The Power of Naming

gentry

“Sylvia?”

I paused between shelves of brightly packaged herbal teas and redolent coffee beans at my neighborhood grocery.

“How are you? Haven’t seen you in a long time!”

I waited a few seconds. There was no answering voice so I stole a look at the speaker. Ah, yes, a therapist from the agency I had worked for prior to retirement. I came forward with a smile and we chatted a few minutes. Then I corrected the misinformation.

“You know, it’s funny that I’m so often called Sylvia. I tend to answer to it, no matter where I am, like it’s a second name. But my real name is Cynthia.”

The woman frowned, then covered her face with a hand in embarrassment. “I knew that! I think I knew it? But you always seemed like a Sylvia…really, I guess I once heard it wrong from the start and it stuck–sorry!”

“It’s quite alright, Julia, now you know who I really am. It was good to catch up a bit!”

On we went our separate ways as I laughed over what has become a common error.

Another time I was at a restaurant when a man came up and said, “Cindy, right? How’s it going?”

I didn’t recall his name right off. We established the name of another agency as where we’d crossed paths briefly. His name came forward: George.

I didn’t correct him though the name he used is like an off-key measure of music to my ears. I don’t think of it as my name, don’t answer to it. But I knew him less well and he had assigned to me the easiest name he could call up. It was unlikely I would run into him again so on we went.

All of us carry around the experience of our names, the etiological, familial and social histories. We are given our birth names after much thought and discussion by our parents, then we live with the results. (Apple, anyone? Moon Unit? Or a student in my old high school whose last name was Fish and first name was Star? She–a shy, rather timid girl–did not have it easy.) We find that, unless we use our middle name, it often gets dropped altogether–unless our mothers repeatedly had to call us in from the street for dinner: “Cynthia Jane Guenther!” What a mouthful, an old-fashioned (perhaps) and rather inelegant bunch of syllables to enunciate while shouting.

The truth is, I was called Cindy for years. It started at kindergarten, likely, as my family used my given name quite awhile.  Back then teachers didn’t have to be sensitive to such superficialities nor politically correct, so no one asked me if it was okay to shorten my full name to a nickname. It was like an invisible branding, even a literal name tag: I had to wear it and answer to it. I was “Cindy” at school then “Cynthia” at home and finally the two merged into one before I quite realized it.

As it happened, by fifth grade I also was developing a close friendship via church activities. She strangely had the same initials as well as the same first name. I felt a sting of disappointment at first; I didn’t know others with my name in the late fifties. Emphasis was definitely on the “my” in my assessment of this weird coincidence. How did she manage to keep the full name and avoid the ignominy of a nickname? She was taller, granted, with wavy, shiny dark hair and had a perfect smile, fine. She held the apparent right to the greater name while “Cindy” had become firmly attached to my life, at least my public, exterior, more social life.

She told me soon after we hung out more that she also was called our nickname but didn’t want it to become her “official” name. Okay, maybe she had a stronger will. (She did come from more money, which somehow seemed relevant at first.) In any case, it was certain we couldn’t use the same name as we entered seventh grade as best friends. Walking arm and arm down school hallways and sitting in classes together, people had to distinguish us by using the name’s different forms. At least we did look different: I tended toward dark blonde versus her raven haired appearance. I ended up a cheerleader but she did, too. I was known also as a daughter of our public schools’ well-known music program director. My buddy was into perfect grades and school politics; I was a dedicated arts lover and performer. But our school names had taken hold and that was that. I couldn’t easily reclaim “Cynthia”, not in that town.

I tried to change the spelling: “Cyndee”, “Cindie” or “Syndie”  with the last being favored. But it wasn’t accepted on school assignments. It, however, could be used on notes we’d all surreptitiously pass back and forth as if they were top-secret spy communiques. And then it came to me–I could choose any name I wanted and no one would know but my friends! We could all have secret names. I already kept a notebook of names–in the hundreds by then–for poems, stories and plays I loved to write. A few of my girlfriends went along with the idea.

I tried on several for good fit and decided on one so unimaginative I can’t believe I used it: Melodee. I played cello, I sang and danced, so why not, right? My second choice was Brooke (last name added: Hammond) and that persona was the writer who would one day be a roaming reporter or a marvelous novelist. In the meantime, I tried my hand at romantic poetry–oh, those mysterious, elusive boys for whom my heart throbbed but of whom I could not speak aloud. And for some reason I used my own name at the bottom of those pages.

People recreate and even legally change their names with ease these days, but not when I grew up. No one thought that much about it, I doubt, unless the given name was plain loathed. We might use nicknames for fun (one guy I knew was dubbed “Chilla” and another “Snarfy”, who knows why?) but nothing as fancy or exotic as those that crop up in our pop culture-driven society today. It surely has to do with one’s identity, how people desire to be recognized, who they would rather be. How they want to make their mark and be remembered.

Just as we are born into names, they have a different sort of potency as our days end here. Friends and family bring forth, even conjur personalities and memories as the name is stated once more. And if someone is banished from a family or a community, that name is not ever to be spoken again. That person becomes anathema, invisible.

Yes, names are more than a chosen arrangement of letters. They eventually carry who we are unless we alter things, ourselves.

Somewhere along the line I realized my best friends–yes, even the other Cynthia–called me “Cyn.” She and I sometimes even used that same shortened name with one another. (I saw her a few years ago, in a church in Portland (would you believe it, we both had moved here) and we exclaimed, “Cyn!”) My mother hated it when she answered the phone. “You mean Cindy? Yes, I’ll get her.” She would turn to me with hand over receiver and whisper, “That name sounds like ‘sin’ and I don’t like it!”

I didn’t care what she thought. That three-letter name became so powerful to me–the telltale marker of a dear friend, those I trusted and was deeply loyal to, who mattered more in my teens than my family–that even today it will stir a well of emotion. I can hear my first true love’s husky, warm voice saying that name. I remember my best male friend, now passed on, still using the endearment as he visited me one year before he died. I can remember my other best friend who lived a harder life than many while being a true support, calling me up, saying: “Cyn? We need to walk and talk.”

If someone other than closest hometown friends used this name it would feel like an intrusion, as once happened at work when a new guy blithely dropped it in a sentence. Wait a minute, he didn’t even know me so I had to nicely tell him: “My name is just Cynthia, not Cyn, okay?”

After I was done with high school and moved to the Seattle area for a while I found it good timing to take back my birth name. It was the only name strangers or new-found companions would have to call me. No one could confuse me with any other, or at least not often. It was a relief. I had missed it in a profound if unconscious way, with attendant and unexpected feelings. It was as if I was rescuing a large part of myself, once almost forgotten. But I wasn’t sure what to do with it at first. Who was this person after being Cindy or Cyn for so long? It heralded small changes that would help renovate my life over many years. My birth name would be honored and worn with more self-respect and compassion than had occurred in a long while.

“Sylvia” started to show up during my career as a mental health and addictions counselor. The only one I had  known very well was the poet Sylvia Plath, who took her own life long before her genius could come to full fruition. Of course, I knew her only in print and during own poetic ponderings but she made an impact. I wasn’t prepared for being flagged down with such a name as that, yet when it happened more and more, it began to seem reasonable. It had three syllables like my own name. If someone didn’t hear well, it might be mistaken for the actual name. And some people admitted “Cynthia” was “too formal” and they didn’t “feel” it whereas Sylvia seemed, well, accessible. Warmer. I’d shrug it off but some thought of me as reserved, a bit intimidating at times, despite undisputed devotion to my clients. The mistaken name grew on me despite a random thought that some might like to rename me… and I suspect I will continue to answer to it, if no one else does first!

Before sitting down to write today, I looked up my first and second names for more information. I have to admit I’ve always enjoyed the meanings. “Cynthia” is the Latinized form of the Greek Kythia, woman from Kythos. It is additionally a name denoting Artemis, Greek moon goddess. Diana is also associated with it as a huntress of the moon. (As a side note, “Sylvia” is an Italian name of Latin origin meaning “from the woods”. Silvia is the Roman goddess of the moon and forest.)

My  simple middle name, “Jane” was originally a feminization of the male name Johannes. Derived from Hebrew, it means loosely, “gift from God.” That was something I didn’t know until today.

I loved my name even as a youngster without knowing its meanings and it suits me well. Nothing pleases me more than being in the woods or being under a star-beaded sky, basking in the moon’s fine light, both calming and thrilling to behold and sense upon my body, filling the heavens and earth. I sure don’t know how much of a gift from God I have been in others’ lives but this human life is a most sacred treasure. God has and always will be my deepest love. Both sensual and spiritual wonders have informed and energized my life and I am so glad of it.

Oh, yes, I have one more tidbit about the curious place of namings in my life. There was a person of strong heart and intuition who gave me another name in my twenties. Is it a real name, is it even important now? It felt almost celestial in its essence then: three syllables starting with a “C” like my own earth name but sounding as I imagine a little music of the spheres sounds. It felt like one I already knew. At times I still say it in a whisper or hear it in my dreaming. I am happy to have this small gift tucked away. But I can’t tell you, of course–it is a secret and only mine. At least, as far as I may ever know!

 

Posted in Uncategorized, WPLongform, Personal essay, creative nonfiction, non-fiction, prose, memoir | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Little Spy

Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

The haggard man of indiscriminate age slumped over, then lay on the wooden plank seating as he did every morning. He had had his pint already. On a green bench three women who acted as if they were glued together were a newer sight, had taken to coming here with a mangy little dog held tight one wide lap. The other two clutched shopping bags or purses, it was hard to tell which the voluminous objects were.

The girl was there, under the tree. She came and went from Angle Park, a good-sized slice of public space at Hammond and Right. She scrunched up her eyes at passersby; this gave her a mean look though she wasn’t always aware of it. It was part habit born of seeing less clearly than she ought. The other part was because she could be troublesome. And ruled by distrust. Why deny it? She stared at The Triplets, as she called them, and wished they would move on soon. They had dozens of things in those bags, pulled them out and spread them between themselves as if counting treasures. The girl had nothing but what fit into her pockets and a well-used backpack she’d found in a dumpster. The contents were hidden unless there was real need of anything, like the worn toothbrush or a second pair of socks.

Across the street Marlene puffed on a slim cigarette, her one luxury. Perched on the top step of stairs belonging to a crumbling brick apartment complex, the neighborhood’s work and recreation were noted with roving eyes. She worked, not as often as she’d prefer, as a cleaning lady. It was good money if she got four or five jobs in a row. Her ex-boss, her mother’s friend, recommended her for some that were too small for the company so she had gratitude. She put her name and number on bulletin boards and in the weekly rag. Things had slowed, though; rent was due. She had called Sal to see if he could loan her three hundred. He might stop by after nine that night. Or not.

He was a fickle one, that man, but he had a way. They had long ago been school chums. Now he had money and could make things happen. Marlene found him repulsive even as she was mesmerized, that teardrop tatoo on his cheekbone, hands calloused and powerful, words like spun honey spiked with vinegar. In a far better time and place he might have been the mayor, she thought, but he was “Boss” around the neighborhood. She loved to hate him, she smiled to herself, then wondered what he’d demand in return for the loan.

That girl, KZ, was sitting still as some yogi, Marlene thought, as she lit another cigarette from the burning tip of her first. Not even moving, eyes closed, head bowed like she was a saint. Caffeine withdrawal was setting in and if Marlene had five extra bucks she’d get the girl as she sometimes did, tell her to run to the coffee shop for a latte, then give her a few dollars for a tip. That could buy her a cheap burger or a pair of socks.

She lived somewhere around here, Marlene thought, but beneath that thought was a shiver. Where? The girl showed up off and on all day. She was a thug’s messenger, drug runner or thief–or what else? People knew about her but didn’t care to know more–live and let live. Whereas Marlene did think about things like the weather and her flimsy, grungy hoodie or that bad hair, as if she had hacked off the top in a fit of spite. Or that steady silence. She spoke as little as possible: “yeah, naw, dunno.” Didn’t she go to school at all?

“Hey, KZ! Wake up, come here!” she called out as she walked across the street, cigarette dangling from her thin, Solar Pink lips.

KZ didn’t open her eyes. She heard Marlene but didn’t want to be disturbed. She was trying to get somewhere else, to her grandfather’s, to the mountains where they used to visit him, or just to sleep. Could she sleep sitting like this? It had happened once. That would be handy.

Marlene stood over her, breathing as if she’d been running when she had just walked fast. Her lungs felt heavy and noisy; she had to stop smoking. She knew KZ felt her there so tapped hard on her shoulder, then wiped her fingers on navy capris. Looking down onto her spiky head, she thought she saw something move and took a step back.

“I need a coffee. If I get a small, you could get one, too. Or an oatmeal cookie. I only have seven bucks, so it’s a tiny tip or a treat. What say?”

“Can’t go, halfway to Mt. Ferron.”

“That’s a long way,  it’ll take you more than one little yogi sit.”

“Bother The Triplets.”

“Who?”

“The Triplets. Bags full of junk. Over there.” KZ, eyes still closed, pointed in their direction.

“Why would I ask them when I can always get you to go? I don’t know them; they’d take my coffee.”

“They just moved in.” KZ breathed all the way from her tailbone to her chest, then let it go, a slow hiss. “Go.”

“How long will it take you to get to the mountain and back?”

“Ten minutes.” KZ turned her whole body toward the tree and away from the woman.

Marlene sat down in the dappled shade. The alcoholic was sleeping already. The three women were boring, cards in their hands, playing a game where no one seemed to be winning.

“How come you’re always here and alone? Don’t you have nobody?”

KZ’s shoulders didn’t even rise or fall with her breathing. It was possible the kid was a yogi or something, she seemed to know things no one else did, and she could disappear without a trace. It had been four months since she’d arrived. Marlene had been taking groceries up the steps when she had heard a swift movement behind her and planted her feet, dropped her full bag and got ready for a fight. But it was just the girl, her grubby hand out.

“Got a dollar?”

Marlene blinked in the street light glow and tried to assess what else was coming, then dug into her pocket and pulled out a dollar. Then she grabbed a package of donuts and tossed them to the child.

The blazing grin that broke across her grim, pale face erased any ill will Marlene might have had. They had been half-friendly since, but from a distance, without exchange of personal information. Or at least, not much from KZ but a name and a few other less personal comments. Observations, Marlene had come to think of them. About the neighborhood, but also about life. Like the time she said something that shook her up.

Marlene had had a fight out back with Sal over how he treated her, nothing the kid would know about, and afterwards KZ had come up to the porch and stood in front of her.

“That man is a greedy dark dragon; you’re not for him. Let all death-seekers die hard, alone!”

“What are you talking about?” It scared her, such words delivered with the sound of authority, KZ’s voice a wild wind. “I’m no fantasy lover and don’t believe you half the time. I’m just… well, about him, stupid! Go away.”

“You do believe, just wrong things.”

And KZ ran off. The night enveloped her slim, short figure so that she seemed to dissolve into its depths.

The Triplets threw their cards down, then one stuffed them into a bag. They got up, hooked arms and walked to the corner where they waited for a bus. The little dog trotted along. Marlene stretched, fidgeted, ready to get her own coffee. She just hated to walk before she got that charge of energy to all systems.

“Alright.” KZ opened her palm and money was placed there. “And Sal won’t be around tonight.”

“Sal?”

The girl left on a fast, steady jog, dodging a couple of cars as she crossed the street, people honking at her, yelling. Marlene imagined she could run for hours if necessary. Days, even. KZ lived on air and the unreliable decency of others. But not for much longer, she thought. She had to be ten or eleven. She’d had a shaky diet and bad sleep a long time; she could be older or younger than she looked. But she would grow up; she’d be hunted out there. It was enough to ruin Marlene’s entire morning thinking about it.

She did need a good washing even if it wasn’t kind to think it.

It wasn’t the first time Marlene considered all these things but KZ had never entered her apartment. She didn’t think she would, even if she welcomed her with a hot meal in hand. Smart girl. The one time she had brought out a grape jam and peanut butter sandwich for her, everyone in the park was at her for one, too. That lasted a couple of days, then she quit. She didn’t have so much she could always give it away.

“I’m good,” KZ had said and shrugged. “There’s food, just have to know where and when.”

So what did she mean about Sal, anyway? KZ got around; she paid close attention. Her observations had been right, often.

A medium latte came back to her with two cookies.

“Counter guy, Rod? Gave you extra coffee, us another cookie.”

KZ kept one cookie and the dollar, then tucked both into the passed out drunk’s hand.

“Hey, that was for you. And hey, what about Sal?”

“You’ve got a life, right? Ole guy T-Man has a life, too. I got work to do,” she said and took off.

******

It was nine o’clock, it was nine-thirty and then ten, then later than she wanted it to be. Marlene was watching a show on iguanas and desert flowers, things so exotic she almost enjoyed it. Smoking her cigarette after long-delayed noodles with a tuna sandwich made her stomach clench. She checked her cell. No messages. For the tenth time she peered between faded floral curtains into the lonely street, then Angle Park with its amber-lit lanterns. She could see forms moving through the walkways, and when she raised the window a few inches for a wash of night air, she heard strangers talking, rumblings on a cool draft. Maybe they were secret lovers or buddies loose from crummy jobs and on the prowl. More likely they were customers of some kind. It didn’t matter to her as long as they stayed out there.

The park had once been good, a lush green spot among grey, pitted blocks of buildings. That was before rents went up though places decayed. Some were replaced and people moved out. Somehow the park–that whole block–became a stop for foragers and drug users and petty criminals. Marlene was accustomed to it though her mother called once a week to inform her what was for rent in the suburbs. What a joke! She could no more live out there on her earnings! More to the point, she could no more move there after being wedged into this corner than if she was a princess encouraged to move into a tent. You couldn’t change things up like that. Her mother had married better a second time so moved, that was alright for her. Marlene was in a holding pattern with everything, that was all. Right now she needed rent money, not wishes or advice.

A gust carried in a light, high whistle. A pause then another louder one. Marlene put her ear close to the window sash and doused the pole lamp. She moved out of the frame and sneaked a peek outdoors. Nothing looked different; foot traffic was swift, quiet. Another whistle, this time shrill, rising from beneath her window.

“Marlene!”

A spiky top of a head appeared, then KZ’s frowning dark brown eyes.

“Lemme in!”

“Why? You never come in!”

“Gotta talk!”

“Coulda rung the doorbell.” Marlene got up to open the front door.

“Couldn’t. Back door!”

“Alright already!”

Heartbeat upticking, Marlene ran to the back door that opened onto an alley and let KZ in her tiny galley kitchen.

The girl was sweating, face seemed more ruined than usual. Her breath fell out in jagged gasps until Marlene got her a glass of water, then made her sit in the blue painted wooden chair and sip it. Then she saw the line of blood coming from her hand, trickling down her wrist and dripping onto the floor. She examined the long but likely not emergency-type gash, got a damp tea towel, dabbed at it and wrapped it.

KZ breathed more slowly. “Chain link fence. Got caught going over but someone was chasing me and listen–Sal, he’s not coming.”

“So you said. Why are you a mess of nerves and sweat?” She tried to not breathe deeply; KZ had been unwashed a long time and the kitchen was stuffy. She didn’t want to think too hard about Sal but something was bad.

“Sit down, okay?” The girl shook but was firm in tone.

Marlene took the other blue chair and sat. She felt dizzy, as if she had about missed a seat on a moving train, and her shoulder hit the wall.

“He’s gone. G-O-N-E.”

“What? Not true! KZ, stop with the stories!”

KZ’s eyes were open for once. Marlene almost shrank in alarm though they were nice enough, just shy of pretty eyes. Maybe it was the darkness, her being able to see without being readily seen, or maybe she called on her other senses to direct her more. But now those distrustful orbs were round and golden brown in the 60 watt light fixture above Marlene’s kitchen sink.

“They got him.”

“Who got him, what d’ya mean?” She grabbed the tea-toweled hand, released it when KZ winced, then flattened her own hands on the table.

“I dunno, maybe it was cops, undercover. Somebody said so, it was so fast, guns, shouting like when dad was taken, mom shot four times, so much noise everywhere and blood, you can’t believe it’s happening so when Sal was down on the porch like that, face mashed on the floor and then they handcuffed him and guns out, it had to be cops, right, or gangsters, right? And he’ll die or worse—”

“KZ! KZ, KZ, shhh. Breathe, breathe like a yogi, breathe now.”

“–then there were two more guys shooting and I took off because they saw me I was flying you know there was fence back the house and I climbed it hand caught or they’d catch me and then it would it would it wouldn’t it, right? Or if–”

Marlene got up and kneeled before the girl. She grasped her shoulders and shook her gently in slow motion, KZ tumbling forward and backward in her grip, those terrible words ebbing until they were a dribble and all the fear let go and she got quieter so that the room of silence stopped them at one still point, breathless.

The were like that awhile, Marlene and KZ hunched now on the floor, moths beating their perfect wings against her screen door, the alley empty of all but the rats and a few angry fierce cats and a barking dog that cried out in pain eventually just once, and Sal going down for life or forever. It was more than Marlene could bear but she bore it. She held on and KZ held on back until they finally got up and sat on the tattered love seat in the shadow-shrouded living room.

After awhile Marlene reached over and touched KZ’s toweled hand. “Want a hot bath?”

KZ blinked at her as if she now realized who she was, where they were. She looked around. Nodded so imperceptibly that Marlene had to look her in the eye for the okay.

KZ sat on the toilet lid, knees to chin, waited as Marlene turned on steaming water and poured in a cupful of bubbly soap. Then a few clean things were gathered for the girl.

“Soak it all off. I’ll be waiting. We’ll drink sodas and eat cheese and saltines and watch tv. My couch can be yours for now.”

When the door closed, KZ peeled off filthy clothing, then stepped in with each tentative foot. She lowered herself beneath wavelets of sweet frothy water, face turned up to twinkling white Christmas lights that ringed the walls. She wept and wept without a sound and her mind turned sheer blue as mountain skies, her dad and mom and grandfather stepping forward to gather her and hold her, hold her fast.

 

Posted in fiction, prose, short fiction, short stories, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

These Feet, Made for Freedom

DSCN2789

My loose plan was to write something light, bordering on witty or–more often my writerly bent, something laced with references to spiritual experiences, the nearness of God everywhere. About maximum appreciation of life, which tends to claim first priority. That was before I got the foot news.

I am sitting here with the podiatrist’s prescribed plastic and padded boot encasing my sweating, lame left foot. It has two secured straps, a sort of front piece that clamps on the foot and ankle to keep it rigidly stabilized. It feels claustrophobic in there though it has only been two hours. Already those toes nearly have a voice, and it says “Let me out!”

Alas, I am to wear it all the time I am walking in my home or at the grocery–anytime I put weight on my left foot. That means in bed and in the shower I can have a free, naked foot. Otherwise, this goes on for five weeks and then another x-ray and review.

I am a barefoot person. My feet have never liked their toes and high arches, skinny heels and ankles swaddled or bound in leather much less fake leather or cloth. I don’t even like flip-flops. Nothing fits so well as your own skin. Though I do have quite a few shoes stored in the closet, I’ll admit, but they’re leftover from working days and do need to be passed on. And alright, I love my ankle- and knee-high boots. They fit very well and are useful since I have to wear something outdoors to shun the damp chilliness during wintry Oregon deluges. A good leather boot can come close to conforming to one’s lower extremities after a good break-in period. It has flexibility and strength, characteristics I admire. I hope to be wearing such a pair of boots well into my old age when I cannot tromp around barefoot. I want to be wearing them as autumn arrives–if I manage to enable excellent self-repair.

Even socks in chilly weather tend to annoy me. They’re a barrier between skin and fascinating environments the foot examines and treads. Who came up with this accoutrement of footwear? Why don’t they fit snugly as fine gloves fit on hands and digits? Of course, I’m not so foolish as to ignore that protection is at times required in the natural and human made worlds. Especially in unpredictable city life. So I purchase those, too, after much inspection, finding the best cotton warmth, cushion and comfort for the least money, a challenge.

Oh, did I forget to mention I broke some small bone beneath the ball joint of my left big toe? That’s what all my fuss is about. A slightly broken foot.

It started about five or six weeks ago. I was vacuuming around my bed. The vacuum isn’t one of those light and easy machines and I am not a happy vacuumer but I swear I did nothing different that day as I maneuvered about. I did not jam my toe into furniture. I did not fall and nothing slipped onto the bare foot as I worked. I just felt a sharp pain under the big toe. I checked it out. I thought it might be a spider (bare skin and spiders…) as we have many of those lurking in our geography and bites are not so uncommon. It could have been an experience I infrequently have due to taking aspirin for coronary artery disease–tiny burst capillaries that hurt and bruise a couple of days. But I saw nothing. The next day, however, there was selling and pain, a small spot of bruising. I expected it to go away but it lingered.

A trip to my primary care doc resulted in a diagnosis of tendonitis. In the toe area. How that occurred, she didn’t clarify. Apparently this can happen for any number of reasons to active people. What was not great to hear: stop my vigorous walks and no hiking for me for a few weeks. Doctor made a referral to a podiatrist, just in case. There was an X-ray for good measure. It came back negative per my email from the health care system. So I continued to live my busy life, iced twice daily, rested the offended foot a times and believed it got better. There continued to be some swelling and soreness so I tried to behave and not walk much the first 2-3 weeks. I walked a bit more the last couple of weeks, perhaps 20 minutes with slow strides every other day, rather than the 4-5 miles a day as I usually do. No hiking in the summery, fragrant forest. I felt proud of myself for mostly following directions and not whining about it.

The podiatrist appointment wasn’t for another month. When the date rolled around, I nearly cancelled it as the hurt area looked and felt much better. I’d walked lightly (no power walks) recently without much of an after effect. I figured I would get a good bill of health and pay 60 dollars for the privilege of hearing it.

Instead, she pulled up the X-ray after telling me she didn’t think it was tendonitis, at all.

“Right. You have had a fracture. This little bone by the ball of your foot is broken almost in two. Can you see it?”

“What? How can that be? Didn’t the radiologist know how to interpret things correctly? I mean, I have been walking on it all these weeks!”

“Well, this area of the foot structure is unfortunately often misread as some people can be born with…”

I didn’t hear the rest. I had stopped looking at the screen and that narrow, incredibly frail-looking skeleton of my left foot. That terrible line across a small bone under or within my toe–who knew there were so many?

Really, vacuuming the carpet? There had to be a mistake. She kept talking and I tried to focus.

“…it will either heal–you’re saying it is much better so that is a good sign and the swelling is minimal now–or you might need surgery to take out a piece of the bone…”

“What? No.”

I gazed at her face and saw her lips moving but all I could think about was that I would not be walking anywhere, anytime soon. I would not be taking off to enjoy arduous and meditative hikes in the Columbia Gorge or scouting out numerous trails around Oregon and Washington. I would not even be exploring our own semi-famous Forest Park flourishing right in the heart of Portland–all its hidden delights would be unexperienced for the rest of the summer… and maybe beyond?

I would be sitting on my posterior for the rest of August and September doing…what?

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I am not a sitter nor a lolligagging type. I am, for good or ill, charged from the time I get up even if a cranky sleep has failed to be regenerative enough. My husband, more sedentary than I,  urges me to stop: “Take a load off, sit down a few.” I try but tend to pop back up. Only when I write can I make myself sit for a long while without moving a great deal. I find myslef reading when standing, sometimes sitting, my concentration accompanied by twisting, stretching, getting up and down. By midnight I give it all up and hit the bed, finally tired. Then I read or write without much other motion as I drift off.

It’s not that I’m hyper; I don’t feel nervous/anxious/unfocused. I simply love to be in motion. There are plenty of things to do, places to go. Even if it is from the dining room to a back bedroom to gather something. There is such a joy to it, the lifting of limbs, bending and reaching and turning in space. I spontaneously dance, walk for miles, jog a vlock or two, climb hills and embankments. Ice skate. Tai Chi or  a bit of yoga. Flamenco classes. Gym machines and Zumba. I used to get a thrill from water skiing and swimming and look forward to swimming again at a new pool. Sailing was a treat. It’s about working up a small sweat, giving the muscles and all a chance to get up and go, shine some. The body loves to do. When we still lived in houses with big yards, I was the first to grab a rake or spade. I was fine shovelling snow. I tried skateboarding when my son was learning decades ago, then tried it once again not long ago (he has been a pro skater for 20 years). Not with astounding success but still, it was fun. And dirt biking? Let me hop on as I did in my twenties, please.

Gosh, even sitting with pencil and watercolors and sketch pad gets various parts ready to move. What do we do that does not elicit some sort of motion, subtle or pronounced? Our bodies love us back when we give them free rein–or give them orders to do thus and so and it does it well and right. These beautifully designed vehicles to carry around soul and mind become more relaxed, strong and flexible with systems engaged, optimally humming along. We have what we need to thrive, most of us, and malfunctioning parts most often repair and adapt well. We can endure much before the body has the wisdom to quit.

All this activity obviously requires–at least prefers–feet. How we rely upon these jointed, muscled, tendoned appendages every single day!

So I left feeling a bit sad even though it could be much worse. I may have said a bad word and smacked the steering wheel before I revved up the engine and took off. I can and will soon walk and hike in our temperate, rainy winter as always. That is three months away. I surely can do this and be gracious about it, yes? There are so many other things I might have to contend with. It is just another brief pause in life.

The whole summer has been in an elaborate pause, to be honest. Except, my mind and emotions have been whirring away. We  had a scare with a depressed family member that is resolving day by day. Prayers for courage and hope have paid off; prayers for her resilience have gathered steam. I have had the honor of being here daily as she has regained hold of her strengthening center.

Then, of all things, I had a simple dental extraction that became a nightmare. After a month I am finally recovered from a dry socket and an infection that required antibiotics with the attendant negative reactions. I haven’t eaten much for a month–the yogurt and rice, applesauce and bananas are looking less wholesome and more repugnant. Still! I lived through brain-scrambling jaw and face pain and complications. I can manage to take care of a gimpy foot.

And so it has been a time steeped in a haze of needs, some trials, my own self struggling a little. Oddly, I recall telling someone back in the spring that this summer I would need stamina for the coming months.

“Why stamina?” she asked.

“I just have a feeling. My oldest sister just passed, I have had some heart issues again and…well, more stamina would be valuable.”

Yes, and patience, more than I imagined. Yet it has been supplied like life-giving water from a well wide and deep. I have found it between times of tension and worry, within a grateful embrace of each day. And compassion for myself and others. Living within the moment, as they say, works wonders–we do not need to resurrect troubles of the past or try to forecast what is unknown. The one thing that never changes for me is my faith in God, the surety that we are not alone in the wilderness of life, that we are a part of Divine Love no matter what. We can be pushed and pulled, stretched to the limits. And we can manage so much more than we think possible. We just have to trust that we can, then step forward.

Or in my case, sit back, take a deep breath and be still. Surrender.

I have taken that hard, suffocating boot off as I’ve typed. My foot needs fresh air and sunlight; it’s 85 degrees and blue skies! But I will put it back on when I walk. Yes, that is my best intention; God and my angels will help me along as ever. Once again both these feet will be sturdy and happy, may even fly in the right conditions. In the meantime, perhaps more contemplation is in order, and a bit of a gentle rest.

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Posted in creative nonfiction, memoir, non-fiction, Personal essay, prose, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Being Amalia

Photo by Henri Cartier Bresson

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Those words of hers–and they did seem exclusive to her. At times daily, certainly each moment something crossed Amalia’s mind or entered her experience to trigger the familiar proclamation. She would flash her enveloping smile and state “Everything is beautiful! Everything is outrageously, inexplicably beautiful!”

It got so the gang could utter in unison the phrases as soon as we heard her start with “everything”. Not one to ever take offense–“Whoever is the one truly offended?” she’d say, “They’ve been poisoned by vitriol themselves, poor things, to behave so rudely”–she’d just laugh at how we teased her. But how could anyone avoid noting the extent of vivacity ruling this person’s life? It seemed to naturally circulate in her mind and body, a secret ingredient that woke up with her, infusing her being. At night, after she crawled under the covers and turned out the lights, I couldn’t say. She was alone when I first met her. Later, I was not the one who stayed with her. Sam had those moments. But I assumed her sleep at least was just as empty of rancor and carelessness.

The four of us–Yvette, Amalia, Sam and me, Julian–had made a friendship pact at the international school that last year, a sort of “one for all and all for one”, then afterward taken jobs nearby, vowing to never part. It wasn’t so hard to stick together at first. Amalia saw to that with regular phone calls if more than five days had passed with no contact. She penned brief, expressive letters on creamy paper in rich blue script if it had been longer than that, then copied it for all. No one was going to refuse an opportunity to hang out, even when tired or errands and chores had to be put on pause. Not even if there was an appealing something else on the horizon. If at times the other two found her naive and a bit tiresome with her effervescent manner, she remained the pulsating center, the axis of the wheel in our connected lives then. I did not find it hard to be with her but, rather, a relief somehow.

We knew what to expect when we got together at the swan fountain in the center of the city, our meeting place. Amalia was always waiting, as if she didn’t have anything else to do although she probably had the most daunting schedule, helping care for a grandmother who seemed sturdy but losing cognitive skills. Or so the doctor and her parents had said. In any case, we took turns choosing where we’d go and what we’d do. Democratic yet flexible.

“Your Grandmother Poppy may really be going senile,” Sam said.

“I think she’s only choosing her memories with care,” Amalia considered as we walked along the river, “sorting and tossing things out. Who wouldn’t at ninety-one? It’s absurd that society finds old people less appealing as they streamline their thinking and doing. Everyone else is running around gathering information that is thoroughly useless and storing things on vast computers and dying to say everything on their busy minds. Where’s the mystery, my Poppy says? Right here, don’t fool with it! Poppy is not interested in keeping everything, every moment is new. She has thought and said enough, probably. She is entitled to make her own nest without interference. So she must stay home with us.”

“Oh, Amalia, you’re always advocating for her–how she must adore you!” Yvette swung her bulky purse over a shoulder and gave her friend a side hug. “As well she might. You parents would send her away, otherwise. I couldn’t do what you do for them all. I mean, I have my own life.”

“No, father would only keep her in the tiny corner room where she couldn’t say or do anything to complicate their own important matters. But she’s far too wonderful to set aside.”

“I know she’s terrific at word games. She trounced me at Scrabble last month. She’s a good soul, you are correct.” I admitted long ago that Poppy was one of my favorites over the age of sixty. I’d often wished she had met my grandfather before he’d passed and made him smile more.

“Well, she still can speak French better than any of us,” Sam conceded, “and she has a gorgeous granddaughter named Amalia so all else is overlooked!”

Amalia laughed and slipped her arm through his, then mine. Yvette attached herself to my remaining arm. We kept on toward the zoo. Once there, it was as if Amalia had never seen such creatures before though it had been only a few months since the last visit. For me, it was both distressing and fascinating to view them. But for Amalia?

“Those sharks look like sleek race cars, but they’re equally elegant. Dazzling and fast!” she’d say. Or “Can you imagine how tiny yet vast the world is in the eyes of a giraffe? Like a giant playground if only it could take off. I’d like to jump on and see what it is all about.”

We stood in some awe before the leopard cages, most of which hid behind rocks or had gone inside tunneled caves. I found the pretty big cats less intriguing than the elephants.

Amalia crouched to peer into a fake ravine at one languishing. “If I was a leopard I should consider changing coats now and then. Such a marvelous pattern, isn’t it, but it must inspire envy in the lions and wishful women. It might fade to black or white occasionally.”

“What?” Sam asked in mock exasperation, pulling her into an affectionate clinch. “I hope that doesn’t reflect a secret desire for animal skins to cover your body!”

“Gosh, no, I would set it free so no one could gawk or comment on its attire before I’d let it be slaughtered! It’s too marvelous to behold.”

She thereupon hatched a plan to sneak into the zoo and let it out, all the while we noted this would come to no good in the end for the leopard or domestic prey. I slumped on the ground beside her as Sam and Yvette got cold drinks.

“But how beautiful it is! Everything is outrageously, inexplicably beautiful!” she announced and turned to blow a kiss to the leopard, which raised it head to consider.

She and Same had been friends before I came along, but it was clear they were leaning toward more, a look here, a whisper there. By nineteen or so they had become intimate. When she implicated this, we were walking after meeting by chance. I had gotten out of my junior bank teller job and she was going in for a late afternoon shift at a messenger business and had waved at me from a corner. She walked her bike as we cut through a small greenway.

“Sam and I…we crossed the line, did you know? We might be in love…Surprising, yes?”

I did but winced, then affectionately bumped her shoulder with mine.

“I can’t imagine that lug being more than, say, like carry on luggage, someone useful to have around as needed, to toss about and store later. But you already figured that out and went forward, anyway!”

She cocked her head and looked up at me, eyes mischievous, then giggled. “Yes, well, useful is one word. He’s a pretty good one and you know it. Now we’re like you and Yvette. You two are a team so…we might as well remain a frolicking foursome!”

I was irritated with the words, thought it sounded foolish, how she said it–she sounded like a nineteenth century book at times–but it was also something I liked about her. She didn’t care how she sounded to others. She was only herself.

“Yvette… but you must know she’s off to the States, to Boston University next year. We’re comfortable together. But she’s pretty ambitious and not about to wait for me to catch up.” I shuddered dramatically as if this was a frightening insight though it was nothing much to me.

“And you are doing what then?”

I opened my mouth to answer but she was examing a pigeon hopping about. It flew up to drink from a water fountain as a small girl of perhaps five awaited a turn. The summer afternoon found Amalia’s face in an outpouring of sunlight, her hazel eyes lit so amber glowed at green-brown iris edges, her full pink lips embellished with gold. I could hear her breathing in a gentle way, see her chest slowly rise and fall. I followed her eyes and we watched the child reach up to the bird to touch its tail feathers. They ruffled, it turned its eye on her and resumed drinking. The girl was dressed up in frilly white, a dress for a special day. Her light curly hair was tied back in a purple ribbon. That child’s face was cream and roses, and–if you think me absurd I am sorry for you–heaven dwelt there. The whole scene glimmered with it. Sound vanished. Amalia and I reached for each other and when we did nothing was vivified but the bird, the child, the light. And us.

“Everything’s beautiful…outrageously, inexplicably beautiful…” she whispered and I mouthed the words with her.

Amalia turned to me. We stood one step apart. Her eyes reflected feelings I already knew but that she now recognized in me and in herself. I thought I might stop breathing, my  smart leather bag now heavy in hand, my tie unknotted but still too tight, my body leaning toward hers like a ship to a harbor.

“Katrina! Come!” Hands clapping twice.

The child ran back to her mother and the pigeon was long gone, though the fountain flowed with a sweet tinkling sound. More children and adults and birds came and went as we stepped back. Sunlight slanted trhough branches and left wavy stripes across our feet. I shifted my weight and started to walk again, Amalia getting back up on her bike.

“I have to go,” I said.

“Yes, me, too. Later, Julian!”

As her powder blue bike gained speed she glanced over her shoulder a last time, face creased with consternation that chaged to happiness and she thrust her hand in the air as she turned away. I waved back and stood still until she crossed another street and was gone.

I didn’t see her again for few weeks, to my surprise; a good lunch at a favorite outdoor cafe. By then, Yvette and I were not the same together. Neither of us was sure why, but we remained friendly if less aligned–as well as less anxious to meet up with Sam and Amalia. We all forgot to make a date for next time.

******

A year and a half later I was at the small airport where my father and I kept our Cessna 140. I loved the two-seat, single-engine aircraft, and how it shone like polished silver with its flashy red stripes and lifted into the limitless blue. Every spare hour I perfected my flying skills. Though I was finally in university studying zoology, my whole being had become enamored of flight. I hadn’t shared it much with the old gang but, then, we had spent increasingly less time together. Yvette had left for the States, Amalia had been working at a bookstore and taking nursing courses while still watching over her Poppy. I missed them, yes. I felt the lack of a regular dose of Amalia’s spritely ways. The stilted, dramatic speech. The half-ridiculous optimism. Her gratitude for life and devotion to family. I missed her but she was going one way, and I, another. We were twenty, twenty-one. We had real lives to develop and were full of more hard-driven intentions.

So it never occurred to me that I would see anyone at the airport other than hard-core devotees of aeronautics. When I saw Sam’s head near the gleaming wing of a Piper PA 16 I was taken aback.

“What are you doing skulking around here?” I sauntered up to him as if I had a real interest in talking. I was ready to fly.

He gave me his thin-lipped smile and heartily punched my shoulder. “Thinking about lessons, my friend! You always look lovestruck when you talk about flying, it has to be incredible.”

“Seriously?” I couldn’t imagine it. He had not once agreed to go up with  me. Sam walked with his eyes glued to the ground. Or on sports events or women.

“Aw, I’m just looking around. I’m with Conrad Novak over there, he’s the guy with the interest and the cash to fund it.”

I knew the name, a newcomer. I stuck my hands in my pockets. “Haven’t seen you and Amalia for a few weeks again. Things okay?”

He shrugged. “You know. We fight, make up. She’s too good for me and I think she’s finding it out.”

“I know,” I said and tried to not let it sound like what it was, the truth with much more under it. I punched him back.

“But she’s not well.”

“What do you mean? She got a bug?” I felt a wash of coldness rush over my back.

“Something more, I’d guess, but she won’t say. We don’t see each other as much but she’s here today.”

“Is it–is Poppy okay? Maybe things at home? I haven’t seen the ole gal in a while.”

“Not many have. She’s in an old age home now, been two months now.”

Sam turned to answer Conrad’s call and I moved on after we agreed to meet up soon. He said go ahead and call Amalia and see if I could find more than he had. I scanned the hangar and the field, thinking maybe she was out there. No women anywhere. But she had to be waiting in Sam’s car, if so. Not feeling well, she wouldn’t be standing long, waiting for him.

I gave my head a shake to clear it of thoughts, got into the Cessna, settled in and prepared to take off, then eased onto the taxiway.

“Julian! Hey, over here, wait up!”

I slowed a little and craned my neck out the window. Amalia was peddling for all she was worth, trying to catch up with me.

“Get off, Amalia!” I called out, gesturing with my hand. “You can’t be out here! You have to leave–I’ll call you!”

She either didn’t hear me or didn’t care, as she kept peddling faster and harder until we were almost parallel to each other.

“I’ll call! I’ll see you soon!” I yelled as loud as I could.

But Amalia put her feet up on the handlebars of a bike I had never seen before, something she’d probably found by the hangars and stole for a sly ride out to my plane. What a foolish girl and what a deep relief to see her gliding along, her hair blonder and longer, her smile as generous as ever, her tweedy coat flapping in the cool wind.

“Julian!” she nearly screamed. “Everything is beautiful, outrageously and inexplicably beautiful, yes?”

At least, I was fairly sure that was what she said. I was trying to pilot a plane but kept looking over as I gathered speed. Her eyes were crackling with the usual verve so she had to be okay. I increased my velocity, headed on down the runway and before long I was in the air, heart pinging and mind clear as the brilliant dome of sky above opened and let me enter  bit by bit. I looked down at Amalia. She grew smaller and started to disappear. I gleefully waved, despite her not seeing my hand. Then I was all clockwork precision. Then engulfed in wonder. The powerful magic of leaving earth behind. Ah, flight! I dreamed of flying over mountains and oceans and herds of wild animals as I skillfully guided my shining plane heavenward.

******

It was not to happen again, her sneaking up on me, stunning me with her capacity for joy, challenging me with her funny, odd comments. No more sunlight vibrating within random parks. No more meet-ups in cafes, even without Sam who had left her not too long after I saw him at the hangar. No more us making stupid faces when we ran out of intelligent things to say. No more shouted or whispered words about this mad and beautiful life we are given.

For Amalia was not well. She had cancer, and left when I was flying six months later.

It looked like it might be a stormy morning and I almost didn’t go out. I had spent the day before with her, only a half hour since her breathing was nearing nothing and her family was hunched over her bed. There was no room for me there, anymore. There was no room for an “us”, only her dying. Her eyelids didn’t flutter when I leaned close to brush her slack cheek with my lips. To thank her for being Amalia. Leaving that room was like stepping off a cliff.

I one hundred percent needed to fly. To not think about her shrinking in that hospital bed, her hands emptied, eyes darkened, pale mouth silenced by a surrender to dying. As I ascended, I saw lightning in the far distance, a pewter sky of rain like a screen between earth and heaven. I flew the other way toward a remnant of light where, out of nowhere, emerged a partial rainbow, faint, transparent colors that then arched across a strangely lit and towering cloud. I felt I could fly right through it and be saved from any terrible, selfish sadness. I knew it was absurd. I had to descend fast, before the storm snared me. It was then I heard her. I heard her as if she was sitting beside me at last.

“How beautiful everything is, isn’t it? Outrageously, inexplicably beautiful, my dear Jules!”

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Reserve Me a Seat for a Tragicomedy

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons attribution A1Aardvark

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/ Attribution: A1Aardvark

Murder and mayhem rule inside a famed, palatial hotel. Our beloved, good-hearted heiress is stowed away in an underground pirate tunnel; her husband is the treacherous stower. Her brother is married to a woman who talks to dolls. Her half-brother’s existence finally came to light, plucked as he was from the obscurity of servility. He was, sadly, delivered from life for an unjust charge of murder (his wife?) yet wait–was he truly good and dead on the funeral day? And her one sister, well, she is more than confessing to the local priest. Behold their mother, the widow who runs her business with an iron hand and a heart to match. Yet she has lost control of her small empire and her wicked son-in-law is to blame, is he not? But, then, he was always a man with blood money on his mind.

I don’t know the statistics regarding numbers of people worldwide who enjoy soap operas. I haven’t been counted among them. Oh, I’ve glanced at a few here and there–in hospital waiting rooms or visiting a homebound client in the past. Excuse me while I snooze. There are other, more interesting things to do, even when I haven’t worked. Daytime television in general has not tempted me unless I am ill enough to require being still and supine. The simple characterizations and repetitive storylines, the way weekly crises pile up to guarantee more barriers to normalcy–what a bore. I do watch a few other shows off and on–some silly, some more weighty. But soap operas? Not likely.

Or so I thought. Then I discovered a series I could not get enough of whether feeling unfit or well. I needed something to entertain me while my spouse watched his cooking or outdoor survival shows. We have one centrally located TV but there is my computer–and Netflix. I was browsing series, looking for something to capture my restless mind, hold me in its thrall. Foreign film fascinates me and I also enjoy series. Up popped “Gran Hotel”, a story of hotel life in Spain, 1905.

I am currently enjoying the ghastly and heartwarming third season.

Well, obsessively viewing it, is more the truth. Particularly when M. is on a business trip–that tells me it has nothing, really, to do with any monopoly of the living room set. I haven’t felt a desire to see it before evening but I wouldn’t put it past me one of these days.

This isn’t a critical report, a review of the series; I am certain there are a few out there. I haven’t read them. I don’t care what the critics think. I can’t wait to find out how Alicia gets out of the subterranean prison, if Julio manages to separate her safely from Diego, the current majority owner of the hotel, and how Teresa, mother of Alicia and two others (as well as rightful hotel owner) deals with an elegant maitre d’. But that one is another sort of professional altogether. The old maitre d’ was a worse shapeshifter so perhaps he is the better pick.

So, here I am, all caught up in the spell. I knew I was in trouble the day I awakened with sinuous Spanish words in my head. I can’t spell them so won’t try but they have clear meaning to me now and they mean things so beautifully: brother, mother, son and darling. Hate and love, hope and heartache. Wine and tea and babies and God. The dance-like rhythms of speech, the beauty of the characters’ expressiveness–their mellifluous, grating or commanding voices carrying through the rooms. Ah, I have come to know them all.

The men openly weep and hug; they rage and lie. The women are smart and subtler in their trickery. They are stalwart survivors and queenly, too. Everyone wants something they cannot have but will not stop trying to gain. Or they want to be rid of what they ended up with. And are seldom content for more than a short while. Are there several stereotypes? Who cares? Are they and we just people looking for something to value and fight for? Yes.

In part, “Gran Hotel” intrigues because it is about a familial dynasty, displaying well how multi-generational dysfunction operates. Yet there is more. The story covers as much as may be possible in such a format of 45 minutes per segment: struggles with morality; loyalty and enduring love and its loss; the critical importance of friendship; the bonds or lack thereof between parents and children; the dangerous ways resentments and regrets poison a person, becoming hate and revenge. Faith, particularly Catholic faith in the early twentieth century is highlighted and prayer (as well as confession and penance) is a part of everyday life. Yet superstitions are not far off.

There are things to be gleaned from the ways of a woman whose only living son is the secret love child of her old, now dead, employer. She is penitent but full of pride in her son; she is humble but carries herself with implacable dignity; she will do whatever is required to insure his happiness and success in this life and beyond. Angela moves like a dancer and wears her age without rancour. Courageous and ethical, she would make a fine friend.

I do get to laugh out loud. There are intrigues that hinge on foolishness and naiveté, some whose impulsive behaviors lead them to ridiculous ends. Javier is the clown, a drunken son who must marry up to increase the family fortune. The smart and indomitable detective Ayala and his less-savvy sidekick Hernando are a comic duo as they try to navigate crime after crime. I would love to join their investigations. I can each episodeas they tirelessly round up a motley group of criminals.

And the clothes! Both men and women in this series dress very well. I rest my eyes upon the aristocrats’ costumes, am amused by their regal bearing, their sumptuous fabrics swishing on the floor as they go, heads held high. The peasants dress in weighty, textured fabrics and more modest but interesting hats. The servants have their own attractiveness, crisp uniforms not the least bit lessening their own needs and wants, their perceptions and unspoken thoughts.

Just seing how people may have lived in this time and place was enough to draw me in and provoke questions about Spain’s history. I admit; this is secondary at the moment. There are better ways to gather that information. Until then, I want to sit back in a chair in their sumptuous dining room and just watch.

M. wonders why on earth I like this series. I don’t speak or read Spanish (he can, a little). I am supposedly “too well-informed by good literature” for this sort of thing. So he goes his way and I go mine as we tolerate our disparate tastes.

Perhaps I thought I was a bit above it, too, once upon a time. Does it reflect my getting older somehow, my tiring of the real terribleness of the world? Putting off cleaning up after dinner or as a reward for same? Enjoying a break from my own life’s duress, from intellectual and spiritual pondering or creative setbacks? Certainly the series is not (nor are other soapy stories) free of stress and pain. Grief. Longing. But it is manufactured and though we know this, we willingly join in for the duration with a suspension of disbelief.

We find facets of ourselves in each character and empathize. We can feel compassion for the plight of victims and outrage at the acts of monsters. We vicariously enter into someone else’s life for a short time, then get to return to our own selves. And we can count our blessings: our lives are easier, after all, or less complex and more loving than these. Or at least more “boring”, which is not always a bad thing, perhaps.

There is hope each new episode, at the very least, of resolution of life’s problems, little by little. I yearn for the righting of so many wrongs. I cheer for our heroines and heroes as they carry on despite being foiled again. The relentless villains eventually do pay the price for their misdeeds. At least, I hope. The show isn’t over yet. And I think I finally understand why folks like this sort of thing. No, it isn’t the classics but it easily speaks to human enterprise and our debacles. That commoness is just as valid as reportedly finer fare.

The beauty of make-believe, afterall, is that it dramatically, sometimes profoundly reflects life but it is not my life, exactly, and not yours. It is just…another rousing good story. So let me pour an iced tea and gather a few cookies. Julio and Andres, Alicia and Maite are up to something once again.

 

Posted in creative nonfiction, non-fiction, Personal essay, prose, Uncategorized, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments