I have a question, so I raise my hand. Because there is no one else around, I put my hand down before I can receive an answer. But, I did have time to ask the question. So, from where will the answer to this question come?
I look left and see a field. To the right is a forest, but I can’t see very far in, because the trees are in the way. The road that stretches before my tires is gravel, but I don’t have time to slow. Top down, warm wind blowing through my hair—yeah, whatever… All the freedom of the open road sandwiched between two backgrounds.
Of course screaming does no good, but it feels invigorating to empty the lungs, refill them and press them out again. Medulla-oblongata parallel with the roof of my mouth. At least the annoying echo of the noise streaming into my ears and rattling around before piercing the drum lets me know that I can still feel something. And that thought alone is at least a constellation.
When I finally get there, everyone is there. Not just everyone, but everyone and there mother. Let me tell you she is one big mother. She has to be in order to have birthed all of them, and me besides. Her belly is very round. She notices me looking at it. “Everything is circular,” she says.
They thanked me, which took a long time, because though they would have liked to speak all at once, I know they secretly didn’t think I could handle it—maybe rightfully so.
As I walk towards the podium my heart starts pounding. My forehead perspires. My face reddens. The lights on the stage pour all around me, culminating on my red sweat drenched face.
To lighten the mood, someone yells from the crowd, “Show us your tits.” But I decline. It would be delightful, although there are much more important things at hand.
Many times there is a point in a dream when I realize, that I am, in fact, dreaming.
I ask the audience to close their eyes. “But only if you feel comfortable about it,” I add. Most of them do. I ask them to, “imagine that it is them who are dreaming.” “Relax,” I say, wondering whether my nervousness will project out and hinder their ability to effectively relax. Luckily, at least some of them are trusting. “Imagine that every time I say, me, it is you that is me.” Whenever I say I, it is you that is I. Completely forget about fact that I am a twelve year old black girl, and that you are you, who you are.”
Now this one is just for practice… Close your eyes. Take a deep breath of enlivening air. Keep those eyes closed now, no cheating. Stand up. Raise your left hand above your head. Pause. Now look around. Pause. Ok now sit. And open your eyes.
Now we will begin. Close your eyes, take a deep breath of enlivening air…let it out….stand up…..
I have a question, so I raise my hand. Because there is no one else around, I put my hand down before I can receive an answer.
One of the most uncomfortable parts of owning a dog is cleaning up after it. I think he shits out more than his body takes in. I fill his food dish twice a day and it seems like he could fill it three or four times with what comes out of him.
My landlord, Mark, came over to mow the lawn and didn’t like what he saw. I seriously clean up after Kip every couple of days, but he shits everywhere. Mark thinks I should clean up after Kip every time he goes out. I just don’t have that kind of time. Besides that, the stuff is pretty soft when it is still steaming—it’s better to let it cool off for a little while before picking it up, if you have the option.
Mark told me that if this continues to be a problem I will have to get rid of the dog. That’s fucked up, I’m twenty-eight years old and I’ve got a guy telling me he’s going to take my dog away if I don’t pick up after it. Seriously, am I doing something wrong in my life? Shouldn’t I be past that point? Having somebody make me get rid of my dog because it shit in my yard would be one of the most embarrassing things I could ever imagine.
The stuff stinks. In order to pick it up you’ve got to get close to it. I bought this picker-upper, with an extended handle, but it broke the second time I used it.
Walks are the worst. I usually shove a plastic bag in my back pocket before I head out. The plastic bags you get at the grocery store seem to work pretty well.
“Why in the world are you touching that?” Kip’s eyes seem to say, as I place the inside-out bag over top of the steaming, squishy pile. It’s almost inevitable that just as I start to pick up the mess, a squirrel will cross the sidewalk ahead, and Kip will jerk at the end of his chain, knocking me off balance.
Driving by, people stare with morbid curiosity. I want to flip them off. I feel vulnerable—like it was me that nestled into a squatting position and shit in the grass strip that divides the sidewalk from the road.
When he’s done I have to carry the bag. I’ve found that in my neighborhood, alleyways are the best places to find garbage cans. Along our daily walking routs I have found a variety of trusty trash cans—cans I can always count on to be out. In my head I have a mental map of these cans, so I can quickly and easily dispose of each incident in a timely and efficient manner.
It just feels so unnatural. Sometimes I will glance around to see if anyone is looking, and if Kip finishes before I see anybody I’ll start walking as fast as I can, turning at thenext streetcorner, or ducking into the next alley. I ease my guilty conscience by telling myself that everyone who owns a dog must do this every now and again.
Kip is acting like he has to go, so I let him take his time and sniff out the perfect spot. While he’s sniffing I realize that I have forgotten to bring a bag. Bag or no, he finds a prime location and settles in for the drop—right next to a support beam holding up a car port—about ten feet from the sidewalk, just inside an alleyway. Just as he gets that, “oh yeah, here it comes,” look on his face, a car turns the corner onto the side street we happen to be on. Great, I think now we have an audience. Kip finishes up just as the car comes along side of us.
I don’t have a bag, so my first reaction is to just walk away and hope the driver of the car doesn’t notice. As we start walking, the car pulls into the alley, then into the car port. A man steps out of the PT Cruiser, and immediately walks to the post to inspect the steaming pile.
“Hey! Hey you,” he yells.
I pretend not to notice at first. Kip tries to turn around to bark at the inflamed man.
“Hey asshole. Are you planning on cleaning this mess up?”
Wow, this guy is seriously pissed. But, what am I going to do, scoop it into my hat?
“Get back here,” he barks.
I decide that it would be bad enough dealing with this guy by himself, but I’ve got a dog to worry about too. In a more normal situation I would confront the guy and try to reason with him.
“I’ll be back to clean it up later,” I shout over my shoulder, from a block away.
“You irresponsible asshole,” he shouts, as I hurry my dog down the sidewalk.
Good, Evil and Innocence
God: “Dougy don’t touch the stove, it is very hot it will burn you.”
Not knowing what a burn is, the pain it will cause or the mark it will leave on my soft flesh. I stare mesmerized at the warm orange glow of the stovetop burner, to me it looks soft, and the orange is brilliant. I feel an urge to try and put it in my mouth, but see no means of acquiring the height to facilitate this feat.
Devil: I can however in my best judgment from the added height afforded by my
tippy toes reach up and touch the luminescent orange glowing wonder. By this time (probably no longer than 30 to 45 seconds after I was warned) I had completely dismissed the cautions I had received advising against my new unwitting endeavor. A quick look over my shoulder reveals that my mom is still laboring over the rolling pin. Mental note; after this see what she’s up to, after all she did seem to raise some objection to this earlier, though I can’t seem to remember at the moment what it was.
Tiptoes, reach. Very, Very hard bite. Flash realization. I now know what hot feels like. The burner does not apologize, it is not forgiving.
Presently, the scream of pain shooting into my tiny fingers is quickly translated into the vocal equivalent of two passenger planes colliding in mid air.
Thoughts are now of terrifying intenseness. With no clue of what can be done or how long this will last. I am firmly fastened in this moment, frozen in this state of shock, with no personal knowledge of how to deal with it. So the screaming continues.
Loud shrieking screams. No mournful contemplative wail. More of a high pitched emptying of the lungs in an attempt to drown the pain with noise.
God: “Oh Dougy, what did you do? Shh.., shhh…”
Instinct kicks in and without missing a beat I am swept up in my mom’s arms and under the faucet.
“Oh, my baby you’ll be ok,” my mother, coos softly under my loud screams.
Somehow this soft textured voice seems to over power my own.
“You’ll be ok my baby,” my mother says.
The screaming starts to change from a loud shrill shriek to a heavy breathing blubber.
Her face is almost ready to explode with a deep guilt and soon starts to cry wishing she could absorb the pain.
Devil: But it is my pain. It is an unforgiving pain and the still brightly luminescent
burner offers no apologies.
God: The soothing does work. After a span of time lasting several minutes, a time
as far as I am concerned may have lasted for a large majority of my thus far short life, I am finally starting to believe that this pain may not last forever.
Devil: This feeling of comfort is a feeling I will again suddenly forget next week, when
I finally acquire the peak of the couch, and misjudge my dismount.
The boy was a street kid, probably had some kind of home but his parents didn’t care a whole lot, or maybe he just had one parent at home, and this parent worked a lot, or had some kind of addiction. In any case he was dirty and he was needy. Need, and longing and feeling helpless make people do bad things.
I’m not giving any excuses for the boy’s behavior but I am explaining why she loved this boy. Because he’s just a boy, and boys do things that they shouldn’t, and this boy at least knew when he had been beat. Because he had been beaten before, and she could tell because he gave in and resigned himself to his lot. He knew he had done wrong, and he knew he deserved something. He didn’t know the woman but he knew he was in the custody of someone braver and wiser than he.
The woman was strong in character. She knew the boy, weather he knew it or not. She had seen her brother, and her father and the son who she had lost in him. She saw the innocence that even the boy who at the age of twelve had thought he had lost.
The woman was strong and brave and had spent much time alone on account of it. When someone spends brave time alone they see others and they look in themselves, and if their not hardened by it they grow soft, and her large softness had made her heart grow big. She wasn’t surprised when the boy grabbed for her purse (not as surprised as he was when she grabbed him), not because she had seen him coming, because she had not. She was not surprised because she knew it was coming. She knew one night walking that street that she walked so often that this would happen. At first she was gun shy, even with her wonderful bravery, when she walked down that lonely night street lit up and speckled with night people, she would see out of the corner of her eye this boy. Not this very boy, but this boy. She would tell herself “that boy there is lonely,” and “that boy is needy,” or “that boy is hungry,” and in this way, over time, she had softened herself with her hardness.
This is why when the boy, this very boy came, she was not surprised. She took him in, and she fed him, and she would even find herself at times wanting to keep him, but she knew that she could not. Because when she looked at him she saw her brother, and her father and the son she had lost. Because of all of this she was glad to feed him.
Tony Ahlers’ house is completely gone. Just a little open lot, a house on either side. I remember the kitchen, the bathroom with the old fashion tub, the huge living room and his messy bedroom. Now it’s gone. Kids walking by today on the uneven sidewalk that was such a pain to shovel may not even know that the old green house was once there.
The town seems so small now. By city standards New Lisbon is small, about 1,400 people reside there. When I was a kid walking to school on my child legs from my child vantage point it seemed big, the streets long and vast. Today as I drive threw I feel as though I could get out of my car and stand next to the houses at eye level with the roof tops.
My childhood home is still where it once was, with the addition of new siding on the house and garage. My dad built the garage when I was seven. Most of the wood came from the abandoned house in the lot next door to ours. Walkers Stainless was expanding and tore the old house down leaving the wood for whoever wanted to take it off the lot. I pulled nails from the boards and straightened them on the cement slab poured for the new garage, and my dad put the nails back into the boards to erect the frame of the garage. It is a very nice garage. We moved out of that house and into the country when I was in fifth grade, but the town still felt like it was mine, my home.
I went to kindergarten at New Lisbon Elementary and graduated fromNewLisbonHigh school. There were 45 kids in my graduating class and I shared a kindergarten room with most of them. A person can actually walk from the kindergarten to the high school without leaving the building. It wasn’t always connected, before I was around a new addition connected the elementary to the middle school, when I was in eighth grade they built a long hallway between the middle school and the high school, and added a new cafeteria/gym in the center.
Wrestling practice was in the cafeteria, for track we ran around town (literally) and as children we walked the streets. I have on little feet walked every street in that little town, to and from friend’s houses, to Kwik Trip to get candy after school. Who knows all the reasons a kid may have to walk down a street.
In second grade after a fresh snow we made giant snow balls on the grass play ground after school. I forgot my gloves that day (or maybe I just lost them I can’t remember) and started the twelve blocks home when my hands were getting to cold to play in the snow. At first I ran—my hands so cold they felt like they were on fire. I cut throughSaint Paul’s Catholic Church parking lot and Charlie Purz’s back yard. The main thing I remember is crying the whole last block I wasn’t running anymore at this point I didn’t even have my hands in my pockets I just walked and cried and felt sorry for myself. When I got home my dad ran my hands under lukewarm water.
I learned how to swim at the dam. Above the dam there was a small fenced in beach—swimming lessons were in the morning. A pretty older girl taught me how to dive off the board, ‘if she can do it I can do it.’ The diving board was above the dam and when jumped off it placed you about thirty feet from the spill way. A large raft was tethered about fifty feet from the beach. The older kids swam to the spill way and rode it down even though technically this wasn’t permitted. I think I was seven when a high school kid drowned in the spillway. After that the diving board, the raft and the rope of buoys were taken down and no one was allowed to swim there ever again.
We played in the streets when we snuck out at night. Brian: “Mom, I’m staying at Doug’s.” Brent: “I’m staying at Brian’s.” Jason, Elliot, myself, whoever could convince there parents they were staying somewhere else. Fourteen and fifteen years old we roamed the streets at night.
Cop tag consisted of finding the town cop after curfew, making sure he saw us and when he started chasing we started running. Across parking lots, through front yards out the back, between houses, over fences, hearts pumping, adrenaline flowing, everyone meets back up behind the football field house. Three people are required for street light Super Man. On a long straight street, wait for a car to come your direction from about five blocks down, run into the street, two people push the third person down and pretend to kick him. He is positioned in the path of the oncoming vehicle, but since the situation was set to be seen there isn’t much chance of getting hit. The car stops, the two standing kids run off. The driver has several choices; some shout out the window, some actually get out of the car. “Are you ok?” The driver says. “Yeah,” the person lying in the street says jumping up and running off, “because I’m Street Light Superman!” Once on a particularly dark street a green van stopped and laid on the horn, didn’t even open the window to yell. So I got up, brushed the dirt from myself and walked off the street, shaking my head at the person in the van and wagging my finger ashamedly. At the end of the night when we got tired or cold we would pry the door open on the bus behind the Baptist church, curl up and fall asleep on the bus seats.
When I turned sixteen, and got my drivers license, the nearby countryside became part of our play ground, and the playground of the world expanded from there. As a child New Lisbon was my home, it was all I really knew. I left home two weeks after graduation—my ten year class reunion is this summer.
Carlos Castaneda found that you can never really go home. Tony Ahlers can never really go home. Today driving through it almost didn’t feel like I was there. It felt like a dream or a stolen memory. I didn’t really see the trickle of snow flakes drifting down, I saw a spring day, the sweet warm smell of waking grass, the weight of my backpack bulging with my jacket stuffed inside, looking up to the clouds and the huge sky…walking down that street right over there.