Category: Creative Nonfiction

Snapshot: Vows

Lazy country landscape whizzes by. My pencil scratches, crosses Ts and swirls Ss. These are the vows I will share with my F in one week. In the presence of the people we love, gathered together to celebrate our union.

My heart sings, and my eyes overflow.

A low harmonic murmur buzzes next to me. A monk in turmeric robes is chanting. The reverberation of his voice off the glass is steady and beautiful.

This is what fulfillment feels like.

Release

This piece is my follow-up to “Under Pressure,” featured as a guest post on J.A. Allen’s fabulous blog.


 

A very efficient woman buzzes around me, her motherly gray bangs swaying with every maneuver. “Considering your age, we’re going to perform the scan, as well as an ultrasound.” You’d think she was twittering around the kitchen, baking cookies for her grandkids. Instead, she’s buffing the space-age machine that towers imposingly over us. High technology that cows me into submission. My kaleidoscopic internal world is irrelevant in this sterile, colorless examination room.

I’m standing topless, hands behind my back. A mannequin with foldable, poseable limbs. Expert hands guide the lead apron across my lower body. She manipulates me, tucking my breasts between the plates. The top plate is transparent, and she sends it down with a tap of her foot. My glands, impossibly flat.

No joy, sensuality, life. Still youthful and pert, they haven’t yet known the searching mouth of a suckling baby. They’ve never produced milk, never given life. Under this fluorescent light, they’re no longer fleshly beautiful symbols of my femininity or fertility.  Here, they’re just a piece of meat, in a clinical setting. Like a sample in a petri dish, ready for fastidious, detached scientific observation.

Next room, another machine. Doctor enters. Arms up, supine. The ultrasound wand glides over my sore mountains. He stares at the screen, and I twist my neck up to watch along. He pauses at the sight of each furry black cloud. Two clicks measure them. Glide, click-click.

“You have benign cysts. It’s common, one in three women has them. They may get inflamed and sore, so we’ll keep an eye on them. There is nothing cancerous here.”

He wishes me a good-day, and doesn’t even shake my hand. I suppose it’s not medical protocol to shake a patient’s hand after you’ve prodded about and scrutinized the ins and outs of her funbags.

White coattails flap crisply out the door. I scrape the viscous gel off my chest and dress myself. Strange. Just beyond that door, I’m expected to observe a modicum of physical modesty, yet my rainbow voice can come back. Here, I am reticent in my nudity.

Back into the clean, fluorescent lobby, where I melt into a bucket chair. Vacant. Depleted.

The secretary mispronounces my name, and I answer anyway.

I take my charts, and the smile I give her feels awkwardly distorted.

I step out of the cool white clinic and back into the searing, chartreuse summer air. Breathe deep, hiccup. Sweet tears of relief. My weak protest mantra “I’m too young for this” that had marched so defiantly through my head has dissolved, overtaken by my mother’s insistent wisdom: “Check yourself regularly!”

I’m glad I listened.

Late

I leave the house while the world is still sleeping.

 

Blue dawn is just giving way to cool golden daylight. There’s an unseasonable chill in this midsummer air. Even the sheep are still huddled together, snuggling among the low tree branches on their hill. Arriving at the station, I see one other lonely soul waiting on the deserted platform. The orange LED timetable display is blank, dormant.

Shuttered houses snooze, while the first birds are swooping and cackling above our heads.

I wait for the tinny tell-tale vibration of the tracks that signal the train’s arrival. Birds cheep, cars rev into second gear, plastic trash bags rustle. No vibration, no train. The sky darkens, cool air licks up my spine and blows away my grogginess, giving way to worry.

 

I’ve been pacing, while the minute hand has sliced through half a revolution. A husky wheeze of a bus engine signals behind me. A rosy-faced motherly woman commands the immense steering wheel, and waves me over. Climbing aboard, rosy perfume mingles with the fatigued, stale odor of bus seats who’ve seen better days.

There’s always one passenger who’s got to make friends with the driver; today, it’s a woman who looks just like her, short and plump with hair to match. Her rough smoker’s laugh matches the wheeze of the bus engine, periodically firing off as we gallivant through the countryside.

Bus bounces through impossibly narrow country roads, past steep green hills of grapevines that make way for flat horizons of corn fields. Detours take us through isolated roads, until we reach the point of no return: a road barely large enough for a horse and buggy. A Herculean effort is necessary for our valiant driver to back on up out, and eventually we find the main road.

The passenger next to me is glued to his smartphone. I recognize him as a train employee, on his way to work like the rest of us. His globby fingers daintily poke at the touchscreen, and he’s still wearing yesterday’s 5-o’clock shadow. I keep sneaking glances at him, just another guy on the Saturday morning bus. He seems so much smaller than the man whose gaze I avoid while he suspiciously scrutinizes my train pass.

 

The bus finally hauls its tired mass into the station. I left home nearly 2 hours ago. My legs are a blur, propelling me through the familiar streets rendered foreign in Saturday morning light.

The streets are dingier in the gray light. I pass by a man, roughened and beaten down by life, shuffling stiffly along, hollow mouth agape, framed by a dirty beard and long-neglected hair. The sight of him inspires disgust, then hot shame.

Past the post office, whose sidewalk reeks permanently of urine, sprinkled with crumbles of doubtful origin… Are there THAT many large dogs left to freely defecate on this same sidewalk? Doubtful.

A man strolls along, engrossed in the glow of his smartphone, which emanates suspiciously pornographic sounds.

Just before arriving at work, I catch a whiff of shair. Why is that rank-ass smell following me today?

Rip the door open at work, and there’s nobody but my coworker chirping, “Good morning! Your student called and said she’s gonna be late for class…”

I crouch into a squat and collapse into laughter. Sweet relief mixes with exhaustion and sudden buoyancy. Everything’s okay, and I can finally take a moment to laugh at the thoroughly bizarre start to my day.

Like Them

Just me and F, cruising down the highway. Car full of music, snacks, and overnight bags; my socked feet rest on the dashboard.

I’m spying on the families in neighboring cars, making fun of them all.

Identical families in identical vehicles running off to identical rental properties to have identical vacations. Dads with polo shirts and reflective sunglasses driving the family vehicle, while Mom rides shotgun, staring hypnotically ahead at the infinite road stripes. Uninterested kids melting from boredom in the backseat. An occasional disgruntled mother-in-law is sandwiched between her mouthbreathing grandkids in the backseat, boring a hole into the back of her disappointment of a son-in-law’s skull with her iron gaze. A family’s worth of bicycles jimmy-rigged to the back of the vehicle, impeding their rear view.

Cutting off drivers on the highway to hurry to some banal destination, just to eat overpriced rubbery seafood and subpar waffles, and sit on a lackluster beach while your kids lament about missing their carbon-copy friends. Take a few washed-out, blurry photos that end up sitting in a shoebox to collect dust until after the funeral.

In other words, livin’ the middle class dream.

I wonder.

“Are we gonna be like that someday?”

His right hand moves from the wheel to my knee and tenderly squeezes, eyes straight ahead. “Maybe.” Suddenly, a clueless errant driver weaves into our lane. F’s face hardens as he grips the wheel and hits the brakes to avoid them, all while muttering uncouth things in French. (Roughly translated, it’d be something like: “These unfortunate gentlemen are ill-informed about the art of driving; ’tis an act better left to those more capable of doing it.”)

I make a silly face at the driver as we pass them by, and I burst into laughter at their confused expression.

No, we’ll never be like them…

+

We arrive at Scampi, our friends’ home near the beach. When we pull up to the house, we’re greeted by Mama and Papa, holding bright-eyed Baby 3. Babies 1 and 2 run outside to greet us, in a dust storm of blonde hair, blue eyes, joyous shrieks, and general excitement at receiving visitors. Papa is happy to see F, to increase the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio in the house, and Mama is happy to chitchat with me in English. Fresh beverages fizz and glasses clink to herald our arrival. We catch up with our friends while Baby 3 coos and giggles, and Babies 1 and 2 twitter about in a show-and-tell flurry of sparkly princess stickers and bold finger paintings.

Dinnertime approaches, and our tummies growl. The men stride into the backyard to start the fire for our barbecue.

I hold a hand to my empty stomach and look out at F.

Someday, we know there’ll be something more in here.

Nightlight

Still night, heavy air. Windows open, shutters start to vibrate. A lightning storm hurtles in with rapid-fire bursts of daylight, bringing fat raindrops that smack the window frame, just missing their target.

Wide-eyed, I sit on the edge of the bed, stunned by the cacophony of light. Eyes dart east-west, chasing electric cat-tails.

 

Gargantuan bursts of lightning, shaped like the birch trees in the front yard of my childhood home. Jagged, spindly, white-on-black. I huddled under my mom’s handmade quilt while outside, the thunder cracked ferociously. One intense white blanket of light seared the sky, and made you afraid that it would rip itself open. The dread of the rumbling, hellish roar that was to follow. Like a cat’s hiss, a sudden electric scream that shook my bed and rattled my core.

 

But now, the volume’s been turned down. Frenzied white-gray bursts, halos of diffused light dance for me and only me.

This is the deepest part of night, where there is no time. It is eternal, pure and perfect.

Like the timid animal I am, I lay back in bed next to F, stunned into stillness. Our room is a frozen vacuum, illuminated by relentless, pulsing full light. This rhythm lulls me to sleep.

Transfer

Energy, swirling and bubbling, slishing and sloshing, through our bodies. We touch something, which sends a reverberation that radiates outward, to continue its neverending run.

 

Tense energy, swirling, sloshing, through my body. My words touch everyone around me: cold, negative. Eyes and bodies shift, as does something inside me. My inner discomfort has overflowed, and I’ve transferred it to those around me.

Fear, tension, nerves, stress. There’s always something.

Life has showed me that there will always be something. Swirling inside my brain, there will always be some dark shadow that threatens to stands between me and my entourage. I can’t accept that.

I sit down to write. Difficult and uncomfortable at first, it soon feels like I’m scratching a deep internal itch. A soul itch. (Sitch?) The sloshing, watery shadow starts to find equilibrium. Give it some time to flow through my fingertips and transfer onto the screen, in a controlled release of creative energy.

 

A reminder that I shouldn’t stay away for too long.

 

abstract discomfort

abstract discomfort