BedPans and Walther P38s (Part Two of a Christmas Past)
It was seven days before Christmas, and I still had to purchase gifts for 21 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and 10 adults. Technically, Christmas was eight days away, but our family gathers for dinner on Christmas Eve, opening gifts after the grandchildren wash the dishes.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Oh, here I go. I snuggled into my favorite love-seat position: blanket; feather-pillow; pajamas; steaming mug of coffee latte at the ready, with the Amazon page brightly shining and resting on my lap. Christmas / Saravejo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra transmitted via Apple TV. The music was so loud that I thought I heard the neighbors singing along.
I read that Amazon Prime members were extended an offer-of-the-day to have purchases gift- wrapped for free. I started to clap my hands. I had forgotten I was holding the latte, and nearly doused my shopping cart.
The doorbell rang. I was greeted by a small crowd; my third-born daughter, Angela, her six-month-old twin daughters, Annakate and Adeline, and her ten-year-old son, Dylan. I welcomed them in, and as they were seated, Dylan spied my computer and asked if he could play Minecraft on it.
“Of course,” I said with a wink at the platinum-haired boy, “That’s why I downloaded it, silly Dilly.”
He carried the laptop to the dining table and I set my attention to oohing and awing over the twins.
They left. I returned to my Amazon shopping, made my selections and set about washing dishes, making the bed, and tossing clothes into the washing machine. As I cleaned, I made a mental grocery list for the big dinner. Then, it came to me; a jolting revelation, so jolting I swear I heard the angels sing. I could order all my groceries on Amazon.
* * * * *
I opened the door to the UPS delivery truck driver asking for my signature and I happily signed, although I wasn’t sure why this particular delivery required a signature; she didn’t look happy. She must have made 12 jaunts––truck to doorstep, using a dolly–– getting more red-faced each time, as I gawped. Her parting words were something about why I thought I needed 42 Christmas hams and concluded with a caustic Merry Christmas as she offered a hand signal that may or may not have signified her IQ level.
I smiled, dripping with saccharine to shield my consternation, I called out something about her job security. I ogled (my face as frozen as the hams) for a few minutes at the mass covering the front porch and decided the Amazon SNAFU could be dealt with in the morning and began dragging the boxes inside.
The new day arrived; the sun shining in a clear blue sky despite putting my order with the Big Guy for snow. I wondered if I should have checked for availability with Amazon Prime. I hoped and prayed that the one special gift would arrive before dinner as I baked all day for the expectant, hungry horde. The gift was delivered at last, and I placed it upon the swollen mound that exceeded the ‘under the tree’ notion.
I rang the Amazon office contact number only to reach an automated response: closed for the holidays, please try again December 26, 2017.
*A short story that is loosely based on true events of Christmases past: 90 percent pure fiction.
Many people escape via expensive out-of-the-country vacations or by weekend get-a-ways. Some escape by watching movies or by playing games. Me? I Amazon. I’m addicted to seeing that brown box (the box with a questionable phallic logo) resting on my front porch as if to say, “Pick me! Open me!”
Amazon’s intrusion began several years ago. My ‘old-school’ wariness would not release me to commit such sin as shopping online. The realization that I could stay in my pajamas and get the all the grandkids their Christmas presents convinced me to risk everything.
True joy begins from that moment I see a screen-full of possibilities on my lap-top or iPhone, items to feed my addiction. The beautiful (sometimes ruinous) journey is afoot.
It didn’t take Amazon long before they offered the best marketing scheme ever: Buy Now With 1-Click? If ever a sentence could be described as delectable as hot chocolate topped with marshmallows this would qualify. But they didn’t stop there ––Prime Delivery––why, you can have this in two days for “free.” Free for an annual fee––ingenious. A recent addition is the all-you-have-to-do-is-tap-it button, ‘buy again’ red circle. Extremely convenient. What will they think of next? Telepathy?
As I sit pondering potential deliveries, I remember past disastrous purchases: the Christmas ornaments that looked huge on-screen but arrived a mere one-eighth inch diameter; the children’s farm-animal book that failed to pique interest of a one-year old; weirdly (and putrid) colored shoes; wall décor, museum-sized, for the 12 x 18 inch empty spot near the window, so large it could have covered the entire window. I have learned to read with care (and read between the lines) as my hand hovers over the keyboard ENTER key, I think twice¬¬––three times––before making the final click. That is, unless I have a Freudian tap.
I choose my items, and proceed through the steps: would you like the arrival date to be this Tuesday, postage-free; for $3.99 more you could have this on Monday; add to your dash (just tap it) button? It would be ever so easy to reorder. Thanks, Amazon!
I’m always eager to help family find just what they are looking for.
“Gram, you need a bedpan? Let me look for you.” I’m giddy.
If only hindsight had been my guide. I now have a bedpan in my Face Book feed; subject lines of countless emails read: because you bought a bedpan; just click here or tap to buy again; people who have purchased a bedpan have also purchased the following items; and finally (although, I’m sure it won’t be) I have a picture of Gram’s bright, shiny––thankfully still unused––bedpan in that blasted buy again? button. Or just tap it.
Letters float and bubble up,
they string on weathered thread,
like popcorn strands on Christmas trees.
I clutch and nick and chomp and chew,
with painful, funny, contorting moue.
Letter float and bubble up,
black on white in cytoplasmic fill,
they string and coil as DNA that replicate
I mush and mash and press and pound
a finger-tip from coherence,
little faith, am I not to be crowned?
Letters float and bubble up,
with orange threads of goo
like momma’s lava lamp.
Before my eyes I mesmerize,
I hook and hasp and snap and clasp,
Exasperated, I bowdlerize.
Q hovers and glides aside.
Me thinks Q is longing for U.
The conclusion to Jack and Holly’s adventures reads below. Their expedition is based on factual events. Following the story is a list of what really happened.
“Look Holly,” Jack commanded, “I found a family name here, my family, I mean.”
Holly looked up from the book she was searching through at a table in the Coos Library. She thought it strange he was reading in the first place when he had been quite vocal that he would rather be in the pub three doors down. The librarian hushed Jack with a classic look; glasses lowered to the tip of the nose, eyes focused and glaring over the rim at the perpetrator.
“It says here she married John and Eliza’s son, George,” Jack whispered, “Oh, wait, I take it back, George’s wife’s name is the same as my great-grandmother’s, but I don’t recognize her father’s name. It can’t be my family.”
Holly breathed a sigh of relief and added, “That would be strange to think I’m a blood relative to you.” She shuddered.
“That would make things even more weird.” Jack said.
Holly didn’t miss the inflection in Jack’s voice. She wondered what he had meant by “even more weird.” Holly pondered on their relationship and wondered if the remark was about their marriage –– she had a hunch and hoped this was about how they had heard from relatives that their ancestors had been at odds. But things have been weird between us these last few months and I can’t put my finger on it.
She tucked the remark away and continued her study of the local newspaper, Coos Bay Echoes. “Death Summons Prominent Citizen,” the headline read, and Holly was surprised to read in great detailof the life of John Yoakam. She thought how glad she was that reporters and editors included more personal details than they do today.
“It says here the girls are buried at Yoakam Hill,” Holly said, “Didn’t we see that on a map?” She glanced over her shoulder, expecting a scolding from the librarian.
“Let’s go,” Jack said, “Let’s go find this hill.”
“I want to see Eliza’s spinning wheel in the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum and visit the cemetery all the Yoakams are buried in.”
“Macabre.” Jack observed.
Holly started to defend herself, thought better of it and gathered her things in silence.
* * *
The eastern sun streaked into the cab as Jack nosed the truck up the narrow, gravel road. The area was heavily forested, isolated and devoid of human inhabitants.
“Are you sure the map said to head west on Cammon Wagon Road?” he asked without taking his eyes off the road.
“Positive, just keep climbing, we’re almost there.”
They reached the summit to find the road had ended, but a short driveway led to a home surrounded by a cyclone fence. They exited the truck and headed toward the house to ask permission to walk the property, but no one appeared to be home. They trounced around the forested property outside the fence looking for headstones. Jack was enjoying the exploration, but after an hour Holly grew frustrated, trudging in the dirt, brushing limbs, leaves and debris aside looking for markers. She hoped that the house had not been built over the little cemetery.
“Look, Jack,” she said pointing at the map, “The GPS coordinates say I am standing on the exact burial site, but there is nothing here,” Holly’s eyes welled, “It’s gotto be here, all the books, websites, and maps say this is the place,” Holly said with a disappointed and loud sigh, “I guess it’s time to give up.”
The couple plodded with a defeated posture back to the truck, climbed in, and Holly slammed the door in frustration. As Jack turned the truck around to head down Yoakam Hill, a black sedan crawled around a corner, tires crunching on the gravel and approached. The driver pulled alongside the truck and questioned Jack. He explained the reason for their presence and the homeowner, congenial and polite, told them she had lived there for over forty years and had never heard of the burial site. Holly handed her a business card and asked to please call if she ever learned any information.
Before Jack could engage the motor, Holly placed her hand on Jack’s right forearm.
“Wait, Jack, I want to ask you something.”
She asked what he had meant by things being even more weird. He explained that he didn’t mean anything at all, there was no hidden meaning.
“I was referring to the weirdness that you had discovered our people fought against each other in the famous Battle of Culloden in 1746.”
“Oh,” Holly said with relief.
“Is that why you’ve been so quiet today?” Jack inquired as she relaxed back in her seat.
Holly sat still and shrugged her shoulders replying, “I guess so. Let’s head out of The Coos Pioneer Cemetery. I know we’ll find that.”
* * *
Jack positioned the rig onto the street in front of their house.
“We’re home. Another successful voyage across mountain and valley.” Jack declared.
Holly was annoyed at Jack’s habit of stating the obvious. Jack, thinking she was going to playfully call him Mr. Obvious, noticed her seriousness.
“What’s wrong Holly?” he asked, “Are you disappointed?”
“I really wanted to find those five gravesites, so yes, I am a little. Besides, I don’t think you enjoyed this trip much.”
“Listen,” Jacked turned and cupped her face in his hands, “I had a really great time. Do you remember me telling you that my great-great-grandfather was the trail guide for Brigham Young on the way to Utah?”
“The rumor is he converted to Mormonism after. I bet there are lots of records about him.”
“I thought this genealogy stuff bored you.”
“You were so excited, and in your element, it was inspiring. Seeing my grandmother’s name got me rethinking. And I really loved traipsing through the woods on Yoakam Hill. I felt like an old-time wilderness explorer––we were Lewis and Clark.”
Holly smiled at the comparison.
“I know a great Italian place in Salt Lake City.”
Facts and Actual Events
Eliza and John Yoakam lost five daughters by a burning, falling tree, one a babe in Eliza’s arms.
The tragic loss of the Yoakam girls is documented in newspapers such as the Coos Bay Echo, as well as the “Death Summons Prominent Citizen” article, found in the Coos Bay Library.
The oldest girl that perished was adopted by John and Eliza after the girl’s mother passed away. It has been said that she was Eliza’s best friend’s daughter.
Eliza and John lost their oldest son to disease on the trail.
Eliza delivered the baby girl that died in her arms three days after arriving in the Coos Bay area.
According to a graveyard and burials website, and in Coos Bay history books, the girls are buried together at Yoakam Hill
Jack and Holly (aka ‘Frank’ and Janet) could not find the tiny graveyard.
The resident on the hill had never seen or heard of the graves in all the 40+ years living on Yoakam Hill.
Eliza Yoakam’s spinning wheel is on display at the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum.
Jack and Holly camped in an RV on Arago Beach beneath the cliffs of the Yoakam State Park.
Jack and Holly found Eliza and John’s grave markers at the Coos Pioneer Cemetery.
Jack, a Scotsman, and Holly, of English descent fought each other in some war in the ancient days: it may or may not have been Culloden.
Jack’s great-great grandfather was a trail guide for someone associated with Brigham Young, and was looking to settle in Utah.
Little Italy, in Coos Bay, is a fantastic place for dine.
Holly was often annoyed with Jack stating the obvious and called him Mr. Obvious.
Holly has never driven with an RV in tow, nor does she ever want to.
Jack would have rather been in the pub than the library but developed an interest in genealogy while in the Coos Library.
I’m posting, in two parts, a short story written as a classroom assignment. This is based on true events that occurred in the ancestral line of my paternal grandmother, my great-great grandparents, John and Eliza Yoakam, who settled in Coos Bay, Oregon in the mid 1850s.
Echoes, Part One
“Turn left here,” Jack yelled.
“No, the map says to turn right,” Holly retorted as she grasped the dead man’s knob on the wheel and turned the large, black Dodge truck with a 5thwheel in tow onto Cape Arago Highway.
“Maybe you’d rather drive,” Holly teased, smiling at her tow-headed husband.
Holly guided the rig toward the RV park near the beach in silence. She thought of the purpose of the trip and hoped she would find answers to nagging questions. Her great-great-grandmother, Eliza Davis Yoakam, and her husband, John, had an experienced a tragedy March 27, 1855, near Coos Bay, Oregon.
The Yoakams had followed the Oregon Trail from Ohio and chose to settle in Empire City in 1852. Eliza, one of the first white female settlers to come to Coos Bay, crossed the nation while pregnant with their eighth child. The Trail had claimed the life of the oldest boy. She gave birth to a girl three days after arriving. Holly tried to imagine how difficult that must have been for her–– alone without her mother’s support. What amazed Holly more was how Eliza had managed to carry on after that fateful night in March, three years later. How does one go on after that?That dogged pioneerdetermination.
Eliza and John lost all five of their daughters during the night, one a babe in her arms. A freak windstorm gusted a large tree upon their makeshift cabin; a branch hit Eliza and the girl she held. Two toddler boys, George and Jasper, survived because they had been tucked in a trundle bed–– and had slept through the ordeal. George was Holly’s great-grandfather.
She noticed Jack’s fingers tapping near the passenger window. She thought about how much coaxing it had taken for Jack to agree to the trip. He failed to understand her need to see ancestral grounds and thought it morbid to explore the site of tragedy. She bribed him with dinner at the “best Italian restaurant in two states.” Holly couldn’t remember the name, and Jack had teased her how great could the food be if she couldn’t recall its name. She reminded him of the power of Google and said not to worry.
That evening they dined on their traditional beach fare of salami, Swiss cheese, sourdough bread and red wine resting on Holly’s handmade quiltlaid upon the brown-gray sands of Arago Beach, sitting cross-legged and facing each other, against the backdrop of an August sapphire sunset. Milky swirls, aquamarine clouds on hovered close to the setting sun on the Pacific horizon. The sun morphed to a reddish golden globe, a utopian aura casting an array of colors, like rainbow Sherbet, into the clouds as it began its final descent into the ocean waves.
Jack prepared a pit in the sand, piling wood, kindling, wads of paper, and lit the heap with a cigarette lighter. As flares of red flames leapt high, he relaxed and reached for the boxed wine.
“May I?” he asked as he offered to fill Holly’s ‘wine glass,’ their beach term for a red SoHo plastic cup, “You look ravaging in the fire light.”
Holly teased that it was the wine talking, secretly pleased at his compliment, and set out their camp chairs.
“Good idea, Holly, my bones were starting to ache,” he said as he plopped into it.
They discussed the following day’s itinerary and decided to visit all the places on Holly’s list and the next day check off Jack’s list. The special dinner would take place on the eve of the trip home.
They smiled at the antics of the young children and their parents who had walked onto the beach, making S’mores over their small fire. Moments later, a large group of young men, drunken and loutish, caused the family to pack and leave. Holly and Jack looked at each other and without speaking, gathered up their belongings, doused the fire with sand and trudged under the blue-tinged, muted yellow glow of the half-moon to their sanctuary on wheels.
It’s strange to think how selective memory can be: I remember details leading up to, during, and following this event, but I cannot remember what my punishment was from the courts. I must have been let off the hook legally, but rest assured parental punishment was indeed plotted, planned, and executed.
After the story’s conclusion, you’ll find a list of details that are true events and what was added for the resolution of the story’s sake.
Dirty Deeds Done on Spoon Lane–– Part Two
Mom’s philosophy is that if you’re not early, you’re late. It’s 9:15 a.m. and we pile into the ‘65 Belair and make the five-minute drive into town. She says nothing, thankfully. My stomach bubbles like a volcano of baking soda and vinegar.
The makeshift courtroom, in the Cottonwood Library, scant of furniture and dimly lit, is empty but for us two silent souls. Teary-eyed teenagers with stern-faced and weary parents shuffle in two by two. The air, stale, still, and thick with tension suffocates. Judge McCabe swaggers in and slides into position. The “all rise” does not come, but we stand anyway. I am surprised that I am first on the docket. I can’t detect his mood.
“How do you plead?” he asks.
I say I am guilty. Every muscle is shaking as I speak.
Mom stuns the room with a request that I be sent to Juvenile Hall. I want to burst with laughter at the thought ––me decked out in pin-striped prison garb. But I tamp the urge down deep. I think the request is ridiculous. The looks on the faces of everyone in the room echo my sentiments. No one breathes. The judge stares deep into my mother’s eyes and questions her.
“Does she meet her curfew? Does she do her chores? Does she get good grades?” he asks. He looks annoyed.
Mom answers yes to all three.
“Lady, you don’t have a problem,” he announces, “Request denied,” as he whacks the gavel onto the wooden table and calls for the next law-breaker.
The already stale, dull air fills with the sound of air escaping our lungs. Everything is blurry. I smile at the vindication, and we file out and into the car.
Mom is fuming as she informs me David Wilkerson (a religious leader) will hold a meeting in Redding next week and we are going. I say I’d have rather gone to juvie. She adds that maybe I’ll learn to appreciate her. I say I don’t know why she thinks her own daughter is so bad, when clearly, even a complete stranger can see differently. This escalates her anger to a level never seen in all my 16 years. She drives me to the school and I am grateful to escape. Exiting the vehicle, I wonder how I’ll survive the summer months at home, this being the last week of classes. I consider summer school.
It is dusk as I sit at my cheap, particle-board desk, writing my essay on World War ll for American History. A melancholy ballad about the Edmund Fitzgeraldplays on KRDG, the local pop-rock radio station. Mom and Dad discuss the events of the day rather loudly in their bedroom. The phone rings and they quiet. I think I am in a déjà vu. Mom says into the phone she thinks that a great idea, thank you and she will make the arrangements. I hear the click of the receiver. They whisper. I strain to figure out why. Mom and Dad say they are sorry to each other. I imagine them hugging and sicken at the thought they might be kissing.
Dad opens the door of my room without knocking. He tells me his sister, Aunt Carol, who lives in Marcola, Oregon, is sending me a bus ticket and I’m to spend the summer with her. I don’t know who is happier to hear the news: Mom or me. I ask if he thinks that is a good idea since the Oregon family is much more liberal than we Cottonwood straight-laced conservatives.
He answers, “Yes, I know, but this is what your Mom wants. She’s adamant about that David Wilkerson meeting, so you’re not leaving until that’s over.”
He stretches his arms out in a big bear hug, a rare event, and whispers he only wants the best for me. As he leaves, he tells me Mom loves me. I say she has a funny way of showing it.
“Janet, she’s my wife and your mother. You know she comes first with me but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. I may not agree with her on this latest episode, but we stand together, and I support her regardless,” Dad says with a wistful tone and a sad look in his green eyes.
I close the door, turn up the radio, and do a happy jig to the current tune, Paul McCartney and Wing’s upbeat song, “Band on the Run.”
To satisfy the reader’s curiosity, I have listed below the details as I remember them.
These details are true:
My Aunt Pat really was my bus driver at times, although I’m not sure if she was on this particular day.
I have 56 first cousins, 46 or so on my father’s side.
My father made me dig in the mud.
I lived in a yellow house at the end of Spoon Lane, and our area was referred to by utility companies as the Bermuda Triangle.
The courtroom exchange between my mother and judge.
The conversations between mother and me.
My Aunt Carol rescued me from a summer of misery.
My favorite song at that time was “Band on the Run.”
I really was required to suffer through a David Wilkerson meeting
My mother really did love me, but she had a funny way of showing it. (I probably made it difficult for her.)
These details are not true:
Anyone who knows my father and the older generation of the Spoon family will know that they never say or do that!
Happy guessing. Hint: it’s in the third to last paragraph.
I can’t even. Think. I’ve never this stumped before. Writing prompts are not improving the flow of creative energy through the synapses of this brain. So, I decided to post this essay that won second place in my university writing contest in two parts.
Dirty Deeds Done on Spoon Lane
Anderson Union High School bus #94 squeals to a stop and the yellow double doors swing open. The bus driver, Aunt Pat, wishes me good luck as I drag and stall my exit. I dread the half-mile walk home, more so today than any other in my 16 years. I glance at her over my right shoulder and tears begin to sprout from the corner of my blue eyes. I wipe them away.
“You got to go, Janet,” she says, “Get it over with.”
I step out onto the dirt. Five mailboxes line the road; all are labelled SPOON. I grab envelopes from the box reading Tim Spoon. I deliver their mail (it’s on my way home) and go inside for a chat with my cousins and enjoy an ice-cold Coke––staving off the inevitable.
The telephone rings––Mom wants me home.
I have spent my entire life in the tiny town of Cottonwood, California. I say I am from Cottonwood. In truth, I’m not sure. I have a Cottonwood address, Anderson phone number, attended Cottonwood elementary schools and now am at Anderson High School––a Bermuda Triangle. I am in a sea of cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents. No action escapes notice––ever. I am safe from reproach only with my cousins––my cohorts in crime––33 of my 56 first cousins live in Cottonwood proper.
I trek toward home, kicking small rocks from the dirt and gravel with the toe of my black and white Converse tennis shoe. I approach a muddy, slushy pond, divided in two by the road. I grab the contraband from the right front jeans pocket and toss it among the cheerful daffodils, planted years before by my grandmother. I think of her as I stare at the flowers, belying my mood.
Half-way home the surge of a diesel motor snaps me into reality––it’s my Dad. I slump my shoulders and slow my walk to a crawl. He waves, and I am grateful he doesn’t stop for me––that’s his way––no special treatment just because I happen to be his daughter.
I trudge heavy feet up the porch of the yellow house at the end of Spoon Lane. The sliding doors open; Mom’s face is the color of gray ash as she tells me she had an interesting phone call from Mr. Litaker, the school’s principal. I say I know and look around for Dad. His chair is empty, and I know he is still outside. I stomp to my room, slam the door and throw myself down on the squeaky springs of my bed.
Within moments, Dad roars, “Janet Lee, get out here. Now.”
I think how I know I’m in trouble when both names are called. I explain to both parents what happened, holding nothing back. Daddy wants to know what I did with the rest of it. I tell him they are in the pond. Sharp pangs stab at my intestines but it is my elbow he grabs and marches me in silence to the scene of one of my crimes. I dig in the mud. By now a cold spring rain is drizzling then increases in intensity. I wonder if God is weeping over my sins.
“Dad, I’m telling the truth. I threw them in there, but I can’t find them. Please, can we go? I’m freezing,” as I extend muddy hands before him.
I wash the muck from my hands, relishing the water’s warmth. I wash the tears stains, change into pajamas––pink with large, white polka dots––and crawl under bedding. Mom and Dad are arguing in their room, next door. Mom says I ought to be flogged. Dad says just take her driver’s license and keys for the next month. Their bedroom phone rings––twice, before Mom says a weak, timid hello.
A knock at my door drives me from my cocoon. My mother’s shrill voice squawks that my arraignment is set for 10:00 the next morning, in Cottonwood. She shakes her index finger and launches a tirade, a litany of my evils. For the umpteenth time, she asks what kind of mother people will think she is for all my bad behavior. I say she should worry more about what I think. Doors slam. I retreat to beneath the handmade quilt Gramma Spoon willed me. I position the goose-down pillow over my ears and close the baby-blues.
I dream my mug shot, on over-sized posters––Wanted––decorate the walls of the Post Office. Morning comes. My brother and sister get dressed for school. Dad left for work in the woods at 3:00 a.m. Mom reminds me I have other places to go. No one asks if I slept well.
Today’s post is the conclusion to the short essay titled “The Woman in the Wallpaper.” The piece was composed in response to a course requirement at Simpson University.
This true account was originally written in past tense. At the advice of my professor, for the purpose of this blog (and other future publications) it was rewritten in the present tense, as it is presented here.
The Woman in the Wallpaper Part Three
I’m stretched full-length on a soft, pillowy gray couch. My head rests on a small bolster near the arm and my stockinged toes touch the armrest opposite. The room is dimly lit with lavender scented air that lends to the serene, safe atmosphere. Gail, my crisis counselor, is seated in a plush, charcoal colored, high-backed chair opposite me.
I begin the session with the encounter with my mother. I also tell her of the quiet voice that went unheeded that day. I add that I have never mentioned this to anyone before. I tell Gail how I wanted to tell my mother that God had been trying to keep me from being hurt that day. I say that even though I ignored the voice, God still kept breath and life within my tortured body.
I ask a rhetorical question: “Did my mom forget the phone call to come say good-bye as I was not expected to live through that night?” Gail doesn’t answer.
“You didn’t mention any of this to your mother?” she asks.
“Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know. She wouldn’t believe it anyway.” I envision my mother scoffing at the idea that God wanted to keep me safe.
“Why didn’t you get out of the truck?” she questions with a soft and gentle tone yet her steel-gray eyes drill through me like an awl that seems to touch my spine.
My head and shoulders droop, my eyes focus on the fingers of my right hand resting on my lap and clutching a battered tissue as I anguish.
I explain that there were a lot of reasons: the lack of a ride––no one to call to pick me up–– and my desire to spend Independence Day with my love. I tell her how I wanted to avoid my sister, Lisa, who was staying in our house––we had been bickering. I didn’t want to spend my holiday arguing with her. I tell her that’s just how me and Lisa are: we get along great for about two days, then the tensions roil into ugly scenes. It was our third day together and I was fearful things would turn. I lower my voice and add that maybe that’s what I told myself in the moment to justify my staying on the truck.
* * * *
I am like Gilman’s woman in the yellow wallpaper; searching and longing to escape my self-imposed prison. This prison of shame since that blistering-hot July afternoon. This voice of shame––a frenemy carrying the false claim as protectorate of my soul––is squawking in my ear like a parrot belting out mimicry.
Platitudes such as ‘beauty is only skin deep’ and ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ fail. The game continues, still, 19 years of you take it––no you take it. Why should I take on your gift of shame? This is only something that happened to me.
I am posting this autobiographical essay in parts because the original essay was written as such. I wrote this in response to a course requirement in the Advanced Composition course at Simpson University.
Every detail, even the seemingly miniscule, is true to the best of my recollection. The exception is the name change of my fiancé––now and forevermore known as Frank.
The Woman in the Wallpaper ––Part One
The vexing sound of the 3:30 a.m. alarm trumpets through the dark morning air. I groan and pull the duck-down comforter around my chin. My fiancé, Frank, jumps up like a jack-in–the–box and heads into the kitchen. I rouse from a groggy fog and aim for the bathroom. My head throbs and I search through the muddled mist as to why when I remember the festivities of the evening involved beer––a lot of beer. I cherish the sweet, therapeutic bouquet of brewing coffee wafting into the room, ‘go-juice’ that promises to counteract the cobwebby fog.
I stand before the mirror in the dimly-lit room of the porcelain god and begin slathering flesh-colored goo over the source of my identity. I stare at the face in the mirror. Everyone says I am gorgeous, but I don’t believe them. I wonder what I would do if anything happened to my face.
“That’s a weird thought,” I mutter to the reflection as I click off the light and head to the promised land of java.
* * * *
The fuel-tanker’s roaring motor is silenced as Frank brings the truck to a stop at the Whiskeytown Visitor Center. He hops from cab to ground, not bothering to use the two stairsteps, and begins to check the tires––tires carrying nearly 8,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel.
We had met as employees of SST Oil, Inc., a wholesale gasoline and diesel company. We discovered we had attended the same high school, but he was two grades behind me. I knew of him, we knew many of the same people, but we ran in different crowds. I was a band-geek and an aspiring journalist, and he was of the cowboy-party crowd. I remembered seeing his picture in the year book because the class that put the book together thought it would be funny to list his name as a brand of beer, a name similar to his.
At SST Oil, Inc., I work as a bookkeeper, billing fuel stations for gallons of diesel, gasoline, and kerosene delivered by our drivers. Frank is one of our drivers.
I hear the thwack of the tire thumper pounding the tires. Frank whacks each tire––all eighteen of them, a legally required and routine safety check. I have a sudden, all-consuming urge to get out––and stay out. But this urge remains mute and mum.
Frank directs the rig back onto the pavement, West onto Highway 299, a highway buzzing with holiday traffic as we head to the Weaverville BP fuel station. Frank’s conversation takes a weird turn: he talks of recent nightmares of crashing the tanker.
“Well, I hope it’s not today.”
* * * *
I fight through a fog of another kind as I am rousing from a medically-induced coma. I am told I have been under for two months. I fade in and out. Morphine-laden dreams.
Awareness slowly ebbs in to stay. Was it real? Was I the headline: WOMAN HAS EMERGENCY TRACHEOTOMY IN TACO BELL? Pain and tears are the bane of my existence, an existence nearly extinguished.
Nurses bossing, machines beeping, and laughter from the night-shift are the sounds that fill my day. The face on the wall glares at me––we face off––one without blemish, mocking. A red luminescent hand swings around 360 degrees, 1, 440 times a day. I wonder if this ‘hand’ gets as tired as I do from the constant vigil.
I can’t speak or move. I lay in bed with the video playing––what happened; when it happened; and why it happened.
A year later the official report reads that a tire blew out. The blown tire caused the truck and trailer to veer into the ditch. Frank fought to guide it back onto the road, but the weight of the fuel shifted, throwing the truck and trailer into chaos. In the process, the trailer split in two, sparking against pavement. We flipped and rolled across the road into a small ravine. Flames engulfed and surrounded us before the truck stopped twisting, turning.
I lay with pain, tears and memories: hearing Frank say that we’ve got to get out; Frank breaking the windshield with the tire thumper; how he scampered up over the dashboard and out the tiny opening of shattered windshield. A far greater pain pierces and splinters like the windshield at the memory that he bolted and left me to fend for myself.
I replay scene after scene: I think of how I stayed in the midst of bone-penetrating heat, staring at the golden-red flames around me––a moment so surreal––I am starring in a Hollywood film. I replay the panic of knowing I would be burned trying to get to the road; I remember thinking of my grandchildren; thinking that if I was going to die, I would die trying; I recall reciting the mantra– stop, drop and roll– and I remember the rocky ground as I begin crawling army-style up the steep- sided ravine.
The sound of a harsh, double tap at the doorway jolts me back into real time. It’s Nurse Kate. She scolds me for crying. Coming down from morphine accentuates emotions, and I am on the downswing. I say that if you were a burn victim, you’d be crying too.
“You are not a victim. You are a survivor,” she chides.
I’m back after a hiatus full of funk, junk and many deliveries to the local transfer station, formerly referred to as THE DUMP in childhood days.
We mark our days by events. Having surpassed the 19th anniversary of the worst day of my life, I’ve been in a funk, a funk dark and deep enough that writing didn’t seem to bring joy.
In an attempt to prod my way out, I’ve been clawing and pawing through useless junk in my home.
Sorting through things I once valued, I find the hardest part is making decisions: stay or go? Sometimes it’s really tough.
Asking myself two questions helps speed the process and eliminates much hedging: “Has this thing served me?” and if the answer is in the affirmative I ask: “Will this continue to be beneficial to me on a regular basis?”
Murphy’s Law says that the thing I stored for 15 years and never used, will be the exact item I need in two weeks’ time. Such is life.
The new rule is that if I bring something new into my home, something old has to go.
Paralleling this physical activity, I’ve encountered meaningless emotions, thoughts, attitudes, perspectives and memories tied to these things. I am actively exposing the crap to daylight, dusting them off and asking the same two questions above. These things haven’t always served me well. Thus, the rule applies: bringing a new (positive and edifying) thought, emotion, etc., into my soul requires the old must go.
This requires active, purposeful and constant care. I suspect it’s going to take a lifetime. A healthy soul is a happy soul.