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Month: January, 2014

Exceptional Isn’t For Everyone: An Ode To The Ordinary

ex·cep·tion·al  (ĭk-sĕp′shə-nəl)adj.

1. Being an exception; uncommon.
2. Well above average; extraordinary: an exceptional memory.
3. Deviating widely from a norm, as of physical or mental ability.–

We are all special. We all, simply by virtue of emerging from our mother’s womb and choking down our first full breath’s worth of sweet open air, have something going for us, have a life worth living, have a story to tell. And there’s inevitably something special to be found within that story, because all stories have magic, and because our stories are ourselves, we are also magic; we are Merlin, we are Circe, we are Elphaba, we are Gandalf and Bellatrix and Serafina Pekkala, our bodies are cauldrons and our words are waving wands. We are special. We are magic.

But we aren’t all exceptional.

We are capable of exceptional acts: we can be exceptionally kind or exceptionally giving, exceptionally arrogant or exceptionally cunning. We may have areas in which we are exceptional: we may play the piano exceptionally well or be an exceptionally talented artist, we might have an exceptional eye for detail or be exceptionally persuasive at arguing a point.

But very few among us are truly exceptional, and that’s exactly the way it should be. It’s why “exceptional” exists — it is a way to set apart from us those who are uncommon, those who are extraordinary. It is a word for the Shakespeares, and the Einsteins, and the Thomas Edisons. It is a word for the poets whose stanzas still sing to us across the centuries, a word for warriors who claimed countries through bloody fists and hardened hearts, a word for heroes standing before slain dragons, a word for the life-riskers and life-givers and life-extenders. It is a word for those who shout from mountaintops, loud enough and long enough so that those of us in the valley can hear and hang on to every syllable. It is a word that should wear a “reservation only” sign around its neck.

But this is not an ode to exceptionalism. This is a love song to the ordinary.

Most of us live out our lives in the most ordinary of ways: we are born, we grow up, maybe we fall in love, maybe we have children, we raise them, we find something we’re good at if we’re lucky and we do that until we no longer can or no longer need to, we surround ourselves with friends and family and all the people who make us feel good about ourselves, and one day we die. It’s been the order of things since before we even realized things had order. And it’s a good order. Centuries of us, living small lives in small ways, but it’s smallness only when seen from the outside; on the inside, along the seams where we’re joined together in goodness and warmth and tears and tragedies, our lives are enormous, as big as the world. On the inside, we hold oceans in our hands as we birth our babies. We exhale entire desert floors around a loved one’s last breath. We have whole rivers run hot inside our veins in the moment a stranger’s touch becomes desperately familiar. On the inside, in the smallness, we are giants.

Sometimes, it takes courage to be content; sometimes, there is a quiet daring in accepting a limited legacy. There’s nothing mediocre in making the best of what you have, in taking the life you’ve made for yourself and pulling it in around your shoulders, mismatched, tattered at the edges, thin in the places you love the best, but as soft as new skin under the moonlight, as warm as the sun falling on your face on the first day after school lets out for summer. We’ve grown up with “do better, be better, be bigger, do something, be somebody” pressed into our flesh, an inky undercurrent of insecurity, a firm hand in our back that nauseates and complicates and pushes us into people and places we don’t want to be; but shedding that skin and finding wings underneath comes with a giddy joy that trembles in your thighs, knowing you can fly but standing still, craving ten thousand feet of wind sometimes but knowing the air is sweeter where you already are. There are those who scale mountains, and there are those who build mountains from little moments: sleepy caresses on the shore of quiet and unassuming love, the seashell ear and miniature pearl nails of a newborn hearing her mother’s heart from the outside for the first time, perfectly timed inappropriate laughter like the sudden flutter of a candle flame in a night with no moon, elephant hide hands with crooked knuckles smoothing silvered hair back from a cooling brow. The summit is in the smallest detail.

We all need our heroes and villains, our lonely pioneers and madman visionaries. Our mixed up mythologies inspire and condemn, are guiding stars and nosediving bombers, exploding on impact. We need flaming comets among us, burning so bright we can barely stand to look at them as they make their way around suns we can’t even see; but we also need clay feet and Adam’s rib and Eve’s apple and everything about us that makes us beautifully, stupidly, gloriously human. We need fig leaves so we understand how brilliant we shine underneath them. We need exile to show us that a home built around an open mind and open heart is always the home worth having. We need ashes in our hair and dust under our fingernails and those whose stories will only ever be heard around a fire. We need those whose only poem is the lines of her body, the cello curves singing under the bow of a gentle hand. We need those whose only masterpiece is the child with his nose, a delicate jumble of bones and flesh thrown together in a way that makes him better. We need the remarkable: we need the ordinary.

You are probably not exceptional, but you are almost definitely ordinary. Never let that be a bad thing — be a giant in the smallness. Be a mountain maker. Eat your apple to the core and kiss the snake when you’re finished. Tell your story around a fire built up from the bones of your life; tell it true, and be the kind of ordinary magic that dances over darkening embers, stirring up sparks, a whispering phoenix that only rises when you’re dreaming. Exceptional or ordinary, we burn the same.

Throwback Thursday : A Poem By Fifteen Year Old Me

Alternate title: FEMINIST 35 YEAR OLD ME IS HORRIFIED

Alternate alternate title: Please Never Let My Daughter Write Something Like This

There are certain things I want to let you know but can’t explain
The only kiss we’ve ever shared is all that’s kept me sane
I used to only have fantasies of what could someday be
They kept me hanging on, but never really let me see
The wide horizon over which my love for you could flow
No matter what I go through, no matter where I go.
I want to tell you all these things right to your smiling eyes
But every time I think of you, some hope in me just dies
I used to think that memories would be better than what I had
But now I realize memories just help to keep me sad
The thought of that night and that one sweet kiss is forever on my mind
That soft, small touch of heaven was the only one of its kind
You may not think of me often, I know you have your life
But the thought of you forgetting just cuts me like a knife
Yes, I’m glad I have the memories to hold on to in the night
But they provide a constant struggle, a never-ending fight
I seem to be playing tug of war between my mind and heart
One says I’m a fool, the other says don’t let you part
I’ve always been the kind to think things through the end
But with you I know it’s right, you’re truly my Godsend
Even after all I’ve gone through, after everything you’ve done,
In my life you’re still the light, like the rising morning sun
I’ll love you always and forever, even if you don’t feel the same
And even though I’ve lost at my own heart’s little game
You’ll always be the only one for me, until I’m gone
Just do me one small favor, when you see the coming dawn
Think of how I still hold you here inside my heart,
Just as the sun announces the new day’s coming start.

–1993

Hashtag Things You Find Open On The Computer After Your Eight Year Old Has Been On It

SUPERGUY ASSAINS VIDEO GAME SCRIPT- [game starts out with a cut-scene at a house] [everones sleeping] [two gunshots] [George wakes up] [poilce siren]superguy:ever since that day I was mad not the crazy kind of mad [tkkkkk] poilce:hands up viglante [superguy runs ] [gunshots] poilceman:he got away superguy:every day and night I think of of that moment young george:[cries] poilceman:how about I adopt you young george:why did he do it poilceman:there are people in this world who do very bad things [criminal stabs policeman ]young George :NOOO! [bank alarm goes off]crinmal 1: heh heh heh boss we rule this city alex marine:someone please help mee [sobing] crinmal 2:SHUT IT superguy:i need to find a way to get into the bank without being seen computer tell me how to get in the bank computer:uploding throw vent at two of them [vent get throw at two of them] christan marine:i’ll kill this girl if you come closer superguy:[flies away ] christan marine:ow phew [kkkkkkssss] christan marine:mmmmmmmm superguy:whats your name alex marine:alex alex marine superuy:go back to your home alex marine:yeah about that that guy you just took out was my dad and my real parents are dead greenman:we do ceartinely do know that cristan marine gets no money EVERYONE SEPARTATE GO TO A PLACE AND KILL THE SUPERGUY

Weekly Round-Up : 2

1. BEST NEWS: my dear friend Emily, who has been in my life since I was pregnant with Davey, but whom I’ve never had the chance to meet face to face, is coming to see me in a little less than a month. She ALSO bought tickets for us to see Wicked at the Orpheum. This will be my first theater show (I know, I know) and I’m already apologizing to those around us in advance because I am going to be a singing, weeping, joyful bag of emotional overload. It’s the 10th anniversary of Wicked, and the 10th year of our friendship, so this all feels deliciously fateful.

2. The moon, oh, the moon. I don’t know what it is, but this month’s full wolf moon has mesmerized me, pulling me out to look at it night after night. I feel so close to it, in collusion, almost, like we have a secret and it’s lighting up the sky around us. It has stirred something deep within me, and I want to give birth to a hundred different ideas, to create until I can’t breathe under the weight of all the newness I’m sending out into the world. At the height of its fullness, I gave serious contemplation to lying down on the ground, and howling up to it in a whisper.

3. Yesterday was a day of highest highs and painfully low lows. But on the heels of my tears came realizations, admissions, apologies, redemption, and resolutions. There’s a new path laid out in front of me, I just have to have the courage and perseverance to see it through to the very end. I’ve always been a wanderer, it’s hard for me to stay on track. But this time, it feels different. Maybe it’s the moon.

4. Rough day with Davey on Thursday, when report cards came home and he still had a C in math. I know he’s tried his hardest, and the C’s have never been an issue for us; his pressure is internal, and nothing I said made a difference. There was endless crying, hitting his head off the seat behind him, describing how the rewards other students received for the honor roll felt like a punishment to him. He spent most of the evening angry and sullen and on the verge of tears. I let him vent within reason, was as logical and understanding as I could be, and made him a chocolate cake…..but I also gave him melatonin at 8 o’clock because JESUS CHRIST.

5. Mirren is into stripping this week. She tells me “hot!”, then attempts pulling her shirt over her head, which results in angry octopus toddler more often than not. She also thinks her belly button is called “hewe you go” and her love affair with dogs and babies continues unabated. Ask her “what do pigs say?” and her answer sounds like she has tuberculosis.

100 Proof Moonshine

Last night,
the moon consumed me;
as soon as it began its descent
up over the horizon,
creeping in small, bright degrees
through and above the treeline,
I could feel it:
a tingling under my tongue,
my blood an electric choir,
singing out towards the sky.
I kept sneaking out
into the night,
small moments of stolen meditation,
standing on the back porch steps
looking straight up
into some kind of epiphany,
one that curls up in the womb,
the birth of an oracle.
All across the yard,
a tangle of trees
stretched winter-thin fingers
towards me,
moonshadows like magnets,
my bare feet freezing cold
but there were wolves
running wild across my wide open heart
and the pounding of heavy hoofbeats
in my pulse
and my skin smelled like nectar stars.
My breath hung on the air in front of me,
each exhalation
a momentary frozen fossil,
each inhalation
100 proof moonshine,
burning its way down
into my belly,
a cauldron of waking dreams
and half-remembered lives,
intoxicated,
punch drunk on the
sheer possibility of
occupying that particular
pattern of atoms under
that particular pattern of
stars,
an infinity of me
sprawled across the sky,
fingertips tracing the sweet face
of the full wolf moon.

Way Back Wednesday : Words : 1

July 10, 2011

Abandoning the beliefs we feel born into leaves empty spaces, phantom faith that itches in the middle of the night, when we’re at our smallest and most insignificant, just miserable motes of dancing dust under the enormous moon. Lying like a starfish in bed with the covers kicked off, I drift back and forth on remembered prayers, reluctant in my mouth but free-floating through the room, and think about how the more things change, the more they never stay the same, how they grow wings and fly and return to us in forms we barely recognize.

Flying down the highway at five miles over the speed limit, the music is loud and the window’s rolled down, and this is a place of worship; I offer up these wheels and these words that belong to someone else, that belong to everybody, and the air tastes like dust and my lips crack and burn, the heat is dull fire on my brow. My hair moves in the wind, whipping across my face, blinding me, and this is my Damascus, this is how I become an apostle.

The breath in his back against my breast is a hymn my skin sings, my heart opens up like a choir on Easter morning, a soaring soprano through my blood, a bass beating in my pulse. My pores speak in tongues, soaking up sweat our old fan never touches, trembling on the brink of revelations I never see coming, my fingers strong steeples that bend and break under the storm of his thigh beneath my palm, this is my church, this is how I am converted.

There’s dirt under my nails and dirt in the sink and I am washing dirt off the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the onions, and I am holding the earth in my hand, baptizing it under the water, rinsing off the beginnings of everything. The light from the window reflects off my knife, cutting through the red skin still warm from the sun and placing it on my tongue, and this is my communion, this is all the body and all the blood, the way it bursts in my mouth with a sweetness that tastes like tears, this is my sacrament, this is how I celebrate sacrifice.

My books are used, the pages torn, notes written in pencil in the parts somebody else thought were really important, and I learn about ischial spines and the sacrum, which sounds like another word for sacred, and moldable bones and the way the pelvis spreads, and it’s a creation story I can’t get enough of, the way our bodies bring forth babies, and there’s no fruit and no snakes and no flaming swords, there’s only mountains and volcanoes and tsunamis, strength so profound you can hardly stand to look it in the eye, and this is where my Eden lies, this is how I eat my apple and throw my fig leaves under my feet.

My eyes open before the sun does, and in the stillness of the morning, there are no sounds but the window unit and the fan and the faint bubbling of the fish tank, and I feel him curled around my back, a cathedral of bones that formed in my body. His toenails need trimming but he’s salvation sleeping on the same pillow as me, his fingers move in his dream, tapping out a rosary between my shoulders, and there’s nothing here but silence and a fierce love that folds over and over into itself, and this is where I find my faith, this is what I praise.

Way Back Wednesday : Photo : 1

Self Portrait, September 2008

My Best Sneeze

When days go by, and I don’t have the chance to sit down and write, my brain starts to cramp up, a creative Charley horse that bunches up right behind my eyes. It makes me cranky, and the longer I go without putting pen to paper, the more short-tempered I become, however hard I try to hide it. For a long time, I didn’t realize it was this word constipation that was causing the problem — I thought it was a side effect of my chemical imbalance, or too much sugar, or a subconscious dissatisfaction with some aspect of my life. But no. It’s simply that my need to write is like the build up of a massive sneeze; first it tickles way back in my head, and that part is almost pleasurable, but then it swells until it’s all I can think of, and I’m looking up at the sun, looking under the lamp shade, doing whatever I can to bring it to the surface and expel it, but I just can’t get there, and then it suddenly departs and leaves behind a serious let down I can feel deep down inside my face because I’ve got all these words, just crowding together and taking up space, and it’s because I’m always writing. I never stop writing, whether the words ever make it on to a page or not.

I write about the way the curtains always have a three inch gap, and the way the streetlight shines in through it, laying a perfect rectangle of light across the bed at night, how it falls across his hand and his freckles and the way they glow, how it makes my breath catch a little in the back of my throat because it looks just like love.

I write about the desert floor of my grandfather’s face, the faded blue sky of his eyes, the way the years have made him smaller, and how big I feel beside him now, a monolith looming over a single pebble, how we occupy the same space but rarely touch and the way he used to let me lie beside him as a child, when I would stretch out in the shadow of him and sleep under the ledge of his protection.

I write about the way the winter sun bathes the world in a soft pink light in the morning before anyone else is awake, how this acre of land is sewn into my bones, the treeline as familiar as my face in the mirror, holding me here like a hand on my chest, a hand pressed over my heart.

I write about the way we ride through town, a cold rain creeping up the windows, a cold fog waiting in the wings, and the hawk that sits on the power lines running alongside the highway, the way we turn the music up too loud and sing along, making up words when we don’t know them, how the swell of my voice pushing past my tongue feels like communion, how it hangs in the air like holiness.

I write about the way things get stuck in my head, how I constantly have strange words and phrases and names clanging around in the spaces that echo back on themselves, how I go to sleep thinking amygdala and wake up thinking Bonnie Bedelia and carry onomatopoeia with me as I eat breakfast and do the laundry, the way they press against my ears from the inside out until I have to hold my nose and shut my mouth and breathe out hard to disperse them.

I write about the way they grow like trees, how he’s an oak and his strength stretches up toward the sun, big branches you can climb up, hang swings on, his feet pressing into dirt that smells like rain, how she’s a willow, a delicate dancer on music masked as wind, bent at the waist with her hair in the water, and their limbs are a tangle of wonder and pain and tiny green buds that dream of summer storms.

I write about the words of others, how they wrap me up in a live wire of inspiration, electricity running in between my fingers, gratitude like lightning, how in a stranger’s world you can feel you’re home, slip off your shoes and curl up on their sofa, how in front of their fire you can throw a match on the embers of your own dying dreams and warm your hands with their reignition.

I write. I write. Everything is a story, everything deserves to have its tale told, in one sentence or five hundred pages. I believe some people write because it’s pleasurable to them — it’s an easy flow from pen to paper, from heart to keyboard, a mid-meditation exhalation — and when they have something to say, they simply say it, write it, type it, jot it down in a notebook with bent corners and coffee stains. But for some of us, it’s as involuntary as a breath, as a shiver, as a sneeze; words wind their way up the strands of our DNA, adverbs and nouns and metaphors encoded there, spirals of things to say and ways to say them, a hereditary code of storytelling. If I don’t write, I don’t feel real — writing is the sequence that makes sense of my life, that offers perspective, hands me relief.

Writing is my best sneeze.

Weekly Round-Up

1. Mirren has started “dancing” and “singing”, which amounts to her turning in circles over and over and over again while babbling in a vaguely melodic way. Cute level: OFF THE CHARTS.

2. I wrote my first short story, maybe ever, but definitely since I’ve been a grownup. It’s not the best thing I’ve written, but I’m fiercely proud of it all the same, because it means I am being a writer, no quotes necessary.

3. Davey just rolled out of a deep weekend sleep, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Mom, can you teach me how to make food today? Like lunch and dinner? Because I want to make food for you.”

4. Love is: telling your husband you’re leaning over the counter into the mirror with tweezers because you have three little wicked witch hairs growing out of your chin (I am THIRTY-FIVE, face, what are you DOING.) Love is: him offering to do it for you. Love is: feeling free to tell him just exactly how unsexy that would be.

5. Molly will be 14 this summer, and Sam will be 13. I’m having to get up at 2 or 3 a.m. most nights now to let one or both of them out because they can’t wait til morning. It takes Molly so long to get down the stairs. Ugh, mortality, you’re an asshole.

6. Cleaned out my closet and all my drawers. Working on getting down to only 40 pieces. I’m only off by about 15-20 so I’ll be doing round two soon. It felt pretty fantastic seeing the to-go pile piling up higher and higher.

7. Survived an extra two days of Christmas break thanks to the coldest temperatures in a couple of decades. The south cannot handle -10 windchills, global warming, just FYI.

8. Finished a collection of Shirley Jackson short stories and was wildly inspired. Finished Burial Rites and was depressed for days. Started The Story of Eve and The Diviners by Libba Bray — pretty meh on it so far, but I’m hoping it picks up. Got Divergent, because apparently dystopian YA is my kryptonite.

9. After a week of a return to clean eating, last night I made snickerdoodle cupcakes with cinnamon buttercream frosting, and ate two. Verdict: sugar hates me so much but DAMN IT it’s delicious.

10. Mirren has new words: please (peas), move (moof!), elbow, and all food is “yummy yummies.” She also adds a random “s” to things — I am now constantly referred to as “mommies.”

Glossolalia (Or: The First Short Story Of My Adult Life.)

“Now, Doctor,” Kelly Ann began, nervously picking at a crack in the leather sofa, “I don’t know how you expect me to remember that far back.” She stared around the room, refusing to meet his eyes. It was a bad habit of hers, but she could hardly stand to really look at people when she was talking to them – it left her with a swooping in her stomach, a sensation of free-falling. “I’d really like you to try,” Doctor Adams said, in that gentle sort of way certain doctors have, a honeying of the words that sweetens the blow. He was a fireplug of a man, his kind face cratered like the surface of the moon by old acne scars, and he had a terrible tendency to wear too much cologne, but Kelly Ann liked him. She didn’t like many people.

“Well, it’s just that I’ve told you how awful my memory is. Swiss cheese. Half my life is just…smoke. Smoke in my mind. Nothing I can catch. So, I don’t see how…..” She frowned. She hated having to explain this, having to explain herself. “I know you think those years mean something, but I…” She flapped her hand dismissively, and rolled her eyes. She didn’t put a lot of stock in the meaning of things: dreams, omens, superstitions. Memories. Her world was as clear-cut as a diamond chip, all sharp angles and harsh reflection; she considered herself both practical and present, no wooly symbolism weighing her down like wet clothes underwater. She existed in the here and now, and no matter much she liked Doctor Adams, she resented this intrusion.

“Listen, Kelly Ann. We’ve made a lot of progress, haven’t we?” She reluctantly nodded. “And you’ve come to trust me, haven’t you?” She nodded again. “Okay. Then trust me on this. You don’t need to go too deep. I just want you to try to get there. Just open the door. Alright?” She continued to look at the crack she was picking at with fingers that didn’t know what else to do, eyes on her lap, contemplating. She really did like Doctor Adams. She guessed it wouldn’t hurt much to try, if for no other reason than him asking. The air hung close around her head, the scent of lemon and moss so thick she could feel it on her tongue. She sighed. “Fine. Fine. I’ll try it, but I’m telling you now this will never work. Swiss cheese, Doctor. Swiss cheese.” She glanced up to find him smiling at her.

“Excellent. Let’s begin.”

The pocket watch was old, probably his father’s or grandfather’s. It swung in a slow arc in front of her eyes, back and forth, back and forth, a steady swiiiiiiiish that made her ears feel sleepy. There was a vertical slash of late afternoon sunlight coming in through the blinds, and the mottled bronze glinted in a lazy, soupy way every time it swung back towards the window. She could hear a dove cooing from the ledge, a sweet sound that always made her think of home, of old blacktop cracked open, of water towers turning golden in the last light of day. It had been a long time since she’d been home. Christmas, five years ago, a family dinner that self-destructed before dessert was served; she had barely spoken to any of them since then, the words still stuck under her skin, burning like the alcohol they’d been drenched in when they’d spit them from their mouths. “Close your eyes, Kelly Ann,” Doctor Adams was saying, in that slow honey way, “Close your eyes, and relax. Catch the first memory that comes to you, hold on to it, feel it in your hand. Look down at it…..what do you see?”

At first, she saw nothing but the black night of the backs of her eyelids, broken up here and there by a fuzzy orange from the fluorescent light hanging over her head. She could hear the doctor’s voice, but it sounded small, as though he was whispering to her through walls,“Can you tell me what you see, what’s in your hand?” In her mind’s eye, she summoned an image of her hand, floating through the space in front of her. “Oh!” A weak exclamation, she didn’t even know if she’d spoken out loud, but the fluttering she felt in her palm had surprised her. Still in that nowhere-land of half-consciousness, she opened her hand and looked down. A tiny slip of paper lay there, moving like a butterfly wing propelled by a puff of breath. She squinted and could just make out the words imprinted on it: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. Acts 11:15.”

“Kelly Ann? Do you see anything? What can you see?” She struggled to speak – her mouth felt full of mothballs, endlessly dry and cottony. “I see something,” she thought she managed that much. “I see…”

my hands folded on my lap, on top of a small illustrated copy of the New Testament. The inside cover welcomes me to Bellhaven Assembly of God church, and is signed by Pastor Gary. The chairs are brightly colored plastic and smell like melted crayons; the air conditioner is blasting cold air down on my shoulders, but my legs are still sweaty and stuck to my seat and each other. When Christine had invited me here – earlier today, after swimming, her long blonde hair slightly green from the chlorine, smacking grape bubble gum into large, sticky bubbles – she’d made it sound fun, and I suppose it had been at first, but we’d come to the close of the service, and the very air around us had seemed to change, to grow fat with expectation. Pastor Gary is at the front of the room, standing beside the puppet stage with a line of grown ups; they are all dressed in at least one piece of acid washed denim, and they are all peering at us with the kind of forced gravity adults use when they are working with children but know nothing about the way children actually work. It’s very quiet, and when I shift in my seat, my sticky legs come apart with a loud noise, an inverted kiss that carries around the room.

Pastor Gary clears his throat. He is a large man, and he reminds me of a hungry bear I’d once seen in a magazine; scruffy layers of fat and muscle, long arms ending in angry paws, eyes that turn mean right behind the iris. He is overly friendly and overly familiar and he has a spaghetti stain on his sharply pressed shirt. He hugs every kid that comes in the door. I don’t like him.

He clears his throat again. “Boys and girls,” he begins, “Jesus is in this room with us tonight. I want you to know that. He is in this room because he loves you. He loves you SO MUCH that he died for you. Did you know that?” Twenty small heads nodding up and down. Everyone is so solemn. “Did you ALSO know that he left us a special gift? A way for us to talk to him that only he can understand? A way to pray so that the Devil can’t understand a single word you’re saying?” Some nods, but not nearly as many this time. My left leg starts jumping up and down, a thing I only do when I’m nervous. There’s a lady at the end of the line up front who has beautiful curly brown hair held back by a sparkling sequined headband; when she moves her head a certain way, it catches the lights overhead and spills a rainbow down one side of her face.

“It’s true,” says Pastor Gary, staring at each of us in turn. His eyes land on me like spiders on my skin, and I look away quickly, my heart beating in my throat, my breath knocking the back of my teeth. “Now,” he continues, “I would like each of you to come stand here in the front. We are all here to pray with you, and help you accept this gift, and learn how to use it. Come on now. Come down here to the front.” Obviously, I’m not going to do it. I’m not getting out of this chair, and I dig my sandals into the carpet to prove it to myself. The other children are shuffling up towards the stage in ones and twos, into waiting hands and praying mouths. I’m not going to do it. Then Christine stands up beside me and tugs at my hand, and it’s like the nightmare I’m always having, where I’m falling off the top of a mountain and right before I hit the ground, I startle awake, except this time I’m just going to keep falling.

Christine and I end up standing with the man beside Pastor Gary. He is small and thin and has teeth like a rabbit. I can see a distorted reflection of my face in his thick glasses; his name tag says HELLO MY NAME IS ED. Ed beams down at us, and asks if we’re ready. We both nod, and he takes our hands into his own. He begins to pray in a wheezing sort of whisper, and I close my eyes as tight as I can, remembering the pool this afternoon, the way we pretended to be mermaids, how I held my breath for what felt like forever as the crisscrossed sunshine lay across the water. I try holding my breath now. I’m counting six-one-thousand, seven-one-thousand when I feel a heavy hand on my shoulder. A sharp inhalation cuts off the count, and I drag my eyes up to Pastor Gary’s. He smiles at me and I cross my legs, my bladder suddenly full of a frozen heat. I lower my head; the spaghetti stain is right in front of me. It’s shaped like a half-sunken ship.

Oh, child. Praise Jesus!” He raises his hand and waves two other adults over. “Oh, little girl. We’re so happy you’re here. Christine, what a good girl you are, bringing your friend here tonight. And now both of you can accept this gift of the spirit side by side! How precious that is.” He has one hand on me, and one on Christine. He bows his head and closes his eyes, and all at once, there are hands all over me – Pastor Gary, Ed, a man and a woman I don’t know. A meaty palm cups one shoulder blade, delicate long fingers press into my collarbone, a nondescript hand in the small of my back. Pastor Gary spits when he prays; I can feel it falling on my eyelashes. They’re all speaking in words I can’t understand. I think of the stroke my grandma had in our spare bedroom, the way her eyes rolled around in her head, the way she tried to talk to me and how it only came out in guttural vowels and garbled consonants. I never heard her normal voice again.

Time stops and nothing exists except Christine’s hand in mine, the increasingly loud prayers filling up the small space we stand in, my shrinking breath. I don’t know how long we’ve been there, but one of my feet is beginning to fall asleep. All around us, children are beginning to imitate the strange nothing-language being prayed out into the air above them. I stand so still, my thighs set like concrete. Beside me, Christine stirs, turns her face up, whisper-shouts a string of noises that want to be words. My rib cage begins to turn in on itself. I know what’s expected of me; it hangs in front of my face, indifferent to my passive resistance. I roll my tongue around inside my mouth, wondering what will happen when I loosen my lips. How is this a gift? Once, when I was passing him in the hallway, my brother punched me in the stomach; this is that same sort of surprised disbelief, the wind knocked out of you by the random nature of the thing as much as the blow.

Hands everywhere, prayers everywhere. Everyone has their eyes closed, but I can feel them looking at me. I wish I hadn’t eaten a second piece of pie for dessert. I wish I hadn’t stolen a spritz of my mother’s lilac perfume after my bath. All that sweetness is sweating out of me, sitting on my skin like a lie, like a fever. Pastor Gary drops to one knee in front of me, places an angry paw on my forehead, pushing less gently than he thinks he is. My recoil is stopped short by a body behind me; the room has shrunk down to this, a four person wall closing in on me. I’m a smart girl, I can see the shape of my escape, but I have no idea how to make myself fit through it. I need to be like a cloud in a keyhole, but I feel like I’m at least as big as the moon, and just as immovable. I open my mouth, and I can hear everyone hold their breath in my direction. My hair tingles at the roots, and my lungs are pushing an ocean up into my esophagus; I open my eyes and

Kelly Ann stopped in the first floor restroom before leaving the building. She stood at the sinks and washed her hands with the apple scented soap she carried in her purse; there were no paper towels, so she dried them on her jeans. The lighting was unflattering; when she looked in the mirror, she saw the way her dark eyes stood out in her pale face, stones set in melting snow. She pinched her cheeks for color, and noticed that her hands were shaking only slightly. Outside, an October wind lifted her sweaty hair from her neck, and she stood for a moment in the steady shadow of the awning. She heard the dove again, a soft murmur above her, and she remembered the way her dad could imitate it perfectly, the way she’d sit on his lap and watch how his mouth moved like magic. Beneath the first fall of starlight, she turned towards home.

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