I’ve been reading a collection of essays titled “Growing Up Poor.” I’ve been reading this book because one, I grew up poor and figured I could relate to some of the essays. Two, I am currently working on an essay about what it is like to grow up poor, and one should read what one writes. And three, the cover was so enticing that I had to buy it. Yes. I judge books by their covers. Le sigh. We all do. Am I talking about just books here? Yes. But also no. We do judge actual books by their covers because for the most part it’s easy to do. Some authors lay it all out there on the cover. Romance novels are my favorite. Not to read, just to look at the covers. Here, let’s look at a few together, shall we?
Boats, and horses, and hairy chests, oh my! That last one is not real, but man oh man do I wish. Colonel Sanders, a drumstick, and a pretty lady, that’s a love triangle I can get behind. And the other ones, well you know the whole plot before you even open the book: Intimate moments in a horse barn, with a hairy-chested dude who you should not want to have intimate moments with because he is:
A. A servant on your father’s farm
B. Your dead husband’s best friend
C. The stranger you met in the Motel 6 hot tub
I used to read romance novels. I did. When I was a teenager I got way into them, like Tina from Bob’s Burgers and Jimmy Pesto’s butt into them. Hormones. Gross. I read mostly V.C. Andrews. You know who I’m talking about, that Flowers in the Attic shit. Your mom thought it was no big deal because it’s most likely just a suspense novel. I mean it’s about kids locked in an attic, what could be romantic about that. #Incest
I’m a little more mature in my reading choices now, though I still judge books by their covers. A brightly colored cover can grab my attention from across a bookstore faster than the Dollanganger brother and sister can make a baby. I’m drawn to bright covers with geometric colors, just as much as the sad ones with a dark hues and an old dog sitting under a willow tree. I guess it’s not so much what the cover says about the book, as much as it is about what the cover says to me. Here are a couple of my current favorite covers (I have not read all of these books quite yet, but the covers make me want to):
I guess maybe I don’t have a book cover “type,” but I certainly let the covers guide me. I have read two books just this year based solely off their covers, and I enjoyed each of them. But maybe I was destined to? Anywhere, these are the two:
And countless more pretty-covered books are waiting on my bookshelf to be read. That’s it then. I judge books by their covers, and I am okay with that.
I used to be afraid of grasshoppers. When I was a kid I refused to walk through tall grass, not because there could be a snake, rather because there could be a family of tiny, quick grasshoppers lurking. I didn’t like the surprise of the grasshopper. I thought grasshoppers would just lay in wait, stalking their victims, waiting for the perfect time to hop up at your arm, or your face, or your shin, then hop away, leaving you paralyzed with fear and possibly some disease that only grasshopper had. Listen, I was a strange kid. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about patience. If you’re a child of the 70s you probably remember the show “Kung Fu” and the Kung Fu Master telling his student, “When you can snatch the pebble from my hand ‘Grasshopper’ it will be time to go.” Of course the eager student wants to snatch it right away. He isn’t patient, so it takes him some time to get it, three or four seasons if my memory serves. I’m not a child of the 70s, but my older sister is and “be patient young grasshopper,” was said around my mom’s house. Recently it’s been playing on repeat around my house too.
For the last couple of years we have lived in this temporary state of being. Never knowing when things will change, how things will change, why things will change, but always sensing a change is coming. You get used to the feeling, and it isn’t that uncommon for us, both coming from families with military members. We have watched our families and friends live this life for some time. The constant moves, shifting communities, changing schools, new jobs, new friends. Jerimiah even did it as a kid. He went to elementary school, middle school, and high school in three different cities. I, on the other hand, was born and raised in Leavenworth. I didn’t leave until I was 22, and even then Jerimiah and I sort of assumed we’d move to Southern Missouri, well, for good. And now here we are, far away from that place and those people, but not yet in our “forever home” and quite sure we won’t be for some time. It’s not for the faint of heart, this kind of living, it’s also not for the less patient of us.
I am very impatient. Have I said this before? I can’t let paint dry, y’all. Like I will fuck up some paint by touching it too many times, leaving fingerprints, having to do it all over again because I wouldn’t just heed the warning, “Let dry for fifteen minutes.” I can’t wait fifteen minutes! My husband can’t buy me birthday presents because I will give him an idea of what I want, then I will go buy it the next day myself because I NEED IT RIGHT NOW! I’m guilty of skipping ahead in books, refusing to go places because the line is too long and there is no way for me to skip it. I have this great idea for a novel, it’s been nagging me and nagging me for a couple of years now but I won’t sit down to write it because I know it will take too long. AHHHHHH!
But here I am. Here we are, getting a dose of patience injected into our lives. It seems like every day for the last couple of weeks someone or something has told me to slow down and be patient. My doctor reminded me that weight loss is a game of patience. My husband reminded me that if you take the time to research, it will be easier in the long run. His boss asked for him to be patient because a transition is coming. He has called me this week and I have had to tell him to be patient. I have called him this week and he has had to remind me to be patient. Patience. Patience. Patience.
I was on a walk yesterday when a grasshopper jumped out of the grass and attacked my shoe. I stopped for a minute, looked down at him. He was small, and shaking. He was sitting on my shoe, holding onto my laces. I remembered the way I would scream and jump around when I was a kid, until the grasshopper would go flying. I smiled remembering. Then I politely asked the grasshopper if he would like a ride, to which he said, “Sure thing lady, let’s hit up Target.” And so we did.
When I was in fifth grade the cool thing to do was hit up the skating rink. I was a horrible skater. Like very, very bad. But I’d been to the skating rink for as long as I could remember. Leavenworth is a small town, only about 45,000 people or so. Which means on the weekends there isn’t much for kids to do. The teenagers worshipped The Wheel Thing which was the name of the local skating rink. Having an older, cool, teenage sister I was privy to TheWheel Thing well before it was appropriate for me to be, and by the time I was in fifth grade I spent every Friday night there with all the other pre-teens and teenagers.
The Wheel Thing opened up shop in 1970, and by 1986 had switched owners to Kay and Ron Beaman, who up until last year were the sole proprietors and the iconic pair who sold you tickets, picked out your skates, and made you a kick-ass Suicide from the soda machine. Ron even sometimes ran the mic for a limbo session in his rainbow suspenders and funny mustache.
I started going skating “by myself” (sans my older sister or mother sitting on one of the carpeted benches watching me) when I was in fifth grade, and I skated through most of middle school there too.
The Wheel Thing had a large half paved, half graveled parking lot. My mom would whip her old 1972 Dodge Cornett into the lot at dusk on Friday nights to drop me off. I would hop out, my head down, hoping no one would see me in that old beater. I’d sling my purple and white skates onto my shoulder, and race toward the double doors.
There was one entrance door and one exit door. Depending on when you got there on Friday evenings, there could either be a line out the entrance door, down the front steps, or just a few kids waiting inside the hot, stinky corridor between the outside doors and the inside doors. There was a small window on one side of the corridor where Kay would sell tickets. I don’t remember how much it was to skate on the weekends, but I do remember that my mom would give me a five dollar bill and that covered both my entrance, my speed skate rental (if I got really crazy and wanted to upgrade) and usually one soda for the whole night. Afterward I had to reuse the cup at the water fountain.
The corridor was the worse part of The Wheel Thing. If the line was long you had to wait in that small, smelly area, its carpet reeking with teenage sweat and dirty socks. A smell that only a skating rink offers. Not to mention the fact that the second set of doors were not glass, which meant you had no idea how many people were there, if your friends had made it yet, or if your crush had showed up. You had to wait, your skate laces digging into your shoulder, in that stinky, little room, wondering about all the fun that was going on inside. You could hear the muffled music. You could catch a glimpse of neon light under the cracks of the door, but it wasn’t until your turn to pay at the window, when you could crane your neck around to see who was in there. Usually I would spot my friend Melody, who seemed to live at The Wheel Thing, and my heart would jump up into my chest with relief.
The next few hours were always a blur. There would be couples skate, where you would hope a boy asked you to hold holds and slowly skate around the oval rink, your sweaty hands entwined, while older, much better skaters would skate like they were dancing, the boy even skating backwards. Then there was limbo, which always made me fall by the third round. There was that game where the cute DJ brought out the giant fuzzy dice and rolled them and you had to stand on a number until your number was rolled and you were eliminated. You always wanted to win that one because you got a free song dedication and a suicide at the snack bar!
On one of my birthdays, maybe my 12th or 13th, my friends told the cute DJ it was my birthday. For birthdays they would make all of you go out into the center of the rink and the whole place would sing happy birthday to you. They would scream it. I remember standing in the middle of a bunch of sweaty Virgos, my face red from sweat and embarrassment, my fingers pushed into my ears, and a smile across my face. It was the worst day ever, but also the best day ever.
As we got older, boys became more involved with our trips to The Wheel Thing. We would plan our outings with them at school, but not tell our mothers, who probably knew about our plans anyway. It was a way to “date” before you could actually “date.” To be fair, I did the least amount of Wheel Thing dating, I mainly just watched my friends run into the dark corners with their boyfriends and steal kisses. I was usually the look-out, until the one night I wasn’t. I was so nervous the whole time. My boyfriend and I snuck into the back corner, between two pinball machines. He was just as nervous as I was. It was a quick kiss, just to say we had done it, then I worried for hours whether or not I would have to marry him. I didn’t like him all that much.
At the end of the evening, one of the parent’s would pick us up. Usually Melody’s mom, in her Trans Am with the cool t-tops. We would pile into the backseat, our skates jammed at our feet on the floorboard, too many young, sweaty girls in the back. Melody’s mom would jam music, and we would hold our hands and arms out the open windows so the wind could blow our sweat, and our sins, away.
RIP The Wheel Thing, you are in a lot of fond memories.
We’re fans of cemeteries. Maybe that’s odd, probably that’s odd, but we don’t mind being odd. We enjoy strolling through the grassy slopes, reading the names, honoring the deceased. We all have our thing. Jackson likes to look for the “cool” statues and the “cool” people buried there, he’s also always on the hunt for a ghost wandering the grounds (he’s read too much Harry Potter and is expecting a Nearly-Headless Nick). Jerimiah and I like the architecture. We like the mausoleums and the crypts. I secretly like to wonder about the people buried in them. I read a name and envision their story, their life, that’s the writer in me. I wonder about the people who still come to visit their lost loves, that’s the empath in me. Or maybe it’s the romantic in me. Either way, I hope people come to visit their lost loves.
We’ve visited a couple of really unique cemeteries in the last few years. We were accidentally locked in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va for a few minutes, when we stopped for the scenic views and to pay our respects to Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler. Luckily the man closing the gates came back.
At Arlington we talked with Jackson about generals and presidents. About politicians and war heroes. We stood at the Eternal Flame and let him take it all in, even though we know it is way above his head. For now.
We visited St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans this summer. We walked along the catacombs, and admired the restorations. We met some locals who told us how tourists tend to disrespect their hallowed grounds. We apologized on behalf of those people, though there is no way to make amends.
Life has settled back into a routine around here over the last couple of weeks, so we have finally started to explore our new-to-us city, Atlanta. So it should be no surprise a cemetery was on our list of places to see. This time it was Westview Cemetery.
Westview is the largest cemetery in the southeast United States and it’s about 20 minutes from our house. It is home to war heroes, confederate generals, rappers, politicians, ministers, and businessmen. The founder of Coca-Cola, Asa Candler, is buried there and Jackson was very interested in visiting his memorial. I think he was secretly hoping it was shaped like a giant bottle of Coke (spoiler: it is not).
Along with Westview being the largest cemetery in the Southeast (600 acres, over 100,000 people buried there), it also has a couple other unique characteristics. For one, the Civil War Battle of Ezra Church happened on that land in 1864. Twenty years later the cemetery was opened after Oakland Cemetery, the more famous of the two, filled up. Then there’s the four structures at the cemetery. There’s a Confederate Memorial, a Water Tower (which is often mistaken for a Civil War-era look-out tower, or the place where Rapunzel let down her hair), a Receiving Tomb (which housed excess bodies during the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918), and lastly, the stunning Westview Abby, which is home to a chapel and a mausoleum. Westview Abby was built in 1943 and houses 11,444 entombments. It is the largest structure of its kind ever built under one roof, and it is a sight to behold.
The day we wandered into the cemetery a storm was just about to blow through Atlanta. In fact, it started right as we were leaving and it ended up being quite a storm, sending lightening down in many spots. Several people were injured at the PGA Tour Championship just a few miles down the road, when a tree was struck by lightening, and some lost power in their homes for a better part of the day. But it didn’t rain while we were there, which means I was able to snap some pictures, and I’m sharing them here with you today. If you ever get the chance to visit Atlanta, make sure to stop by and pay your respects. And if cemeteries are not your thing, that’s okay. But remember, you might end up in one someday, so maybe start checking them out. 🙂
I had my annual exam this morning with my new doctor in Atlanta. There wouldn’t normally be much to report, it’s usually the same old song and dance. I need to lose weight. Get my medication right. But today I met my new NP, and things were different. She’s sweet, and young, and resourceful. She’s an immigrant, who left Iran ten years ago with her brother to escape religious persecution. She was raised in the Bahá’í Faith. It’s a more progressive sect of Islam. Women are viewed as equals in her religion, but still not in Iran. In Iran she was treated poorly because of her religion. She was not allowed to go to college. Her parents could not own a business, or work for the government, schools, etc. they can only work for private companies. The ones that will hire them. Her life was hard growing up, and if it weren’t for her opportunity to come here, she isn’t sure where she would be.
She didn’t just offer up this information about herself, of course. She just asked a normal “doctor” question.
NP: How many pregnancies?
NP: How many children?
This is when the doctor usually says she’s sorry for my loss. She may ask what happened, depending on what I’m there for, she may not. Today my sweet, young, Farsi-speaking NP simply said, “Tell me about your baby.”
What came next was a ten-minute conversation about how abortion, especially ones like mine, where the baby isn’t viable, are totally okay in Iran. In most of that part of the world. That this stigma here in the US, we did that to ourselves, and she thinks it’s nuts. “No one,” she told me, “No one in Iran would have expected you to carry your daughter to full-term. You’d seem crazy to them if you did that.” She went on to tell me a bit about her life and religion. She told me she thinks the powers that be in her new country, our country, use the issue of abortion to hide what they are actually doing. It’s all a game with them. They don’t see the women.
It’s weird, and a little funny how things happen. I forget that sometimes. I’ve been torturing myself all week. A wreck with guilt, as I am every year around this time, for something that I just shouldn’t have guilt about.
I was reminded of this today. I was reminded by someone who didn’t need to know my why, or my how, or my when. She just needed to see the struggle in my eyes. She put her hand on my shoulder as I struggled to sit upright, my open gown covering nothing of my upper body, my breasts hanging out all over the place, and she said, “Look at me.” I looked at her. “I would have done the same thing you did. You’re strong. Strong to know the toll that would take on you. Strong mentally to know what was best for you and to do it.” Then she took my hand and helped me sit straight up. Helped me close up the front of my gown. Helped me straighten my crown.
There’s good out there, y’all. Everyday, everywhere. And it comes to you when you need it.
Yesterday is over. I wait all year to get through the month of August, and though I still technically have a few more days left, the month is over for me. If I can get through my daughter’s birthday, well then, I can get through anything. She would have been eight years old yesterday. We would have had a party. Who knows what kind. Maybe a Minecraft party, thrown with her big brother as the host. Maybe a retro party like Jackson had last year, full of clowns, and bright colors, and a bounce house. Maybe she would have wanted a Disney princess party, or a Toy Story party, maybe she would have loved a llama party like her mommy. I think about these things.
Of course any of those parties would hinge on the fact that she would have had to be born. And then she would have had to be born “normal,” nor “abnormal” like it was written on all the paperwork. She would have had to shaken off that extra chromosome somehow. She would have had to be a totally different daughter. The one I imagined in my head, not the one she actually was.
I’m not losing it, don’t worry. I’m just letting you into my brain on the day after the eighth anniversary of losing my daughter. I cried in my therapist’s office last week. I told her that I have been having panic attacks in the middle of the night. I told her that I’ve been waking up thinking about death. Existential dread, sure, but so much more. She assured me that it was okay, and in fact normal, for eight years later to have this happen. It will also be normal in 20 years. And in 30 years. Because grief doesn’t stop just because you want it to. You can’t will it away.
I cried for the better part of an hour, while my husband held me yesterday afternoon. My people texted me. Thinking about you. With hearts and hugs. I’m here if you want to talk. I appreciate it all. I appreciate the love and support you give to us, but I am also sorry. Sorry that you have to send that text. Sorry if you feel like I talk about her more than I should. We all have our ways I guess, this is mine. I say her name, I tell her story, I educate people when I can. And I have learned that’s okay. But on August 25th I sort of just shut down. And I’m slowly learning that’s okay too.
The day after yesterday is better. Brighter. More possibilities lie ahead. So thanks to those who helped me get through, especially Jerimiah, Jackson, and Duke. Three outta four ain’t bad.
When I was in high school my mom and I moved into an apartment complex with townhouses. This was the biggest, nicest place we had ever lived in, and it was near the high school and near my mom’s work. It had three levels, including an unfinished basement for storage and laundry. The kitchen, living room, and a bathroom were on the main floor, and there were three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. All the bedrooms were roughly the same size, so my mom took a room on one end of the hall and gave me the room on the other end, next to the bathroom. I don’t remember what was in the middle bedroom. It’s possible it was home to my mom’s small china hutch, the one that houses relics from years past. It’s possible it had a dresser for extra clothes, or maybe my mom’s old green rocking chair. I don’t think it had an extra bed. I don’t think we ever had a bed we would consider “extra.”
I might not remember too much about the second bedroom, but I do remember quite a bit about that townhouse, and the years I lived there. I remember the night someone threw a brick into our neighbor’s glass window and stole a bunch of money from him while he slept upstairs. I remember the way the apartment complex gave way to a trailer park, the “good” trailer park. I remember that when the grass got cut the maintenance men did it so fast, that they missed large portions of it. I remember the rollings hills in between the rows of houses. I remember the playground. The basketball court. The laundry room. The dark, poop brown of the cabinets. I remember the small slab of concrete off the back sliding door where we kept an old, unused grill. I remember the constant feeling of being pressed down, while we lived there. What felt like the inability to catch my breath. The thought that this was it. This was as nice as my life was going to get. The concern that I was in this cycle of poverty, and there was no way out.
It’s a nasty feeling, feeling like you are stuck in a place that you don’t want to be. I would take evening walks around the apartment complex, sometimes down through the trailer park and envision what my life might be. Would I live in a trailer one day? Was it bad to live in one? Some of them looked nice. They had fenced yards, and little pop-up pools. Some had add-ons and car ports. Was this my next step? Did I get married, buy a trailer, have a couple of kids, and work my 40 hours a week, while I watched my husband drink beer with the other men in the trailer park on Sunday afternoons? It all seemed too sad. Too real. Much too real.
I remember walking on the other side of the street one day. There was a subdivision on that side that I had never been through before. The street that separated us was a busy five lane road that ran from one side of town, where the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing met, to the other side of town, ending at the Federal Prison. It wasn’t too hopeful for a sad teenage girl, my hometown. The thing I noticed first about this subdivision, was that unlike my apartment complex, they had a wooden privacy fence running the length of their property, shielding their quiet backyards, and their precious children, from the traffic that clogged up that street.
The more I walked, the more I noticed about the people who lived there. Two car garages meant two parents. Two parents meant more income. More income meant treehouses, and soccer teams, and trips to Florida in the summertime, all things I had no idea about. I pieced together what I knew about my friends’ families. The nice houses they had, the way their mother’s were home all day with stews in crockpots, and at the dinner table at night helping with homework. During this time my mother had developed a gambling addiction, and spent most of her evenings at the casinos in Kansas City. So had my sisters and a few close friends. I was alone a lot of the time, but that was okay by me. It gave me time to dream of my leaving. That was the running joke as a teenager in Leavenworth. Wasn’t Leavenworth really just Worth Leavin’?
I’ve come to see that as a critical point in my life. My walking, my meandering around my hometown. Wondering what would happen to me if I left, more importantly, what would happen to me if I stayed. I knew then, on the day that I walked through that subdivision, that I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
Sometimes I get sad when I think back to the choices I made. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I stayed. Sometimes I wish I could help other people leave. Sometimes I just want to tell that younger Missy that it is all okay. That she is different, and a little weird, and yeah, maybe she doesn’t belong there, or anywhere, but that it will all make sense. One day.