:

Listen, you can hear as thinking begins: “Tears are generally a reflection of external irritation, pain or the recreation of a painful event, emotional tears, real or acted. You know, those relieving dual conscious/unconscious reactions to any type of a wound; the damage could be physical or emotional, pre or post event. They could be accompanied by deep wrenching sobs that would maim a body/mind configuration, like the sting of a thousand knife thrusts that bled but not always to ones death, leaving disguised festering wounds and permanent scars: Those human displays of the self: the surrender of control that renders a person powerless or with enormous power. Tears not only affected the crier but the witness to the crying.

Well, what a shitty bit of elitist evasive thought that is.”

Shitty or not she continued, in her fashion; “(1) I know that some past time I must have been capable of tears, after all (2) humans have built into the organism the crying response. (3) Crying out begins at birth. (4) That tears begin two weeks after birth. (5) So, when, why had I no longer sought the relieving power of tears, (6) had it been a gradual abandonment of this reactive emotion to physical and emotional pain, to loss, to the comfort of control; (7) was it sudden? So OK then, let’s get organized, efficient, systematic about this conundrum.”

She stretches out, brushes the leaves off the front of her robe, they drop to the ground, shattered, she folds her arms across her prone body, notices the clarity of the sky, closes her eyes, the trace of blue sky lingers: she had read that when the eyes are shut, the truth begins; what, would be her best source, where could she find it, that one starting place to ignite her specific memory needs? The fingers of her left hand curls abound the fold of her robe; her right hand slips to the ground, her fingers shift from side to side; she waits for a sign, a marker, then without becoming conscious of a shift of time or place, she had before her an opened blue steamer trunk, it had been the one her grandfather packed for his voyage to America, she could detect the scent of age, it contains four generations of family memorabilia. She is astounded: yearbooks stacked to the left, theater programs, librettos, menus, stuffed animals, a pair of skates, a skate key, four stacks of letters in plastic coverings, loose pictures, photograph albums stacked one upon the other: “There’s my first baby book:” she feels a strong affection for this book with its brown, scared front cover of wood, emblazoned with her name, held together with crumbling leather bindings. She lifts it out, places it on the floor. She sees the fingers of her left hand: opening the album, placing the cover on the ground, the fingers of her right hand, stroking the first page smooth; as the pages are turned, one after the other, she is compelled to direct her biographical calendar back to 1933:

There it rests in the garage, a place where items periodically needed, or the soon to be to be discarded reside, Grandpa’s steamer trunk. It has been stored in garages from Antwerp, Belgium, Brooklyn, New York to Los Angeles, California. It has traveled by horse cart, steamer ship, by train, by automobile, by moving truck, and finally in a 1976 yellow pick-up truck, to its current location. It is an ideal traveler, that willingly goes where it is taken, never argues, does exactly as expected; takes anything it’s given, to keep safe and secure no matter how long they are placed there. It takes responsibilities seriously

It is twenty six inches wide, thirty-six inches tall, forty-two inches long. No longer in the original factory finish: originally beautiful, bright and handsome, then after so many years of use a faded green, the fake leather bands have become a discolored brown, but still with eight substantial thickset artistically designed triangular metal corner plates, five latches, two to keep the top securely in its place when closed, and three for fastening the lid to the base, one with a keyed lock, broken. Beneath the keyed hasp is a plate, a four-sided figure affixed with the point up.

On this shield, is engraved: “Do not put labels over this notice, Tou-R-ist, V2053, This trunk is registered in case of loss, Trade mark registered National Veneer Product Company, Patent applied for, owner’s name obtained by sending trunk number to National Veneer Product Company. Mishawka, Indiana.” It was manufacture somewhere between 1903 –1925. Registration records have gone missing.

There are double rows of one inch press-stud rivets along the top, sides, and bottom. Three hefty brass hinges at the back. The exterior is sound, the shape unchanged except for a few dents and scrapes.

The interior smells of age. There is a removable four inch deep fitted shelf resting on thin supports that border the uppermost section. The floral printed fabric lining the inside, disintegrating, detaching itself away from the walls of once elegant splendor which being should be spiffed up a bit but will it probably have to wait for its next custodian.

Several spray cans of blue paint altered the original exterior appearance but not the useful intent that the inner recesses offered: a dark hidden home for the accumulation of five generations of keepsakes, each one a story.

When it first arrived at this site it was placed in the house against a wall in the living area, but as time passed needs changed; and it was moved to the current location, parked under a painted white, now grubby looking wooden shelf. It’s been there more than twenty-five years. Beneath are two sets of casters for easier movement; pulled out, opened every now and then to swallow up some new treasure. Then wiped clean, the area swept of debris that always includes mouse detritus, spiders and dirt blown in by the winds.

It arrived at this, its latest home after a death; Grandpa’s death. Death was a criterion for a steamer trunks passage in families, an inherited ownership.

Such it was with the many steamer trunks that made the journey from Europe after the First World War, to arrive in America packed with as much of a family’s possessions as possible. This specific trunk was owned by a ship’s cook who went ashore and disappeared into New York City after six voyages back and forth across the Atlantic. And like so many immigrants he had saved his wages after each voyage until there was enough to pay the passage for his family plus enough to begin a new life in America. They and the trunk arrived six months after he did, October 11, 1924, aboard the S.S Belafland a ship of the Red Star Line, all very legal, he was not. They left forever Europe and the tyranny of the Boche. And like so many émigrés who poured into America knowing that the war in Europe was not over, that it would begin again only to be more ugly and devastating.

This particular trunk was imported from America. Its first voyage and the only time traveling empty; bought in a small shop in Antwerp that specialized in traveling cases of all sizes. Purchased by this family, who like so many others who took flight from the countries under siege had escaped to Belgium, a neutral county, its status ignored by the enemy and occupied; still suffering from the affects of war: starvation, unemployment, anti-Semitism, homelessness, and hopelessness with the foreboding of what the future would be should they remain. Their future was in the safety of America.

Thus the trunk’s second journey was by a horse drawn cart to a small rented home. Packed like all the others with meager possessions: trousers, jackets, shirts, sweaters, underwear, socks, shoes, boots, shaving kit, pipes, beneath these essential traveling possessions were a multitude of family valuables.

After each voyage to America, unpacked, the goods it held stored.

It then resided in Brooklyn, New York and after many years shipped by rail to Los Angles, California. First residing in the Grandpa’s garage and then to his daughter’s garage until…then ―

Grandpa’s trunk arrived at this garage empty, not empty anymore, stuffed full.

There are photo albums dating back to 1915. The trinkets are a collection of cannot be thrown-away, can’t be parted with, bits and pieces from the bygone, that represents a lifetime of saved memories; the trunk’s greatest accomplishment. It is a holder of reminders from the good past.

Out to the garage to pull open Grandpa’s steamer trunk.

THE SOMEWHAT PRECIS

 “There on the first pages: telegrams, birth announcements, gift cards, congratulatory

messages, hand dated pictures, mother with baby, grandmother with baby, grandpa with baby, baby on a rug, in the style of the day, to wit nude, baby holding the garden hose sans clothes save a bonnet, daddy in his trunks, lifting weights. No tears here.” More pages. “There’s Aunt Jean N., cousin Donnie, that picture, remember,: Boyle Heights, Aunt Jean’s, the dinner table; was I even a year old?

My father’s family, my mother, all at the table, the menorah, the white cloth, plates, food, drinks, I‘m in the highchair. It was noisy, talking, laughter. No one is watching me, listening to my pleadings. I had that feeling, a high pitched ringing in the ears, I was unable to keep my eyes open, something was rising in my throat, burning, I was unable to breath, my little inner voice was saying, ‘don’t let it out, can’t mess up the table, keep your mouth shut, tight, tight: It can’t come out if your mouth is shut.” Wrong! Oh, boy did I ever cry, I cried, volumes, out of fear, fear of having done the forbidden. I made the mess. Aunt Jean my savior.”

Another page. “South Gate. My picture in a sailor suit…the whistle had been missing from the pocket. I screamed, dry-eyed, the picture could not be taken until I found that whistle. I ran all over the house searching; then I screamed and real tears flowed, the punishment for the first outbursts were painful slaps across my face. I can’t recall how the whistle was found; but in the picture, the whistle is in the pocket; pictures are such curiosity remnants of memory, unlike mirrors that only reflect an image so long as they are looked into.”

A few more pages, another picture, the birthday party. It must have been after I lost my Daddy or my Daddy lost me: In Hollywood, Franklin Avenue. I can hear, “Don’t leave the driveway and keep clean.” I was bored, lonesome, and searching. Picture this: I see the grass, the trees, the empty open space. I am wearing a beautiful dress with tiny embroidered flowers on the bottom of the hem and at the collar. It is a soft fabric, softly colored, on my feet white ankle socks and new white strap over shoes. My head is covered with long, plump curls of an amazing richness of texture and color, I pushed my tricycle: up the sidewalk to the top of the hill, peddled across the short end of the block, rounded the corner and behold, before me a wondrous hill:

I could coast all the way to the bottom, faster then I could go on my own pedal power. I put my feet on the pedals and pushed. Gravity took over: pedals spun faster and faster, my legs out of control, I don’t know what to do, how to stop. Off of the sidewalk, into the street and “Crash, smash, tumble and roll” body, bike, hurled to the asphalt, new dress, white shoes, tricycle, torn, scuffed, bruised, bent; head bleeding, arms and legs scraped. I was crying. No one was there. “Can’t remember the stumble back, I do remember the screaming when I was seen, ‘I don’t care how you’re hurt, you were ordered to stay in front, to keep clean, you are here to be in this birthday party and you will be in the party. Here’s some ice.’”

The lump was huge, the pain throbbing, humiliation, the anger, the unsympathetic response. The picture: me, scraped arms and legs, torn dress, holding ice on the lump, tears standing out on my cheeks, all in the midst of a birthday celebration.”

 The next few pages flipped by: the ensemble picture of the Tom Thumb Wedding at Los Felis Elementary School. “I am the flower girl. I look miserable. I had cause. I had fallen up the steps to the stage. A mother, not my own, she didn’t come, picked me up, comforted me, stroked my head, held me close, wiped my tears. They were tears of shame more then pain.

And look: the pictures when I got my first two-wheeled bike. Was it a birthday or Christmas? It shows me in front of the house at Myra Street: the photographs faded away, time flashed fast forward: loss of her bicycles; the first, this at fourteen: “we went everywhere together, always as one. I had long conversations with my little maroon bike. We were friends of the best sort. I talked he listened. He could be trusted with secrets. And then my friend was gone. I came home one day; a stranger bike was there.

I must have been nine going on ten. How I did mourn. ‘Daddy, (I had to call my step-father, Daddy) you didn’t even ask me, I don’t want a bigger bike, I want my friend back.’ I was crying tears of anger. He was devastated! I was inconsolable! My God, the tears did overflow. And wasn’t the anguish unfathomable?

How does one explain crying over the loss of a bike? Like crying over split milk, one does. And then, after my affection grew for my second friend, it was stolen from the bike rack at the May Company where my aunt worked: we had had lunch together; it was a special treat.” She remembered her Aunt Willa, a kind, calm, loving woman.

“You know Mac, I can remember running back into the store, finding my aunt in the employees’ room and wailing, ‘my bike, it’s gone!’ I was frantic. I had lost another of my only friends in the world. I cried. You have no idea what this loss felt like.”

Mac, cocked his head to the side, being a polite listener, he did not interrupt.

But he was thinking, “Of course, I know the feeling of loss, I almost lost you. You wanted one of my littermate sisters, that nasty movie star had picked me for her pup. I was pick-of-the-litter. But you, you ignored me. I had to watch you leave every Saturday; I did everything I could to get your attention, I stood at the side of the pen, I tried to lick your hand, to get you to pick me up. When you took pictures, I crowded into the front; I never took my eyes off of you. I even risked punishment when I chased you into the horse ring. You didn’t want me, you did not want a boy dog. I cried my inner tears every Saturday when you left without me. But, things happened and here I am.” He put his paw on her hand as she went on with her reflections.

I don’t remember leaving my family home in South Gate to live in a place on Franklin Street in Hollywood. I have a vivid memory of the day during this time: my father failed to keep his promise to spend the day with me. He left me alone, waiting, in front, on the street corner, he never came; I waited for so long, looking down the street for him, I cried, but I didn’t cry as I returned to face my mother. No album picture of this event well, not in a tangible album, but the one in my head. A vivid recollection, as though I was out of body, looking down at myself. I was startled:

 I could list the crying times: “I cried when my hair was washed, the soap got in my eyes, cried when mother combed my thick long hair, it pulled, I cried when I was thrown from my pony, Jeanne, I was four, cried when Snowball was run over, I was four, (he was my first dog; followed me home at the end of a rope), cried every time the wicked queen/witch comes on the screen in Snow White 1938, 1939; those were tears of fear. Poor Uncle Barney, he sat with me in the theater lobby every time I ran out, I’d run out, he’d follow; comfort me until the scenes were over. I remember peeking through the lobby curtains, checking to see if she was gone, Hum, interesting, I had to purchase the video film not too long ago so I could see the entire film without the running out. I was sure that Uncle Barney was going to be my New Daddy. Uncle Barney had made this album for me. I cried when the promise of a pony of my own was broken, cried when my tennis shoes were thrown into the Yosemite River by the bullies at Military Camp, 1940, cried when I got a penicillin shot in my tiny arm, I was eleven, cried when my blind canary died, I was thirteen, cried while I read a sad story about a dog, a horse, a deer, cried when I was slapped, but only if it was a surprise attack, cried when I had to wear a badge to school that said, ‘liar’.” Solved the problem. I put a sweater on to hide the truth.

I glanced down. He looks up. There’s a knowing silence. Then my voice:

“So Mac, let’s review, I had cried at times from physical pain, loss, fear, disappointment, anger. I could cry, then not, when, what had transpired? Was it one traumatic event or was it a gradual hardening of my persona?” I am convinced that I needed this answered before anything else.

 ___________________________________________________________________

She was feeling a cold, gripping dread envelope her still motionless body as she struggled with the exhumation of her memories, digging deeper: into times, events that were absent from the album: an unwanted, long buried something was nagging at her. She felt: Not the hard ground, the carpet of leaves, the dust, the bugs, not even the warmth of the sun. They meant nothing. Something must mean something. She glanced about searching for a clue. Some voice in her head whispered, “Look to the father.” She disregarded the passing thought; she needed to continue with her research.

Even though her eyes were closed, she thought she caught a glint of light or movement. She glanced over her shoulder. The roofline of the old house was all she saw; it was barely visible through the weeds. That old, ugly house, and then the sound of a sharp slap, a wooden screen door slamming shut, and was she hallucinating? Before her eyes, like a mirage, another house emerged, shifting in the light, growing in dimensions, blending boards for bricks, mortar for nails, together now taking its rightful place.

This house! It looks haunted. Yes! It was haunted: Or it was haunting her? Select Academy, her orphan’s home for the two years; maybe this could be her time of lost tears.

She had no problem reconstructing the look of the house; it was there, right in front of her, 6th and St. Andrews, or of remembering that part of her day. It was not raining, in fact the day was warm and sunny, but she was cold, a familiar sense of gloom surrounded her; the air hung heavy with dejection, rejection and silence. The car was at the curb. And it was from the curb she first saw it, from the rolled down car window, a white structure, a high-pitched roof, two stories, a big porch with rounded pillars, a long grey driveway with grass in the center, it must be cement, a broad, sloping green lawn. There was no one to be seen.

She could hear playground sounds, there was no playground that she could see; playgrounds belong to schools not houses. A huge front door of brown polished wood caught her attention. It was inset with colored glass. No glint or glitter reflected from these glass designs, so it must have been late afternoon; the sun was in the west, setting. She stared at the door; it was as though it was only to be seen, not used, no one opened this door.

The car door: flung open, she was ordered out of the car, her hand grabbed, she was led up the side of the house, up the driveway. There was a suitcase between them. She knew better then to hold back, to do so, was to be dragged. Their path was not to the beautiful front door; there was another door, an ugly brown wood screened door, this was the door to which she was marched. She tied to look around: on either side of this off centered entrance are flowers and bushes; she can picture them.

A hand reached out above her head, she flinched and ducked, there was a glint of red nails, the sound of a rap, rap, the door was pulled open, after another determined knock and an unfamiliar voice responding “Enter.” She was then thrust into the emptiness of another world, there was the sound of a door slamming behind her and….

The sound of a sharp crack, an explosion resounded in her head. She was jolted back to the present. Her eyes flashed open, the sun blinded her for a moment: The house, the old neighbor’s house, the sound, like that of a whip cracking. A whip! “I had a whip once; brought it home from the circus; Grandma used it, I burned it. And my Uncle Jim used a whip he had been a lion tamer. And Mac, it would be like you having your father at Madison Square Garden Grand National Dog Show.”

 ‘Look to the father.’ Ignored. “Uncle Jimmy, What a glorious story he would be, I’ll have to put him down on paper one day.” She remembered being so proud to be by his side, her hand in his, or on his shoulders, seven feet high, and happy, so happy with him.

At the circus he was somebody, we were somebody. Having an Uncle who was once a lion tamer, known by everyone at the circus, getting in free, meeting the circus people, more important than a father that made lots of money. “Hi there Jim, who’s that beautiful little girl with you, does she want some cotton candy, lookin’ good there ol’ Jim, have yourself a good ol’ visit with the guys and gals in the tent. Clyde is in his trailer, why doncha go visit him before the lion act?”

Then the run of this happy memory fled from her like a deer fleeing the hunter. “He died suddenly, I was in the tenth grade, I never shed a tear, I tried. I would screw up my face and squeeze, the dam held, built so well it did not leak.”

She was trembling with shame. “What was I thinking…where was I? Oh yes, it was about lacrimal emissions.” She smiled, ironically, at her self-saving intellectual word selection.

Mac was still there. He looked sad but he was not crying. She stared at him and flashed back to that horrible time when her dog Ginger had been dragged from her arms into the Dog Pound truck.

“Oh damn, I don’t want to pursue that memory, I may cry, I don’t cry! Quit! You must keep your thinking orderly, no melodramatics:” She began: into a tears/cry search, into her books, into her memory of written and unwritten tears: “what about ― animals: animals don’t cry, tears, yes. And don’t tell me that elephants cry, that’s a crock. Crocodile tears, not from crocodiles vs humans: humans have tears do cry.

They are the only creatures that are capable of emotional tears, there must be a connection: primitive Homo Sapiens and modern humans? When did Homo Sapiens begin to use tears as we use then today?

Could have coincided with their use of fire, smoke from the burning of flesh, protection from the fly level of living and dust from running and this commingled with the fear of being devoured by a predator. Irritant tear must have come to be associated with events that became emotional, what about the studies into the composition of tears, their chemical makeup…Ah, ha, Jean Auel in her best-selling novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear subtly separates her main character Ayla, who is Cro-Magnon, from her adopted family, the Neanderthal’s, with her ability to shed psychogenic tears. But, Lear didn’t cry when he lost Cordelia, he howled, and Hamlet, didn’t shed tears when others could, even itinerate actors, Richard in King Henry VI lamented the consequences of his inability to express his strong emotion in tears or words:

I cannot weep; for all my body’s moisture

Scarce serves to quench my furnace-burning heart:

Therefore, not all humans are capable of tears but…but so many characters did weep, Pozzo, in Waiting for Godot,“tears of the world are in constant quality” and Beckett wrote: “My words are my tears.” In the Odyssey there is weeping by Telemakhos and Odysseus, tears in the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John, and Dostoyevsky’s, The Brothers Karamazov, the character Alyosha cries bitterly at the loss of Father Zossima. All these references to tears, their abundance, their denial, their recognition of loss, their use to control, their sign of profound humanness; they are so pitiful. Not exactly pitiful but human.

 Dorothy Parker’s Big Blond and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, Gertrude Stein on tears, and Sartre, Alice in Wonderland, floating away in a deluge of her own tears, damn, think about Linda’s last words in Death of A Salesman, “I have no tears Willie” and then she cries, no-tears and tears as a tool of an expression in the deepest ironic loss. Stories made me cry: Beautiful Joe, All Dogs go to Heaven, Black Beauty, The Yearling, Gigi, My Friend Flicka, Heidi, (tears in absolute privacy)

She took a deep breath, turned over on her side facing her audience:

“Mac, I feel as though I am in a battle, what am I so reluctant to expose, what’s hiding, what is buried, that desires…? Geeze, I’m sitting here, in the orchard, on this warm afternoon, sad as shit, talking to a dog and he has no tears. I can’t deny that this is…

My God, of course, denial. If there are no tears, no crying, then it didn’t happen, not in the conscious memory; it would linger in some form that would influence responsive behavior in another form, at another time. The drifting thought whispered, ‘Look to the father’” Ignored. But her construct of resident memory did persist, wouldn’t let her off of the hook, back, back: to that other time, that house, that entry into that house:

She needs to explore the rest of her remembrances. And without further hesitation she begins: “Mac.” Her voice is low, her words measured:

_____________________________________________________________________

 “I stood there in this vast room, the floor was polished wood, there was a piano in one corner, a woman, I can’t visualize her any longer, was sitting in an immense chair. Of course, everything was large to me then. The walls, the furniture, the carpets are impossible for me to describe, they are forgotten or I was too frightened to notice. Most likely late 1920 early 1930 décor. It was, if my math is correct 1938-39. Now the stairs, I do remember the stairs, they are at the back, at the far corner of the room. There is a dinning room with a huge long table and benches, it’s to the left. Then without warning, I saw this huge man; he walked down the stairs and through a door not far from the piano. He has only one arm and a shinny head. I had never seen a person with an arm missing, or a baldhead. A brown-faced lady peered out from the same doorway that the one armed man had entered. She reminded me of a lost friend, Jonny Mae. Strange, I can’t remember her leaving me, you would think that I would, I loved her so, but anyway…

I remember the sound of words going on in the space above my head. I was standing there; they talked as though I was not: I wasn’t listening nor could I have understood. I can construct now what must have been the content of the conversation: cost, payment schedule, duration of stay, clothes needed, health, schooling. No matter the precise words or the order in which they were exchanged, what mattered, I was being told, I heard, “You’re going to live here. Only a few months, you’ll be happy here, take piano lessons, horseback riding lessons you can come to visit me sometime. I’ll bring you your own key to my new apartment.” That key, a disastrous mistake, my having their key. Surprise here I am!

Oh, do I remember those words. How my tears flowed, wild, hysterical tears, ‘don’t leave me, I’ll be good, I don’t want to be here, I want to be with you, what about my Daddy?’

Begging, pleading, reaching out, grabbing onto the skirt, careful not to touch the figure. It wrenched itself away. Dissolving into a pool of frantic tears, sitting on the floor, crawling along the floor, hearing the hammering of the withdrawing high heels. All was lost, I was lost. I shouted, “You promise only be a few months?” She yelled back, “Only a month or two, sixty days, that’s all.” The door slammed.

_____________________________________________________________________

She is not crying as she ran to the car, smoothing down her skirt, get in, slams the door shut. Her best friend, Jean is waiting. She looks into the rear view mirror, gets out her lipstick, her comb, runs her fingers through her hair, looks down, stocking seams were askew, she shakes her head, sighs, reaches down straighten them, takes the offered cigarette, a deep drag. “What other choice? She was hysterical. What have I done?” “You have done what has to be done.” Shelley is doing OK; he’ll help.” “I told her only a few months, she can’t be around while he is still married. Kids just blurt things out; we have to wait.” “She’ll survive. Are you hearing me? Jerry! Listen to me, Shelley’s fine there.” “But, I even called her father, he won’t take her, his wife, I am sure. He’s handsome, so weak.” “I know the type, no balls. Aren’t you glad that you met Stuart?” “Oh, yes, Herman’s only wanted to save attorney fees, but I ended up keeping the attorney. Get us out of here!” The car started, left the curb, and blended into the traffic.

____________________________________________________________________

 “I heard Aunt Jean’s car start, then the fading away of the engine. What did I know of time in day, months, years; I learned that two months is forever. Two months was twenty-four.

I got to know the one armed man, see him carry trays of dishes to the dining room, the dark girl who was always pleased when I gave her my mashed potatoes; I met other abandoned victims of adult conveniences. I don’t remember Shelley. I made one friend, Joyce, she left the home before I did, I met her again at L.A. High Summer School, she forgot about me.

I started piano lessons, went each Saturday to the Buddy Dubrock Stables in Griffith Park, I was introduced to games like “Mother May I,” and Statue, and hopscotch, jump the stupid rope, and maypole. They were brainless. I hated them all; I was a game playing failure: I quit trying; I quit playing. I learned that I could withdraw into the world of books; my education disintegrated in a 1-12th grade classroom, I failed to spell “did” in a spelling contest and I learned that gophers do not want to be pets.

I didn’t cry any more. I remained dry eyed, well, except when I got a sty in my eye after reading all night, by flashlight, under my blanket. So, this was quite a lesson I learned in the futility of crying, the release of the tears of betrayal and loss are wasted. It was a lesson in learning how to take control, even in a minute way, of developing behavioral alternatives.” I would not allow the abysmal depth of defeat; tears or not I was determined, I will endure.

 No, these were not the circumstances that ended future crying times. As an adult: She could cry in the darkness of a theater, West Side Story, If These Walls Could Talk, English Patient, Brian’s Story. Certain pieces of music brought minimal tears.

She returned to the now. Something had bit her on the fanny. It was getting warmer and the heat from the later part of the day was penetrating through the trees, warming up the ground beneath the carpet of leaves. The bugs were warming up too, getting hungry. She reached for the itch and scratched. Why did scratching an itch make it feel better? Another great scientific thought; I was good in science. So what…who cared, who asked? I tried to prove that to Mother: Now she shuttered.

She wrapped her arms around her upper body; she began to rock back and forth, side to side. Then she buried her head into the folds of her hooded robe: She was too warm but she did nothing to relieve herself of this discomfort, her body seemed to shrink into the ball of fleece with only tuffs of silver hair protruding at the top.

Her hands reached up to her hair, her fingers combed through the now short curls. She heard the screaming: “You look just like your father, if you don’t like it here go live with your father, send your father a birthday card; you are not going to be irresponsible, like your father. He was born on April 1st, fools day, fool, fool, fool, ha, ha, ha. For every nickel he made he spent a dime, He hasn’t ever bothered to even call you. Never sends his support check.” The litany of father comments flooded her mind; they never stopped coming from her mouth not until she was overtaken by natural causes.

_____________________________________________________________________

“I saw my father once, at the hospital. Tonsil time. I was four. I cried and cried until he came. I didn’t care that my mother was there, I wanted my daddy, I wouldn’t stop crying until he came. And what did he do? What he could, hold me briefly, kissed me on the cheek, and left. It was another four years of absence, before I saw him again. He picked me up at my step-grandmother’s apartment. He took me to see his new daughter. Beautiful Connie.

She was named Ronnie but changed it. Connie was killed in a tragic private plane crash in 1968, right near the airport where I kept my airplane. We had just found one another; we looked alike, thought alike.

But this Father stopover, it must have been in April of 1940. My mom and Step-dad were on their honeymoon. I don’t remember seeing him again until the early ‘50’s.” His new wife Hilda remembered the visit. I apparently told her “I don’t like you; you took my daddy away from me.”

____________________________________________________________________

Again, wild, unforeseen, disconnected, crazy thoughts began to thrash about: Fragment of memories flooded in: She pictured herself on a bus, traveling, on her way to Bennington, Vermont far away from parental influences, why Vermont? Don’t know now, later, then the picture of… it was gone.

A picture of herself, looking into a mirror, putting on the white ascot style scarf, she folded it carefully under her chin, placing the diamond stickpin in the center fold, so handsome, “Look at ― the father” the face dissolved. In its place, was the face of a stranger…now, she was…unfocused…a new, old memory: but then…

The specter of a room flashed into her inner sight. She was entering this room. The room was gaudy, ugly: Purple carpeting, gold trim, big flowery designs. “I like white carpeting, clean lines of white, white and muted blends, quiet colors everywhere for everything.” She shook her head violently, like a dog shaking off excess water. The ugly room disappeared from her mind’s eye. Then: flash! Another scene could see her self: washing cups, serving coffee, wiping counters, smiling at customers. Every morning it was the same between 5:00 AM and 8:00 before she headed off to her college classes:

This morning: the sound of the door, she looked up, there he was. She was looking into her own face. “Look to the father,” whispered … She felt a wave of panic; she heard but refused to listen, delving into another folder in her file for living. She grabbed at the first idea, and went back, back…reaching.

A BITE OF BUBBLEGUM (a transition to The Pie Lie)She was back, sitting in her spot beneath the tree. She was exactly where she had been, nothing changed, not the sun, the trees, the sounds, the breeze. For the moment she was alert to the here and now. She couldn’t suppress the smile._____________________________________________________________________“I can’t remember having a chew of Bubble Gum without thinking of the long walk back to the store, facing Uncle Sid, giving back the “extra” piece, apologizing, admitting that I was a liar and a thief. Everyone in the store seemed to be listening, laughing, even Uncle Sid was grinning at me. I was angry; I had been careless and stupid; I had been caught. My Bubble Gum fortune had warned me, I had not let the message sink in. But, I got even: Sure, I took that long walk back to the store; sure, I brought back the “extra” piece, but at 6th and Burnside I had unwrapped, bitten off half, rewrapped the remainder. I placed it back in the counter box, (being sure to move it to the bottom) just like I was told. They don’t make Bubble Gum like that anymore._____________________________________________________________________Her inner attention was more focused, now she was calmer, but still lost in thought, slipping back into her Grandpa’s Blue Steamer Trunk reverie once again looking for fragments of memorable images in her precious photo album: Another page flipped over; she scrutinized the picture of her sixth grade class. Teacher, the stylishly corseted Miss Dutton proudly standing at the far left, back row:

She always and only wanted to be a teacher. Teachers had, well the good ones, and even the bad ones, been the focal point of her life. She loved to learn. She rather go to school than stay at home, even in dire circumstances, she went to school: with a terrible infection in her knee, with a devastating ear infection, with colds, flu, a severe urinary infection, even on the Jewish

Holidays: (Daddy said, “If she doesn’t go to Temple then she goes to school)” She didn’t go to Temple and neither did he. School was the only place she felt safe.

She could count on the stability of her day, on the conduct of the teachers. She had her favorites: Mrs. Jacobson, 2ndand 3rd grade. It was at Carthay Center School.

___________________________________________________________________

I remember that after leaving Select Academy. I went to a garden wedding of my mom to a stranger man. I spent the summer at Military camp. The Major was a client of the new dad. Then I was placed at Han cock Park Elementary School. A short walk from the 6440 5th Street house. We spent the classroom time building an Indian Village, then we studied the Railroad System, built miniature railroad cars, (I love to build, I was so good at this skill) but I wasn’t learning to write my name, do my numbers, advance in reading. I remember that I was failing at playground, since I was too tiny to reach the bars, the rings, the ropes, the climbing poles.

The New Daddy was outraged at the Progressive Educational System and fought with the Board Of Education to allow a transfer to a real school. He won the battle and so I began the long walk to an out-of-district school, a long, long walk, to Carthay Center Elementary School. I’ll have to drive that route one-day, just to be accurate in the miles. Must have been about three miles, and Daddy never drove me there, even in the stinking rain. He even told the principal that if I was bad she had his permission to whip me into shape. But:

She was in Mrs. Jacobson’s class. Two years. That kind lady kept her under her wing, catching her up. Tutoring her at home. Ah, she flashed to the scene, her mother, holding a yardstick, smashing it across her face, blooding her nose, all over the multiplication tables, and the word “chalet” every evening at 5:00 dinner, which had better begin the first stroke of the clock, she was asked by her new daddy, this stranger, “What is the name of the houses that the Swiss live in?” She knew it was coming, and could never remember the answer. Chalet. Dinnertime never joyous or tasty. Mrs. Jacobson never yelled. And…

She remembered the big, full chested witch, albeit a well-corseted one, Miss Doss. Mean bitch. Not an ounce of kindness. That 4th grade report card was festooned with ds, fs and unsatisfactory marks. Bring it home, a nightmare. 5thgrade was with Mrs. McGraw. Not a bad year, kinda neutral.

___________________________________________________________________

At last, I was in 6th grade with Miss Dutton. I just read her obituary; she lived to be ninety-nine, taught at Carthay Center until they forced her to retire at seventy-five. There’s the wondrous report card pasted in the album “You remember don’t you, the saga of this report card, don’t you?” How did it begin? I don’t know. Or do I? Let me get back to the classroom, to the smell of newspaper stuffed shoes drying under the radiator, to the desks with inkwells, to endless hours of penmanship. See, dip once and control the flow for an entire line of circles or lines. There’s Sonya Cooper, the perfect student. There’s Jimmy Welch, Jimmy Morehouse, Dennis, he wore shorts, Jane Chadwick, she had breasts, and it was time for the report cards:

____________________________________________________________________

There she is: looking with dismay at this sheet of grades. A disgraceful report; she did not want to go home, not with just B’s, C’s, only marks of Satisfactory, well one Outstanding in Perfect Attendance. Sonja had straight A’s all Outstandings. She left school that Friday for the long walk home. Walking alone, as usual, no one else lived so far away, she was blind with fear, deaf to the outside world, trying to think of something, anything that would excuse her poor marks. She came up with several scenarios like:

“The teacher made a mistake, this isn’t my report card; it got mixed up with someone else’s” Then, she thought, “I will not say a word about Report Cards, keep my mouth shut do my chores, get to my homework. If they ask, I will say that I left it at school or lost it on the way home, or the teacher forgot, or Monday is the day or… Left it in my desk, that’s the best story for now”

So she selected the forty-eight hour stay of execution. She needed more time: time to get ready for the inevitable. And it was during this carefully structured time as she walked on, a plan developed: She would change the grades. And this is how it happened, how she did it:

 

THE PIE LIE WITH A BUBBLEGUM CHASER

She was standing in front of 6440 West 5th Street, the house with the picket fence; her first house that she could call a home since Myra Street four years ago. She did not consider Select Academy a home.

She was a tiny nine year old, had a newborn sister, was going to a regular public school, had a new Daddy, stranger though he was, and today was special, she was sure she must be grown-up. She was going to the store, alone. Before she was to set out on this adult assignment, she looked around at her new surroundings: marveled at the flowers she had helped to plant, at the neat green lawn she tended, and at the aviary she had to clean, loved the birds, hated the do-do. And then she whirled around, set her shoulders square to the sidewalk, put her chin up and headed for the store.

She would go east on 5th Street to Crescent Heights, then south for six blocks to Wilshire, turn east again passing: Joseph’s Beauty Salon, she went there with her mother each Friday, then several vacant lots, a building or two, to the store on Fairfax. This was her destination. It would not be the first time, but it was the first time alone.

As she began her walk on that clear, warm Saturday afternoon, she was radiant with pride, thinking, “I’m finally being trusted, old enough, smart enough, go to the market. all by myself.” She reached into her right pocket of her blue jeans to feel the coins that she had been given, counting them: one big fifty-cent piece, one quarter, two dimes, a nickel and five pennies. This was a special day: her mission, to buy and bring home a Lemon Meringue Pie from the bakery near Wilshire on Fairfax. She was responsible for providing her family, especially her new Daddy, with his favorite dessert.

She so wanted to be somebody needed in this new family. Today was a test. It was going to be a long walk; her bike had to say home, the basket was too narrow for the pie box; the box had to be kept level.

She could hear her mother saying: “Go straight to the bakery and return home directly, don’t stop and play along the way, don’t take the money out of your pocket, be very careful at the corners, look both ways before you cross the streets, don’t get dirty, don’t talk to strangers, the five pennies are yours, to buy five pieces of bubble gum, you may have one today, but only after dinner, I won’t have you spoiling your appetite, you will bring back change, and carry the pie with both hands, otherwise it may slip in the box and be ruined. You should be back in an about an hour, dinner’s at 5:00. You won’t be late.” She could do all that.

Mrs. Cook, the neighbor next door and her first friend since she moved in after her three months in Military Camp, waved to her from her position behind her paint easel on the shaded front porch of her tall white house with its wavy red roof. “Hi, Mrs. Cook, I’m off to the store all by myself.” “Have an exciting adventure, keep track of all you see, tell me about it tomorrow. You will come over and spend some time with me while I complete one of my redwood oils?” “I’ll be there after my chores. See you.” And off she went, skipping down the pavement, bouncing along, like a tetherball that arched higher and higher after each push. Each stride she took was longer, higher, faster, more joyful then the last.

Up 5th, across La Jolla Street, to and around the corner at Crescent Heights Boulevard, down Crescent Heights she traveled. She stopped as her eyes came to rest a tree that was shedding these layers of paper-thin stuff. She crossed the yard and began to pick and peel. “Get out of my yard!” She scooted ― No more distractions, she made this promise to herself as she neared the next corner at 6th Street.

The surface of the street was being repaired with hot tar. If you took a stick and stuck it into the cauldron of hot tar, pulled it out, let it cool, dipped it again, cooled it again, dipped it, cooled it, repeating until the black material developed into an all day chewable sucker. “Here’s a stick girlie, I’ll start one for you, don’t burn yourself.” He was a giant man. In tar streaked overalls, black boots, caked with filthy street repair materials. His huge gloved hands were encased in tar like his boots.

She was so tempted to make herself a treat, but it would take time and she had no time for tar. “No thanks, I am on an important errand, I’ll stay next time.” And she would have bubblegum later, so off she went, past Burnside Avenue to Wilshire Boulevard.

The grass was high in the vacant lots along the boulevard; all of the neighborhood kids loved to play mud-toss war. First you hid in the tall grass, gathered a handful of long grass stems with mud clods attached. Then by stealth you crept to a strategic firing location and on a predetermined signal pelted one another with mud. There was only one vacant lot on her street; she had to tell her new buddies about this grass bonanza.

There was the building with the beauty shop. She waved a greeting to the manicurist sitting at her table at the front window. She wanted her long curly hair cut; she pleaded each time they were at the shop. But no, her mother liked to keep it long. She should be at the other end of the comb and brush, just once. It was a painful ritual, but having it braided meant that it was only a weekly hour of torture.

 She passed a new building, above the entranceway a giant sign. It was vertical. She could read horizontal and translated it to “BLIND VETERANS CENTER,” She had no idea what this was all about. Cars passed her going east, she saw, an older boy coming down the sidewalk right in her pathway, he zipped past on his big bike, almost knocking her down, she glared at him, she continued her walk.

She could see her objective now. There was the sign Weiner’s Grocery Store and Bakery right ahead. She ran the last fifty feet. In she went, ignored the other customers: marched back to the bakery counter, passing rows of canned goods stacked high and deep on the shelves on either side of her, reached up, as high as she could on her tip toes, to the edge of the counter, took the top number from the stack. She had been in this store many times with her mother; she knew what to do, she knew the owner, Uncle Sid, his son, Abe, Solomon the Green Grocer, and the grandmother, Oma, she had funny red colored hair.

As she waited for her turn, bouncing from one foot to the other, she looked at all of the baked goodies in the glass case, most she could not name nor had she ever tasted. But there were her favorite cup cakes with thick chocolate frosting, big sugar cookies like the ones the Helm’s truck baker would give to her at Myra Street, bear claw coffee cakes, all for five cents each. Should she? Well, she had her five pennies. Then she heard “Number fife.” She was brought back from her thoughts of temptation.

She was number 5. Again, “fife, ver is nomber fife?” “I’m fife, five” she called out. “Oh, dere you are, Oh, you’re Jerry’s daughter, I couldn’t see you, you’re so tiny. You here for the pie your mother ordered?” “Yes, my mother reserved a Lemon Meringue Pie.” “I gotts its for yous. Such a little girl doing such a grownup job. Look, Thelma, at our little customer, cute, yes? She’s Stuart’s new stepdaughter. ” Whispered, “Goya.”

 Oma Weiner bent over and reached into the glass case, (she had not only funny red hair but also it was grey at the bottom, like two toned) she removed the pie, put it into a box, wrote $.85 on the top, tied it with a string and brought it around to the front to hand it to the messenger. “You take dis box to the front counter to mine son, Sid, he vill take your money.” Up to the front she went, customers moved aside as she squeezed ahead. She placed the box on the counter, went back to her correct place, stood in line until her turn to pay.

Uncle Sid was wearing his usual dirty white apron, doubled over, and tied at the waist. His shirt was white, showing tuffs of black hair from the opening at his neck. He has lots of thick black hair, hair on the back of his hands, hair all over his arms, stubble that did not hide the holes in his face and a big friendly toothy grim.

He was smiling down on her as he asked for $.85. She dug into her pocket and took out all of the coins, the five pennies included. She slid the silver coins toward the middle of the counter, the best she could do since the counter was a bit high for her reach.

The box of bubble gum was there on the edge of the counter. She counted out five pieces; one piece went into her pocket for later. She pushed her five pennies across the counter. Uncle Sid took the fifty-cent piece, one quarter and a dime for the pie. He moved to the cash register and pushed the buttons. Up shot the $.85 in the window at the top. A drawer shot open, she heard the sound of coins colliding, the drawer closed. He took out a little brown bag from beneath the counter,

“Hey, little shopper, you only have four pieces here, you have five pennies,” and he took another piece from the box and dropped it into her sack. Oh boy, what to do? She lowered her eyes, said nothing, did nothing but to manage a weak smile; gathered up the two coins that were left on the counter, took the little brown bag, stuffed it into her left hand pocket, took the box off of the counter, with both hands, of course, walked to the front of the

store, hesitated, looked back at Uncle Sid, he waved, “Be careful with the box, don’t let the pie slip.” She stepped out into the late afternoon sun, turned right to begin her homeward journey.

Down Wilshire she went holding the box with both hands positioned in front of her steady body. She passed the new building with the funny sign, an on and on. She was passing the first of the green vacant lots when she had a new thought. “I have six pieces of bubble gum. I could chew one on the way home; I’ll spit it out before I get home. Only I would know” She slowed down her walk, looked for a place to sit and moments later found a rock, big enough to accommodate her tush, placed her box next to the rock, reached into her pocket, took out the loose piece of gum from the bottom of her pocket, sat down and methodically untwisted each end of the outer wrapper.

She unfolded the inner paper, the one with the comics, placed the gum in her mouth, salivated from the stimulation of the sugar and then she read the comics and the fortune printed at the bottom. In four frames Buck Rogers shot into space, landed on a strange planet, ray gunned a mean creature and planted a victory flag. She read her fortune, “You are creative and clever but avoid senseless choices.” She was dancing on cloud nine as she chewed away, for a moment forgetting everything.

She felt a sensation, something was pushing at her foot, and “You Ok little girl?” There was this man, a stranger, looking down at her. He had a little dog on a leash; it was the dog that was nudging at her foot. She could not talk to strangers so she smiled and nodded. She followed his retreating figure as he and the dog walked on down the street.

She had been jolted back from her bubble gum chewing trance. Up she rose, up came the box, she put the wrapper from her 6th piece of gum into the little brown bag (she liked to save the comics), put the bag back into her pocket along side the left over coins, and off she went.

She chewed and walked, walked and chewed, turning the corner at Crescent Heights. She was so happy; she began to sing one of the summer camp songs as she marched along to the rhythm:

“One hundred bottles of beer on the wall, one hundred bottles of beer.

If one of the bottles of beer should fall, ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety bottles of beer…”

Her entire body began to get into tempo, mouth chewing, head bobbing, singing along, swinging along, arms askance, box undulating at the end of her fingers. As she began the chorus 85, she caught a glimpse of the box, which was at the end of the upward swing and headed down behind her back. She stopped cold, cradled the box in her arms. “Oh, no, no, no, ― “ She turned pale, she was shaking so much that she had to place her self and the box on the curb. With great difficulty she untied the string and peeked under the lid.

Horror gripped her. There was pie all over the inside, on the lid, the sides, on the bottom. She could not bear to look any longer. She closed the box, retied the string and thought about running away. What could she do? She had to get home for dinner, if she would get any, she had to bring home the dessert, if she dared, she couldn’t go back to get another pie, no time and no money. She had to figure out a plan, a story, preferably, a good one, not one in which she had done the deed herself.

 She got up. She dragged herself along, carrying the box with her right hand fingers under the string. Careful didn’t matter any more. Thinking, thinking. She was about to turn her last corner at 5th Street; she saw a group of the neighbor boys riding their bikes. They were playing tag, their arms, feet flailing out at one another. Yelling, pushing, hitting and shoving. And, that boy who passed her earlier. In a flash of vision, as if by a miraculous intervention; the perfect story formed in her head.

She turned around and hurried back down the street to the corner, turned around, took a deep breath and then began to run up the street, back around the corner she streaked, caught sight of the picket fence, ran by Mrs. Cook’s house and up her own driveway. By this time, she knew she would be gasping for breath. She crashed into the house, screaming, allowing tears to flow, sobbing: “Mommy, mommy, the pie is smashed, the pie is smashed, he smashed the pie. Look, look, it’s all over the inside of the box.”

Mother rushed out from the back. She was holding baby sister. “What happened, who is he, what do you mean the pie is smashed/? I told you to be careful ― don’t you ever listen? How did you manage to ruin the pie?” “I didn’t do it, I was being so careful, holding it out so it wouldn’t spill to the side and,” she sobbed. “So you were told to be careful” her mother yelled in interruption, “and then, and then, I didn’t see him coming, this big boy on his bike came past me socked the box out of my hands, I tried to catch it but…”

Tears coursed down her sweaty face, dripped off of her chin, staining the front of her blouse. She let the tears; the sobs come out in deep moans and groans overwhelming her body. The baby, Joanie, went into the bassinette. “Give it to me”, she grabbed the box, “do you know him?” “No, I never saw him before but he’s big and, and his bike is blue and white.” “Stop your crying, it’s not your fault.” “Look mommy, I brought back the change and I only got the five pieces of bubble gum just like you told me.

I did everything you told me to do.” “It is a mess, I’ll think of something. Daddy won’t be happy about this.” Her mom dashed around the kitchen, her anger was palpable but that was okay, it was directed out at a stranger.

She heard her new Dad’s car rolling down the driveway to the garage. She pulled her precious tiny brown bag from one pocket, the $.15 of change from the other, put both on the kitchen table, pulled out a chair, sat down, lowered her head, staring through her fingers at the brown and gold patterned linoleum .She thought, he’s a lawyer. Mother calls him Mr. District Attorney whenever he questions or doubts a person or event. He entered through the kitchen door and even before he could get it closed, mother was recounting the horrible incident that had befallen his new daughter and his special dessert.

“Can you believe that a boy could be so mean as to do this? That this could happen and in this neighborhood? She was so good, she followed my instructions perfectly, she brought back the exact change, spent her five pennies on her treat of five pieces of bubblegum, got home in good time,” Daddy looked intently at the crumpled, pitiful figure. She peeked out cautiously. He stared back suspiciously, placed his briefcase on the table.

It was time, she let out a few more sobs, squeezed out a few more tears; her nose was running by now, her eyes were red and puffy. Daddy scrutinized her in a curious manner; Daddy gazed at the coins that were on the table, his hand rested on the tabletop. He picked up her little brown bag, “What’s in this?” “My five pieces of bubblegum,” He was opening the top and reaching in… “One, two, three, four, five, hum, and now explain the one you are chewing.”

The blood drained from her brain, the ringing in her ears, the kitchen turned around her falling body, the world was unbearable, well almost.

A DREAM(Transition to surfing)
She repositioned herself beneath the avocado trees. The sun as constant in its place as was she: the air warmer, the breeze absent. She was still. Her body sank into the coolness of the leaves; the shade of the trees hid her from sight. She closed her eyes. Drifted off. She was on the peak of a mountain and there was room for her feet. This was not the only peak but this was her peak. On her feet were shiny black skis. The maker’s name was clearly marked in blazing gold on the top surface, forward of the boot fittings, Heads, the premier brand. Then she is plummeting down the mountain. Down and down, faster and faster. And then the bottom of the mountain turns into a sea. But the sea is yellow. The sky is yellow, and she is in the water, swimming, looking for help. She is alone. And there in the distance is a single mast sailboat, the mast disappears, the boat is riding the waves without direction, without power. She knows that she won’t die, won’t drown; she has to get to this now white barren boat. She swims in the heavy, warm yellow water. There is a small person already on the denuded wooden platform. It is a dark haired child. She reaches the edge, now she is on the boat. She takes the child in her arms, enfolds her in a cape, rocks her, holding her close. Then the boat is a long board.  She is stroking the water an arm on each side. The water is blue; the waves are following her, chasing her. Faster and faster, deeper and deeper she digs into the water.
The dream is breaking up: She keeps her eyes shut, doesn’t dare shift her position, tries to recover the pictures, recount the sensations. She scrambles inside her waking to hold onto the passion: to embrace, to comfort, to protect the child. She was awake now but she held on, making a mental note ― this is how you feel when you are able to give of yourself without reservations, that great joy of completeness. She had always imagined that this was the way it would be.  There was more: the cool water, the waves, the board. She was forty-five years old. She was on vacation in Hawaii.

Water’s Ways

Water attracted her, felt safe, comforting, but surfing? Playing in the waves a delight, not riding them. She was confident at the beach. The ocean a reasonably private haven of security.

She looked at the throngs of beachgoers, she assessed her own forty-five year old body — Looks better than most! So, across the sand to the surfboard rental booth. She dragged a yellow board into the water, flopped aboard, and flopped off.

Again and yet again, body on; body off, body on, off. Outraged, she gave the board a whack thrust it out in front of her; it skimmed out of her reach.

She splashed through the incoming waves, she reached out wrapped her arms around the board. She turned, look back towards the beach. Was anyone watching this inglorious performance?

The sun reflecting on the white sand the glistening blue water distorted her vision. She saw a figure walking through the water. He had a shock of gray hair, side burns, bronze body, white suit, a very tiny white suit. She took a deep breath, shut her eyes. She shook her head, her memory began to fade, she heard the rustle of leaves, then a backwash wave slapped her across the face, she heard a voice out of the past but no, this voice was now:

“Hey, you Haole lady, you neva stay on, betcha you got da oil on your nice bod, here, sand and salt water clean you good.” And he reached down, dug out bottom sand, and threw some of it on her front, then on the board. He was laughing. She was not ready to laugh. Then he said as he moved in closer, “Come on, you scrub da board I scrub you.”

Should she smile, laugh, run off or go with the flow? She thinks, fresh Hawaii beach boy. No, not a boy, her age or older.

“Smile, it no broke your face. You want I should teach you surf? I’m Rabbit.” She’s thinking: “Sure, your name is Rabbit like mine is Bunny. But what the Hell! I want to learn to surf and here he is.”

She watched as he picked up the board, and in one unbroken motion placed it on his left shoulder. He headed back to the beach. She hesitated, “This is not the way to the surf.” As they crossed the sand she could sense the people watching. She felt her stomach tighten; her eyes automatically cast their focus downward, she would not look at them. Ahead of her: Rabbit, her board, the sand, the thousands of eyes. Her board was now beached, lying upside down on the sand. Rabbit motioned for her to kneel on the board. OK. She wiped the sand from her hands, gritted her teeth, took a deep breath, and did as she was told. Rabbit instructed: lie on the board, hands grip the edges parallel to her shoulders, push up, get up, one foot ahead of the other, knees bent, to a standing position. The sun’s heat penetrating her body, she kept her head down focusing on the sound of his voice. “Again, get ready, push up, on da feet, knees bent, stand up.” In fifteen minutes she learned the drill. Then a piece of white stuff was tossed on the board. “Wax da board, den we go.”

She crouched over the board, rubbing, rubbing. She ventured a glance, no one was looking― she saw feet next to her board, “enough wax, let’s go.”

He hoisted her board to his shoulder, scooped another under his arm and tossed both of them into the water, “Get on, paddle, follow me” He held the nose of the board, “Move forward.” She did as she was told. But after a few moments of braving the constant slapping of the waves across her body and the push back of the current, he was way out ahead.

She stroked harder, her arms already cramping. She saw Rabbit paddling back. He hooked his toes onto the nose of her board, like a tow truck― “Paddle, dig deep!”

Out they went, way out to breaking waves. The water was clear, cool, the air warm, the breeze gentle. She was sure she was wet with perspiration. He stopped, positioned her board facing the beach. “Now when I say get ready, go, paddle, you paddle like hell― when I say up, get up, you get up fast, keep your knees relaxed, shoulders and feet square to the board; feel for the speed of the wave when it pushes the board.”

The waves looked gigantic. Then, “Get ready, ready, and, go, go ― paddle, paddle, dig!” She felt the board move out and then a sudden acceleration. She was paddling like hell. She heard the command, “Up, up, get up! She gripped the sides of the board, pushed up, got her feet under her. ― She stood straight up, bent back, her arms flailing the air, she was off, into the air, butt first into the water, floundering. She looked back. Rabbit was motioning, waving his arms, pointing. “What?”

As she reached for the board, a wave crashed on her head and the board flew straight up like a missile. She was driven down and down. Reflexively, she wrapped her arms around her head. She came up gasping. Another wave collapsed above her with overwhelming turbulence; she went down, came up and was driven down again, tumbling, the underwater reverberations deafening her. She opened her eyes underwater. “Sunlight” she thought “That’s the way.”

Her head broke through the surface; she gasped for air, reached for her board, her arms wrapped around the nose holding on. Then she felt her body being lifted up and up. She looked down as she was carried up the face of the wave. The view from the top of the wave to the bottom tore her breath away.

The front end of the surfboard pointed straight down, later, she would learn the term for this unwanted maneuver, pearl diving or pearling. She shut her eyes, threw out her arms, her body spiraling in a free fall. The wave crashed. Darkness.

She was face down, mouth open, eyes open, looking at unfathomable depths, choking, she felt suffocated, her throat burned, ears ached, eyes burned as the pressure made it feel as though they were being sucked out of her head. Her body scraped against the worn reef, churned into the bottom sand. She felt something slimy brush across her face. She was being carried down, down; it was a long corridor, he was in a white coat, a black mask was forced over her face, she was held down, couldn’t breathe, “Tonsils, they took out my tonsils. I want my Daddy.” She fought, struggled, gasping, desperate for air. Her arms flailed in downward strokes, her legs thrashed. She pushed herself, willed herself to the surface gasping for air. One deep gasp was all she got before she was overcome by more turbulence and the salty foam of the churning white water. Her sinuses were draining torrents of water. She is coughing, fighting the vomiting reflex, shaking her head, gasping for more air. “This is it, this is the end. Where is the flashing of the past before my eyes?”

“The board, I have to get to my board. Where’s Rabbit?” She twisted around, paddling to keep afloat, keeping her back to the unrelenting waves, diving down, trying to get under the tumult, allowing the current to push her toward shore. Each time she rose to the surface she was looking. Where was it? Where was he? And she spotted a vacant yellow board far to the left, about twenty-five yards away. Another crashing wave down she went again. Up again looking, looking, the board ― it was not where it had been a wave ago.

It was even further away, to the far right. Again, she began to swim. She could barely lift her arms. Her legs are dragging, her body aching. “Doesn’t anybody care enough to get my board for me?” A teenage boy called over to her, “Need some help?” “Boy, do I ever,” she mutters but answers “No, but thanks.” “Out here take care of yourselfsignifies that you are on your own.

She looked back. Where was that Rabbit? She could not find him; another wave rose up and blocked her view. Again, she looked, no Rabbit. “Where is that perverse SOB? He must know I need help, he doesn’t have to read minds to get my message.” And when she finally picked him out from the other surfers, she saw that he was sitting on his board, arms crossed, the tail fins of the board out of the water behind him, just watching her, like a big Buddha.

She continued to chase after her board; well, chase was hardly the right term: she was slow, persistent: Sidestroke, crawl, backstroke, float, dog paddle. Walk? Her toes brushed the bottom as the in-shore waves receded. Despite being able touch bits of coral mounds the waves continued to lift her up and smash her down.

And the board had a mind of its own, teasing, skimming toward her on the wave backwash but then dodging just out of her grasp. The board bounced her way the waves subsided. She could now walk over to this damndable yellow object; she draped her body over the center, rolled her body on, wiped hair out of her face, put her head down, closed her eyes, letting her arms hang in the water. Then she remembered: And her eyes flashed open, her head jerked up, she grabbed the rails, body rising from the waist. She looked out at the incoming, now her attention to the waves was absolute. “Never take your eyes off of the incoming waves.”

She plotted her course a calm almost wave less route back out; she timed the break of the waves. Accelerate: go up and over. Decelerate, back paddle to slow down, wait for the wave to pass under. Stroke with only the left arm, move right, stroke with the right arm move left. Watch every wave, every surfer. It was likened to the marching cadence or a dance, generally she was a watcher not a participant, but she knew rhythmic movement.

There was ebb and flow, rise and fall, mountains and valleys, but the timing, people, heights and depths were the elements of unpredictability.

“Who is this Rabbit person?” And, “Does he have a real name?”

After the long paddle back, she wanted to rest, needed to rest. She looked up at Rabbit as he moved her board next to his own. Before she had time for a smile or hears a word of encouragement, he spun her around, yelled “Ready” and pushed her into another wave. “Paddle, dig deep, faster, UP, UP, NOW, GET UP! No fly off like da turkey.”

She paddled, got her body into position, knees, legs and feet under her, she was up with the rush of the wave and the speed of the board, her vision blurred the wind and salt water in her face, her body trembling. She was riding the wave! Not pretty, but she was up and going ahead. “Hang on feet, don’t fail me now.” She struggled. She could hear the wave behind her. See the sparkling of white water trying to overtake her.

“Oh, God! Like flying on the water. What now? How do I stop?”

She shifted her body, turned her head to look back, lost her balance and flew off; but as she crash-landed her arms were out, hands extended, fingers stretched; she caught the board. “You’re not going to get away this time.” She was energized. She could feel her heart racing, she was laughing. She looked at her hand holding onto the board, “Damn, I broke a nail and I don’t even care. I rode my first wave.”

She slapped the water with her open hand, yelling, “Yes, yes, I did it.” She looked around, whispering to herself, “Who saw that? Did he?” Yes, there he was, the grand poobah, waving. Rabbit, waving. And as she maneuvered her way back she remembered that she was the one who would avoid or ignore an activity rather than risk first time failure.

For her it had always been, “Better to experiment, learn on your own, then be perfect with the first public display, it had always been that way or it was nothing at all. Well, Get over it!” This is fun! Awesome, stoked, ripped now had meaning.

She was finally able to look beyond the end of her own surfboard. Surfers had a cord attached to their boards connected to a strap around their ankle. Why didn’t she have one of those whatevers? She would ask. “Rabbit why don’t I have a rope tied to my ankle and connected to my board?” He answered gruffly, “Dat’s a leash, too dangerous, no good for beginner. You just grab for your board and hang on, loose it, swim for it. Even if the board turns over, you hang on, look like turtle is OK.” She thought she saw a sly smile creep across his face. “Who is this lunatic and why do I trust him?”

For the next 40 minutes he pushed her into just the right waves. Crashing, falling, swimming after the board, but up and riding too. When he readied her for a wave he yelled out “surfer” and the sea of surfers parted magically at the sound of his voice.

Then Rabbit said, “stay in dis pocket, on the right shoulder, watch the waves, paddle around, build up your strength and stamina. ” Mo betta I go now. See you at 10:00 tomorrow at the rental booth. And keep away from the crowd.” She nodded, asking, “Pocket, what’s the pocket?” “Da pocket is here.” “Where exactly is here ― everything moves out here.”

He shook his head and paddled away. She learned later that he went to Queens Surf, for locals only; outside surfers knew to stay clear of this spot. If they did not know it was made clear with surfing maneuvers that wiped them out.

Her location was called Canoes and Baby Queens. Every surfing spot had a name and reputation. The next surf spot,First Break and way out Pops then Number Threes, Kaisers, Inbetweens, Rock Pile and Ala Moana; place names all.

The rest of the morning spent paddling, chasing waves, watching surfers, trying to imitate their moves, getting control. And when her arms no longer worked she quit. She let the incoming tide and smaller inside waves carry her back to the beach. As she began to drag the board back to the rental stand, “Here lady, let me take that in for you.” One of the beach boys relieved her of the board. “Another Hawaiian living off of the fruits of the sea, once fish and seaweed, now tourists.” She sat drying in the shade of sea grape and palm trees observing the action. The scent of the sea, the tropical flowers, the rustling of the palm fronds encircled her.

“I can do this! No matter what I looked like today.” The passion quickened her walk back to the hotel. She was more tired than she had been in years, but she envisioned herself whipping down the face of a wave, crouching to turn right, then left, up to the lip and down across the face into the trough, just ahead of the break, tucking into the perfect tube.

She found a book and studied all evening, trying to absorb as much surfing arcana as possible. The next morning on the beach she was still reading, researching.

She was at the rental stand at 9:00. The boards were lined up like the Moai on Easter Island, all with their backs to the ocean waiting; she walked among them, until she located her special yellow board. She hated yellow! It had an insignia of Poseidon midway to the front. Her learner’s position marker.

No dumb Haole lady today.

She looked away from her reading and watched the waves, counting as best she could from the shore. One ― two ― three ― four― five ― six ― seven ― eight― nine. Nine, she had read Burdick’s ‘The Ninth Wave’ in college. All about, waiting for the ninth wave.

“Howzit Haole lady, you come back. You really want ta learn surf?” His tone said he was surprised to see her. He was laughing as he said, “You no learn from dat book, you learn from me, best surfer and teacher in Hawaii, even the world. Put your stuff up, I get da boards; we start some serious learning on the Inside.” Serious learning? What was yesterday? And, what’s this ‘inside’ as opposed to outside?” She wouldn’t ask. She would find out, but on her own. That was her manner.

Inside, turned out to be the area closer to the beach where the waves of the outside had another chance to form on the outcroppings of the inner reef. Not so fast, not so big, more predictable in a more shallow area. As she paddled behind Rabbit she noticed that other aspiring student surfers were there with their teachers. They all shouted the same commands: “Get ready, paddle, dig deep, up.” But, no matter how many voices chanted these words, she could identify Rabbit’s voice. And for an hour that day and the succeeding three days she learned the basic skills: on board balance, getting up, knees bent, one foot ahead of the other, pressing her weight into the direction she wanted to go, trimming or orienting herself on the surfboard so it could plane as fast as possible, reading the juice ― the power of the wave, lifting the nose, lifting the tail, riding the rails, crouching down, looking back at the wave, timing the stroking speed, looking back while paddling to time, speed, kicking out, ― to turn abruptly to get out of the wave, diving off, aborting a wave, all this on merely the two to four foot inside waves.

There were wipeouts but she was stronger, more confident, and in a safer more predictable wave pattern location. After lesson time she paddled out to watch the practiced surfers and the turkeys ― no-nothing tourists who were over their heads literally and figuratively. At times the area became a lake of calm, clear blue water, there were passing tropical rain showers, light breezes, a flash of a water creature dancing on the surface, it was serene.

“This is the perfect place,” she thinks, “Being here, all outside thoughts, worries gone, and it’s just me, the ocean, the gentle rocking motion as I sit on my surfboard. The calm waters, the warmth of the sun, the gentle tropical rain showers ― no stress ― it brings you back to earth. But, the ocean has moods, the way a human being does.”

Each evening she continued her studies despite the admonitions from Rabbit about book learning. “Who is he to tell me about book learning?” At least she could learn the rules of surfing etiquette and basic ocean survival. Never cut off a surfer who is already riding the wave. Never turn your back on the ocean. She thinks, “It’s not all in books but books help me. Except: Who is Rabbit?”

As she drifted off to sleep, she could even now sense the rocking motion of the waves, the coolness of the water on her sun-drenched skin; the sounds of the sea surrounded her, the palm fronds outside the window rustled as they brushed against the balcony. The identical sound made by the branches of trees as they rustled above and around her in the orchard. Without a pause she was able to fashion for herself this long ago adventure:

Frame one: I am sitting on the beach. I have my arms wrapped around my legs, my chin resting on my knees; I am staring out at the ever-changing surface of the ocean. I am watching the surfers. Thousands of people are on the beach and I feel so alone. Why?

No one is paying any attention to me. Except I know, without looking, that there is one pair of eyes fixed upon me. Those eyes, with their powerful gaze, make me feel childlike, small and miserable. This was so confusing.

Frame two: I had oiled my body with sunscreen and I didn’t have any success with even lying on the board in the shallow water. And, yes, Rabbit did come out to offer his assistance and a lesson and he did help me to scrub off the oil from my surfboard and then my body. I wanted to say no but I didn’t know how.

Saying no, hearing no, was an invitation for total rejection and possible abandonment. Better to say yes, or say nothing, than to say no.

And not asking was a way I had learned never to hear no. I would trust this man, but just for now, to learn to paddle around on a surfboard and maybe to learn to ride a wave.

But my fright and suspicion of this man was overwhelming. I did not know how to evaluate the intensions of men. It was all a guessing game; more than that it was going along blinded by the aura of mysterious images that were hidden deep from me consciousness if they were there at all. Could he tell, did he know, could he recognize my vulnerability? It was my ‘Show time’ on the beach at Waikiki. My mind went into neutral while we were on the beach going through the basics of board skills. I was in an auto obey and action mode. It took all of my strength emotionally to go through the ‘on the sand’ lessons of the basic moves and commands.

I had to block out all of the external input, just focus on his voice. My body was trembling, I could barely hold onto the bar of wax when it was handed to me with orders to ready the board for the lesson. My mouth was dry and words stuck to the inside. In any case I was too much in a state of shock to speak.

I knew that I was up and down and moving around in a pattern. Listening for directions knowing he would say “get up on the right foot first” and I had to think, which is right? And, “hands out level with da shoulder” and I could not remember where my shoulders were, my lips would have been in bloody tatters if the pain had not been so intense.

I did not know how to defend herself from the thousands of eyes that must have been watching, nor from the, and I thought that I was sure of this, the seductiveness of this confident Hawaiian male. But I wanted: what did I want? What did I want?

Frame three: I did go out that first day. We kept on the inside and he pushed me into gentle waves. I did not think they were either small or gentle. I was able to get up, do the tourist pose: feet squared, body facing front and arms out shoulder high. And each time I managed to paddle back with my weak arms, he’d turn the board around, watch the incoming waves and push me into the next one. Never let me rest. Just right ones for beginners.

I noticed that this man never met my direct gaze. He was distant, silent between the orders for catching a wave. Questions went unanswered almost as if he could not hear or care to hear. When answers came they were limited to one or two words. I finally asked, “When do you know to get up on the board?” His curt reply, “When you feel the speed.” I needed to ask, “What is the speed?” But, no, eventually I became as silent as he; I stared at the waves, the beach, the buildings, the flags on the buildings, the number of waves that passed by.

For an hour I concentrated on the task, staying on the board. Rabbit watched me, referred to falling off as “You make like flapping turkey.” Then he offered me an alternative, “Crouch down when you lose balance.”

He would wave and shout at his buddies who were surfing or paddling the outrigger canoes filled with tourists. They spoke English, I was sure it was English, but with strange syntax that I could not follow. “Mai sista hia, or as gaiz kaen go pati yo haus, daes rait, no gon ren tumaro, Aes da kain gaiz de awl tawk only, phrases like that.

And that’s how it went. No big dramatics, no story in a glorifying novel, just ordinary “Haole tourist learning to surf on the beach at “Waikiki” nothing to write about. It was fun. Nothing gained but nothing lost either. No great victories no losses. It was simply just another day in my life.

But, there was something more: when I was out on the water. Rabbit by my side, I had a feeling of peacefulness even when I struggled to ride a wave. The power of the waves challenged me, frightened me, but he was there.

Even with his silence she had a feeling of trust. And there was a sense of singularity, the contact with the water drove out all other thoughts, it was like flying, I had to concentrate on my task, it was a life or death situation. If I became distracted I could perish. I had to place all of my trust in myself and my skills; and more than that, first there was trust in my mentor, his skills at his task. I was sure that if I lost control, faltered, cried out there was a person by my side that would guide me to safety.

Frame four: that night I did read up on surfing, I did wish to do more surfing but with more skill. But included in my thoughts, what were the risks? The worst was that I could get hurt: by a board, mine or someone else’s, or in the reef out-cropping. The boards went flying around out there: beginners, hotdoggers, Hawaiians aiming to injure or wipeout stupid, rude Californians.

I faced these alternatives (1) look like an old fool; or (2) never learn or (3) give up the effort or (4) overcome the love/hate relationship with water, and letting go of my modesty and self-consciousness

I thought being in a bathing suit and on a surfboard with gray hair drew looks. I don’t know why I thought this. I know I am in good shape but this sort of exposure makes me uncomfortable. I had always wanted to have a tall angular frame, without boobs, narrow hips; the athletic look not the seductive one.

Frame five: that second morning, when I went down to the beach, I got my towel from the Royal Hawaiian pool captain, I was shown to my reserved table by the pool “great big waves today” I realized I was going to have to expose myself again I wished secretly that the surf was down, a storm would rolled in, jelly fish invasion, or some other outside element would give me an excuse to be land bound, bored but safe.

I took off my watch, ring, and sunglasses, disrobed slowly, and folded every piece carefully, placing the items on the umbrella-shaded table. I kicked off my sandals and arranged them next to the lounge chair, stalling. “If I move slowly and methodically it will take longer and I’ll be less noticed.” I walked out of the pool area to the beach. I barely glanced up at the ocean, watching my feet as they moved along toward the surfboard rental stand. I signed for the board, took a piece of wax and dragged the board into the shade. I waxed and then sat on the sand waiting for Rabbit. And this was my routine for three days. The lessons progressed. I was feeling more confident.

Frame six: On the third day Rabbit, was a bit more forthcoming with conversation. He was divorced, red flag, his girl friend never came down to the beach until lunchtime, two red flags, his daughters were in school, three flags, there was a spa in the basement of the Royal Hawaiian, warning bells went off in her head. But that was all for that morning. He was going to be late on the next day. “Get a board and practice stay on the inside waves.”

So, after finishing my regular preparations on the following morning I got my board and paddled out to where I thought the inside pocket was. And there I sat: the waves were flat. The pocket was small, the population was dense, and the few swells that developed were slow, hard to catch, and crowded. Suddenly I had no time to evaluate my situation.

I felt the board lift. I saw the other surfers paddling out, past me. I looked over my shoulder and saw that there were giant incoming swells. Automatically, I flattened my body on the board and started to paddle out too. I was in high gear as I saw that the lull was over. I got past the crash zone and outside beyond the group of experienced surfers.

Waves rolling in fast developing long high walls. Shouts of elation, cries of “That’s mine” and “Surfer!” I watched from my safe perch and speculated, “Should I or shouldn’t I?’ “What would Rabbit say?” I knew if I stayed on the far left shoulder, waited for other surfers to turn right I could try to go it alone. Yes, I would match my skills against the power of these waves. If I only had a leash, damn, but I would grab for the board, hope to catch it before it got away. Or I might get lucky and stay on even if it had to be in a prone position, the baby way, but safer then wiping out totally. I counted the waves, “one, two, three, four, five” The “ninth” wave was out there nearing I began to paddle, digging deep building up speed to match the wave’s momentum.

Then I was sure I heard his voice “Ready, don’t stop now, dig deep, go, go, up, up. My body responded to the voice I was up and heading across the face of the wave. I dared not look down. I stayed in a crouched position until I was sure of my balance then I stood up crouched back down, rode my wave on and on. It curled around me. As the kids say, “It was a rush.”

That’s what I remember happened then, this is now. I remembered Rabbit.

Rabbit…who are you? Why do I think of you and our times together? Have pictures of us, many, over the 30 years of our association. I believe, at this moment, that you must be the one man that I entrusted with my life; you never let me down, never asked for a reward in return. Although there were times in those early days that I wondered if you might have sex on the mind and in the body. You probably still do, you are a sexy guy, but our friendship was more important to me then all the overshadowing that sex might have played in destroying a lasting and long distant relationship.

So who is this “Rabbit”? Rabbit is not one person; like the chameleon, changing, adjusting to suit his situation. To many of his beach buddies he is a braggart, “A legend in his own mind” some say, but not within his hearing; he is one tough Kanaka. They know they would be “All bus’up.” To others on the beach, a symbol of success. To his own children a supportive father. To his teammates, a competitor of unequal stature. To some tourists he is a dumb Hawaiian, speaking pidgin “to da max.” To many, many chosen women, a great lover. He loves the women, avoids the smoke and drink. To the children of Hawaii, a generous, devoted hero. To his sport, a master, a true waterman, an ageless participant, smart, cunning, and to his banker a financial success story. He is a man who hides his agenda, speaks Pigin for the tourists and beautiful English, can work the New York Times crossword puzzle, in ink, in 30 minutes or less.

He is featured in movies, magazines, newspapers, television advertisements, books, teaching, always teaching, sharing his 85 years of water’s way every day of his life. He is known globally in the surfing world, sponsoring his own long board contest in Costa Rica.

He is of short stature. An honor student at Kamahamaha High School, college scholarship denied because of his slight build. Given name, Albert. One of five children. On the beach since he was three. Born November 11, 1920.

Left the beach once during WWII for service in underwater demolition duty. He has never had an 8-5 job, the sand between his toes that is his life. He is a beautiful many facetted man.

He gave me trophies as his student, one in 1981 another in 1990. One engraved with my name and “Class A Student Surfer” the other “Rabbits Surfing Success.” I was not a kid but a mature woman, forty-five plus, seeking to learn to live in his element and enjoying it, sometimes fearfully but game for the experience. I could listen to him whether he was at my side or far away; I could always hear his voice, feel his presence. I trusted him.

DIGGING DEEPER  

   (a transition to Fright Flight)

She opens her eyes. The position of the sun and its mid-day warmth appear unchanged. She stares down at a world eight inches away. Dejected: “I can’t walk back the 247 steps through the orchard, the 67 steps across the yard to the house, the 19 steps down the hall to the room: the white ceiling, floor, walls with the photographs, the faces; the 11 steps to the desk to sit in front of a machine, not yet. Her eyes, dry. She cannot cry, she can’t remember when she had ever cried; she had, of course, but she couldn’t remember.

She brushes her hands across the ground, clearing a space. “Always weeds, memories, so like weeds so why can’t I pull them up, now?” Without motive or enthusiasm glimpses upward, the falling leaves. —— one leaf, drifting flying downward then another and another. The poem, High Flight, framed in her room, begins:

 

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things….

She always wanted to release herself from the bonds of earth, be free detached.

Always to be of the sky, had an overwhelming urge, wanted to fly, out of

harm’s way, but perhaps into harm’s way.

Now, she recollected, a crazy flying time.

“I always wanted to fly.” Her body though grounded, sensed the initial exhilaration, leaving the land, the earth diminishing beneath her; breaking through cloud tops to hover above a carpet of uninterrupted whiteness. Now, her heart beating louder and faster, her skin shivering—this, her body had not forgotten.

She had her first flying lessons when she was nineteen years old. Then it was not the need for emotional release and excitement, it was simply practical: she wanted to get from point A to point B without any interruptions. Life happened. Not until she was twenty-eight did the power of flight draw her back into its force.

But, now it was more like falling in love: air races, touch and go, spot landings, takeoffs, stunt work, gliding, traveling, logging airtime in Hawaii: Canada, Alaska, Mexico ——She loved the challenges, precision, self-reliance.

One memorable adventure:

FRIGHT FLIGHT

She could picture, the vast blue panorama over the Pacific Ocean, hear the numbing roar of the engine. Feel her right hand on the throttle, the left on the stick, her feet touching the rudders, in her lap a map, headphones, microphone, the radio squawk.

To her right, her passenger, Father Daniel, the assistant pastor of Cristo Rey Church in Oxnard, California. They are 2500 feet over Oceanside, California, heading south.

It’s Father Daniel’s first time in an airplane. As she sets their course she has an amusing thought, “Brave man, this 52 year old man in black suit and white collar, his first airplane ride and it’s in a twenty year old, two-place, single engine Cessna 140.” They are flying to the border town, Tijuana, Mexico.

The Sisters at the Sacred Heart Convent in Tijuana had made the flag, with the patron saint of the school, Our Lady of Guadalupe, embossed on a background depicting Mexico.

Her eighth grade students had arranged and paid to present this special flag containing the painting of their patron saint. The traditional class gift. The flag was to have been ready and shipped a week before graduation day. The Mother Superior called to apologize. They could not complete the flag until June 14th, the day before the ceremony. Today was the 14th. What could be done? Not a problem. A quick flight to the border and back. Just a few hours. “It would be a snap!”

Carefully she explained, “Father Joseph, I need someone to accompany me: well-known by the Sisters, knows the location of the Convent, speaks Spanish.” Father Daniel it was. “Great!” The upside, he fulfilled my criteria; the downside. He spoke no English. “Well, two out of three.”

The school day ended. The rush to the airport. Off they flew, rising into the gentle western winds and headed southward. The late afternoon was spring lovely, a few gossamer cloudlets hovering over the Topa-Topa range on the left.

She set the course, the Oceanside route. Father would enjoy the spectacular panorama: the gleaming coastal cities, the broad glistening Pacific, beaches, mountains. “We can’t communicate with words, but no matter.” At first his body was rigid, hands firmly gripping his knees. She would reach over and tap his shoulder, hesitant, thinking “Is it ok to touch a priest?” Despite the engine noise, the language barrier, they communicated. He responded to her waving hand, pointing finger, smiles, tipping of the wings, right and left, with exclamations of tentative approval. She was delighted, sharing the good fortunes and beauty in her life with a person who had dedicated his life to poverty in the service of those who were even poorer.

The sprawling Los Angeles encompassed the entire horizon then vanishing into the haze as they reached San Gorgonio Pass seventy miles east. “San Diego ahead, Brown Field to the east, Roger almost there.”

Moments after landing she called for a taxi to make the quick trip to the border. No taxi arrived. “Padre, mas rapido, Encontra persona, Taxi.” So much for high school Spanish. He nodded, smiled and strolled leisurely around the tarmac.

As if by a miracle, an old jalopy taxi rolled onto the airstrip. Father’s mouth came to life. Across the border, through the city, a hair-raising ride over twisting, rutted, dusty roads to the convent that was located on the side of a mountain. “I had no idea it was so far, that Tijuana was such a sprawling area.” The border was miles away.

The Reverend Mother greeted them, talked to Father Daniel at length, invited them to enjoy a snack, insisted that she and the Father play a game of checkers. They talked, they ate, they drank tea, played checkers.

The sun was sinking, so was her heart.

Panic inside, polite smiles outside. Her experience at night flying and landing was limited. She paced to the door and back, over and over, smiling weakly, leaning on the latch. Above the door she noticed a picture of the Madonna. She touched the picture, pleaded silently, “Get me out of here!”

After endless farewells, the ride back to the border, the taxi change, they were at the airfield. Between them was the box that contained the magnificent flag. She bounded out of the car, ran to the plane, boxed flag under her arm, crammed it into the back, pre-flighting, shoved Father Daniel into his seat, politely of course, belted in, contact, taxi and takeoff.

The sunlight was gone; the sky was filled with reflected city lights. Should she or shouldn’t she? She had to. “Two hundred miles of air space ahead I’m scared” She is determined but scared.

North of Oceanside, entering the LAX airspace, her eyes scanned the instrument panel: something’s wrong. One by one she toggled the switches: Off, on-off, on. All of the switches were on. The panel was dark. The wingtips, rotating beacon, unlit. The radio was silenced. Turn off the beacon, turn off the radio, turn off the running lights, turn off the navigation lights, check the amp meter. No charge. A total electrical failure.

“We have a big problem, Father.” For that moment she had forgotten he couldn’t understand English. At the sound of her voice, he turned her way, smiled, nodded, returning his attention to the surrounding beauty above and below.

A pang of terror went through her; she could feel the sweat roll down her back. She fought to keep herself outwardly calm. She taps each gauge on the instrument panel, adjusts the trim, scans the sky, looks over at her passenger, smiles, sees his rosary, thinks, “What a time not to know prayers.” Then from the depth of her being she mouthed these words “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.”

Then she heard a commanding voice, “As long as I live I am with you, nothing bad can happen.” Mother.

City after city along the ribbon of the coast highway twinkled as rank after rank of lights came on. Far to the darkening east the Santa Rosa Mountains extended a shadowy ten thousand feet into the sky.

Beyond Riverside she could see the glistening whitish dome of Mt. San Gorgonio glowing like a heavenly throne more then twelve thousand feet above the earth where the sunset had come and gone.

She knew: “We’re in an unidentified flying object, heading out of Long Beach air space, twenty miles south of Los Angeles International, unable to notify LAX tower. No options.” The hackles rose on the back of her neck. “Can’t stop, can’t turn back. It’s fly or die.” No matter where she looked, she could see moving, flashing red and green lights, interspersed with glaring white landing lights.

She could see them. They couldn’t see her. She was in their flight path, their airspace. Altitude had to be her salvation. Fly low, fly fast. Keep going ahead.

Her hands, a strangle hold on the stick and throttle, her knuckles white. Her feet cramped on the rudders, she looked over at the Priest; he was still smiling, still nodding his head, waving and clapping his hands, pointing out the window. She was stunned; “he thinks I’m conducting a sightseeing tour.” She babbles…

“Father, back there Capistrano Mission, over there the lights of Avalon on Catalina Island, there’s Long Beach, Los Angeles Harbor, Hollywood Park. She shouted, “And we are in one of the busiest air corridors in the world!” Silently, she prayed, “Dear God, let us slip through. Give us a safe corridor. 1,500 feet, heading one-fiver, don’t let any other plane be there.”

Father reached over, tapping her shoulder, his eyes lit up with pleasure, his hand pointing. She looked— A Boeing 707; landing lights filling their small cockpit with flashing red, green, white. She pulled back on the stick, applied full throttle. Go, go, go, her internal voice was shouting. The commercial jet, one hundred feet below, roared by, Father Daniel was thrilled. Clapping his hands, exclaiming, “Grandioso, que bonitas, magnifico.” Formation flying! And they were out of the traffic. The worst. Was it over?

She knew she could not land at Santa Paula Airport. No lights, no tower, no emergency crews. She had to land at Oxnard.

She could see the lights at the Southern California Edison Plant. Her current position was over the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range. She prayed that the plane would be too small for them to see on radar, below their detection threshold.

She prepared for the entry into the landing pattern. FAA Procedure required tower authorization. The runway lights would be illuminated. She was invisible, no lights, no radio. It was an emergency. She buzzed the tower. The FAA controller would hear, flash the green light. Three times she executed a “by the book” fly-by. No green light. “Ok she mouthed.” On the fourth pass she flew low, directly over the tower, gunned the engine:

Father was clapping his hands, laughing; She was close to tears. Gas was getting low; she didn’t need to see the gauge. Another miracle! Lights from a vehicle flashed onto the runway threshold. She flew downwind, base, final: the landing pattern: Over the cabbage fields, over the water tower, the high school, the beans field. And another miracle! The entire runway flashed with lights. She executed a perfect three point landing, taxied the little plane to the parking area. Shut down the engine and rested her head on the panel.

They both get out: she, shaking from head to toe, he, grinning from ear to ear. Reaching behind the seat, she lifts out the box. She walks around the plane. As she extends her arms to hand the precious cargo to the Priest he grabs her shoulders and then embraces her, exclaiming in Spanish words, three of which she translates as, “A memorable trip!” Indeed, she thinks, undeniably memorable!

 

THE JOURNEY BACK, ALMOST &THEN SOME

She reached into her robe pocket. “Damn, forgot my cigarettes. Close to Martini time? Bit of gin, salty crunchies, cigarette.”  The sun lower in the sky, shadows lengthening; coolness reaching her despite the warmth that her robe provided. “Let’s get on home Mac. Dog, where have you gotten off to?”

She got up, brushed off dirt, the fragments of leaves, the bits and pieces of the afternoon’s sojourn. She headed for home forgetting about the counting of her steps back. She was walking along with her head high, arms swinging, body strong and straight. She was thinking, “Have to wash this ol’ robe.”

Near the first gate, she whistled for Mac. Waiting. Pausing by the old barn. “Is that nameplate still on the door?” Yes, there it was, engraved in brass, “Matilija Dealight” her Morgan Horse, dead for so many years. She unconsciously brushed away a tear and with the sleeve of her robe, cleared the dust off the nameplate, opened the stall door, stepped inside. Habit caused her to slide it closed. Remnants of pine shavings in the corners, pieces of straw clinging to the rafters, bird’s nest in a high corner, the old rope halter, the feed tub firmly screwed into the wall, the tie rings, the now dry water fountain cup, a piece of plywood covering the kicked out hole in the wall, an overturned metal bucket.

She relished the smell of a horse, of manure, straw, shavings, leather. “Delicious.”

A pony. A promise. She was a child. “I’ll get you your own pony. You’ve outgrown Jeanie at the stables.” The stables were on Vermont Boulevard near 6th Street. “so rural then so dreadfully urban now.”

She had been with horses since she was three, “I rode double with my Mom at Soboba Hot Springs in the high mountain desert country. And there was the time that I was trying to imitate my instructor riding standing up in the saddle. I stood up in the saddle, reins in hand, pulled back and went up, up, and up and down, down, and down. Crash! Into the dirt. Boy Oh Boy! Gasps from the crowd! Didn’t I ever get the attention from all the other parents. They carried me back and my mother, yes but she was, I don’t know how she was. Except …” She promised me a pony.

The promise giver distracted, must had forgotten so absorbed in her new wife life. “So, forget about it for now,” her nine year old mind said.

She had waited. The horse. It was one of the promises that she kept just for herself. “When I grow up.”

She moved the metal bucket to the wall, brushed it off, joined the spider webs, “Spiders are good.” and sat down for a reminiscence of a past that was not.

Leaning against the plywood, stretching out her legs, closing her eyes, breathing in the remnants of familiar scents. “How did I finally get my promised horse?” She answered herself, “Ah ha!”

1968. She had no idea that she was about to buy a horse. It was coincidental. She was at a friend’s horse breeding facility up in the Ojai. Beautiful Morgan horses and their babies. Then she saw Dealight a four-month-old filly: love at first sight. “She nuzzled me; put her head down for a caress along her neck. We bonded. And for the next twenty-four years, it was love, love and more love. “We were as bonded as could be in this life, girl to horse.” She thought back to, “I sold my airplane, couldn’t take off into the wild blue and be with my lovely Dealight.”

 

“Our first horse show in 1969, shit, I didn’t even know what the judge was asking when he said ‘line up heads to tails.’ First blue ribbon that very day. Twenty years. We brought home the trophies and ribbons. In conformation, driving, antique carriage competition, riding, having the time of our lives.”

Each memory of each show, each event, the ribbons, the trophies, each defeat was as clear today as it was then. The ribbons and trophies adorn the walls in her room. “Exciting times. And how showing that horse did put me in a crazy, sit-com funny day? I’ll always remember. Funny but uncomfortable!”

Mother mentioned one day, “I’d love to see you show your horse.”

“I’d like that too, you and Albert come on up to the fair ground” This was a new experience, Mother asking to join me doing anything. Of course, I never asked her either, she might have said, NO! The event I’d invited her to was the Morgan Medallion Horse Show, the most prestigious on the West Coast.

I had already casually mentioned the event to my dad, who never, and I mean never, spent a dime on me or time with me. “Daddy, I’ll be showing my horse at the Ventura Fair Grounds, please, you and Hilda, come and enjoy.” He said a yes with a nod, dipping his head almost imperceptibly, but he had said his yeses before and “I’ll see you soon,” said these words for a lifetime, which equaled absences and unkempt promises.

Moreover, I dismissed his acquiescence and him, as he always dismissed me. And I liberated that moment from my mind COM-PLET-LY. I focused on the weekend at the show grounds with my Mother in the stands cheering me on.

After all in her youth she was a showgirl and herself quite an accomplished equestrian, performing with a group of trick riders at rodeos. We would have a sharing time together. We had had a lifetime of difficulties sharing anything.

I was all dressed up in my show time outfit. Mom and Albert arrived. Mom was dressed up as though she were at Ascot or in the Owner’s Box at the Kentucky Derby. I placed them in reserved front row box seats, hustled back to the paddock. I was ready to hitch up Dealight, and there, Oh My God No! In the pathway to the barn area, Dad and Hilda. I can recall, feel the panic, stammering, “Dad, I didn’t expect you. How terrific! You’re here! Mom’s here too. Go to the grandstand. My class is next. Gotta go get ready. See ya later.”

There was my Prince, dressed in his white linen pants, a designer shirt, cuff-linked with gold points, hand made shoes. Handsome and stately. Fashioned hair. Clipped mustache.

So, there I am in my formal riding clothes sweating like hell. I was in Hell. I’d be sweating if I had been nude. How do I keep the pair of pairs apart?

Mother didn’t like my Dad, I was taught that he was a bad father, I was sure, I had reasoned, that my Dad had an unending love for my mother. That’s why he never came to see me. However, when she became totally exasperated with my behavior, it was, “Why don’t you go live with your dad?” I’d snapped back with, “Give me his phone number!” I was only too willing to go to him; he was my Prince in Shinning Amour. He would rescue me from an intolerable situation. Carry me off to happiness. I never got the telephone number. He never came, so he remained my Prince for some other day of salvation. I was a child.

Now, I am thirty-five and he shows up and with his wife, a woman I was sure had stolen him from me. She, who had been the force that kept him away and all to herself.

I scooted back to the paddock area to get the horse ready for the driving class. And we were off and trotting into the show ring. What a performance! Dealight was spectacular. I was a nervous wreck. We won the event, a blue ribbon and cheers from the crowd. We took our victory lap. All I could do, all I could see as we circled the ring was my Mom in the box seats and my dad in the upper grandstand. Had they seen one another? Oh Boy! Now what?

Back to the barn, unhitch the horse, wipe down the tack, struggle into another outfit and face the music, which was playing from the organ in the grandstand. I crept into the seat next to Mom. She was ecstatic. I was not, not now. How was I going to pull this off? Well, come clean; tell her that my Dad was up in the stands? I looked up, he was watching. I had to go up to see him. It was the first time he had come to any event. In my younger lifetime: no graduations, no birthdays, no cards of remembrances, only one visit in so many years during my growing up. I had to see him NOW! “Mom, Dad is here, up there, Hilda is with him, I didn’t expect him to take me up on an invitation to come to a horse show.” She shocked me, “Go up and visit him, it’s quite an event.” I still felt uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassed, distressed, you name it, I was suffering. But up to the stands, I went. We visited, he said little, as usual, but he was here, but constantly glancing at the lower area, where my mother was seated. Or so I thought. “See, I thought, He still feels that that Old Feeling.”So I spent the afternoon like this: To the ring with the horse, to the barn, to the box seats, to the grandstand’s upper levels. “Hey Dad, whaya think?” “Hi Mom, Albert, what an afternoon.” Back and forth, up and down. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry; trying my best to be a good hostess, a devoted daughter, and a winner in the show classes.

And, yes. Dealight and I managed to win in all of our classes and we were awarded the “Best in Show giant Silver Bowl Trophy.” To this day, I wonder if the horse won because I was too distracted to interfere with her natural talents. The champagne was flowing, the horse crowd of friends all gathered for the barn celebrations.

Dad left without saying a word, not even a so long, only transmitting a threadlike smile and a shabby wave, then disappeared, just faded away.

Mom and Albert joined us for dinner at home. I didn’t mention Dad; she didn’t mention him either, except by saying, “So, you are getting to know him. Don’t be too disappointed with what you find.” Damn, she was always right about him. So, that’s what I have to tell you and myself. Back out the sliding barn door. Shut it quietly. Heading home, alone but not. You know that Dealight is gone, dead of kidney failure when she was twenty-four. Good memories. I can bear, wear this one. Here I am, leaving the barn still wanting that cigarette, gin and salty snacks. “Hey, Mac! Let’s go.” Oh! Now, I remember, Mac can’t go the rest of the way. He is buried in the orchard, right over there, under his favorite tree. Somehow though, he is always with me when I need his company, he with his positive and cheerful presence.

It was a terrible day, old boy, when we, after 17 years of companionship had to leave you to heaven first.

__________________________________________________________________________

 

The house was the same as when she had left, or so she thought.

There was the sound of tinkling ice cubes against a glass. “Who’s there?” A familiar voice answered, “I know your routine. I’ve been watching you. I know how to pour the gin. Consider me your in- house bartender.” And Jerry, my young man, my student, who lived on the upper section of the ranch with his family, was at the open freezer door preparing me for the evening.

It was later that that same evening when she entered her room, went to her computer, rested her fingers on the keyboard, stared at the empty document page on the monitor. “I wonder if I can finally put in words, tell the story. She sat there, quite still, the keyboard beneath her fingers. Her fingers moved. She began typing:

As she thought the story appeared before her; it began like this:

First draft

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