On The Table

I’m paying off a table I never bought.

It arrived in the back of a gray pick up, dusted with a light coating of red clay kicked up over the heat of the summer. It was carried in by an elderly black gentleman with eyes that smiled and warm, dry hands that wrapped around one of mine when he arrived.

“Let’s look at where you want it,” he said in a soothing voice that felt like a blanket around my shoulders.

I nodded. Mute. Yes. Please come in. I motioned towards the door.

I helped with the table and the boys helped with the chairs. Once they were all arranged, I felt heavier. As if we’d placed them upon my back, rather than in the small room off the kitchen.

He wished me blessings and joked with the boys, and I tried to thank him enough. Tried to give him back thanks in proportion to the enormity of the table.

Because I didn’t buy the table.

I didn’t tell my husband. Instead, I cooked. I wish I could remember the meal. The choice of herbs and the swirl of oil across a pan. The sizzle of meat or the deep rolling boil of pasta crashing against the surface of the water. I wish sometimes a smell will make it all familiar again. That maybe I’ll walk into a restaurant or market and inhale the rich scent of a yesterday that locked itself into a dark corner that’s been happily forgotten by the sunshine I’ve walked in since. I’ll stop and a wistful smile will pull at my lips.

Yes.” I’ll think. “That’s what we ate that day.”

Instead I remember only that I set the table. I placed the dishes upon it and raised the seat on the high chair so that it met the edge, and removed the tray from it so that chubby hands could reach across the table like the rest of us. The boys each grabbed a chair. A side. Seats that remain theirs today. Their claims upon that table and those chairs yet to be released.

I ran my hand along the edges that curled downward, softening where the top of the table ends and one pulls up a chair. There’s just enough room for six to sit. Two on each long side, elbow to elbow. One at each short end, alone. Room for all of us, plus a friend.

We decided which end should be the head of the table. That day it sat open, waiting for him.

I remember his arrival and the excitement that coursed through our veins. Palpable and leaping between the boys and I as we listened for his heavy boots across the kitchen floor.

I remember his eyes lighting up and the boys’ laughter ringing when they saw him and it sounded like Christmas morning despite the mid-September humidity.

I remember the clatter of forks against plates and the thud of glasses as they were placed down atop the dark wood of the tabletop.

I remember our eyes meeting and I watched as he struggled to swallow past a lump I felt in my throat as well.

I don’t remember the food.

I still own the table I never bought.

Meal after meal. Homework. Friends. Writing. Hot glue. Finger prints. Foot prints, even. Sweaty imprints of mischievous, chubby feet toddling across its mahogany-colored surface. Scratches and dings.

Thanksgivings. When it stood transformed and laden with proof that we have much for which to be thankful.

Its legs stand beneath the laughter that spills across the surface, shared between each of us. Its legs stand beneath the tears that splash from time to time on its surface. Its legs stand beneath the elbows that rest weary on its top. Head dropped into hands. Shoulders slumped by the baggage we need to carry with us on our journey. When the wheels that typically help us to roll it along give out and leave us with no choice but to hoist the baggage and trudge along through life, for a time trapped beneath its weight.

I can’t bear to part with the table I never bought.

I sit at it and recall the back of a small, two shelf, particleboard book case. Emptied of books we left behind and turned face down onto the floor.

I look at the boys, wriggling in chairs and kicking at each other beneath the table, and remember their legs twisted beneath them as they huddled over my mother’s China dishes set on the back of a bookcase. Our everyday dishes left behind.

I watch him as he sits at the table and recall his smile when he came home from work each evening and folded his height down to a cross-legged seat on the floor next to the overturned bookcase. “It won’t be for much longer now that I’ve got a job,” his deep brown eyes promised me each night.

I remember an email when I’d grown desperate. After school started and the boys had nowhere to sit to do their homework. Not a single chair. Not even a couch. We had the floor and the walls and the roof, and we were thankful for all that. I remember a reply within hours. Like the table, I cannot bear to part with it.

I am very sorry to hear about your situation and the difficulties you are having. That must be very frustrating. There have been times in my life when I did not have enough furniture (among other things) and it can be a very humbling and upsetting experience. Kudos to you for having the courage to ask for help. That’s something I did not do, but I sure wish I had! I am praying for you and your family.”

The next day an elderly black gentleman delivered to us a table I never bought.

I try to pay it off now that we can. I volunteer at the very organization that brought us the table. I cook food and serve it and struggle not to wrap my arms around mothers asking for extras for their children. Especially when it’s for their boys. I want to tell them they came to the right place for help.

I’m proof.

I try to pay off the table I never bought.

But it’s priceless.

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To Each an Audience (A Drabble)

She kept to the corners, arms crossed tight against her chest.

He worked the room, a smile for everyone he greeted.

She fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, knuckles white around the glass in her hand.

His laugh wrapped its way around each guest, clapping the backs of those who walked by.

When the car pulled up he reached for her fingers, shoulders slumped. He drank up the smile she saved just for him.

At home, he kept to the corners. Arms crossed tight against his chest. She worked the room, her laugh wrapping its way around his heart.

(A “drabble” is a short story consisting of exactly 100 words.)

Everything That Could Be

It’s a song that aches
Or a movie that giggles
A lyric that stitches itself onto my heart
Or a chord that shreds my defenses
A poem somehow whispers our story
Or an anthem screams our end

It’s a leaf that floats by my window
Or a flower that brightens the kitchen
A lick of sweet and sweat
Or a beat we never missed
A taste that feeds my hunger
Or a laugh that fills your soul

It’s a hint of something special
A peek for just our eyes
A memory that won’t have a chance
A dream, fleeting as gossamer
A heartbeat that races me home
An hour that slows your day

It’s everywhere

It’s you
In everything
That isn’t ever you
But reminds me of
Everything
That could be

Us

Open and Empty

You hold everything.

Not just the ropes, or my hair. Not just my wrists, or my throat.

Everything within myself that allows me to dive into us. Everything I silence for the moments that matter most to us.

Everything that quiets when I look up into your eyes and feel safe enough to tell you what I want.

What I need.

And everything that stills because you promise to give it to me.

Look down for a moment at your hands and feel it.

It’s tangible to me.

A huge chunk of what makes up me is torn from my body, knifed from my soul, and placed there in your hands.

Heft its weight around.

Feel it.

Really feel it.

You hold all of it.

Every ounce of trust I possess, carved out, leaving behind edges that are jagged and raw, bleeding and sore. Leaving my heart pounding with the effort of getting blood through all the emptiness left behind.

You hold all of it.

Over and over again, you make me feel whole again.

Except for my hands . . .

. . . they wait, open and empty, for your trust in return.

He Called Me a Slut

“You’re a fucking slut! A dirty slut!”

I don’t remember what I wrote, but it was about him. He wasn’t the first boy to show an interest in me. He was the first boy who showed an interest in the things I enjoyed.

He sat in front of me in gym class when we assembled in alphabetical rows for attendance. He never faced front. Instead he spun around on his ass to face me, his basketball sneakers planted firmly on the floor. His knees bent, with his elbows resting atop. I looked up through my hair to find his brown eyes watching me.

Unnerving.

I tried to ignore him, but he wouldn’t have that. Instead, he peppered me with questions. He was a year older so we had no classes together. We hadn’t grown up together. Our high school bussed him and a few others in from neighboring schools to attend a business academy only housed at our location.

He wanted to know what I liked, what I didn’t, what my family was like, what books I read.

Why was I so quiet?

He told me all those things about himself. Even though I never asked.

The thing that finally drew me in was his love of words. “I made a promise to myself that I’d learn a new vocabulary word a day,” he told me and his spine straightened as he said it. Without fail, every gym class he told me a new vocabulary word.

One day he smiled at me and said, “Loquacious.”

“That’s today’s word?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered. “But it’s also how you get when you talk about something you love.”

Done.

That’s the moment he had me.

We found a rarely used staircase in a quiet hall and met there at every opportunity. He’d pin me to the cool mint-green tiles or grab my ass and wrap my legs around his waist as he leaned against the large window sill behind him.

I flung my arms around his neck after he hoisted me up. He stood a foot taller than I and my feet rarely touched the ground when we were alone.

We kissed for hours. For days on end. Each time pushing the boundaries of what we could reasonably get away with if an adult should happen by.

He told his parents he had extra basketball practice. I told mine I had extra lit journal meetings to prep for our publishing deadline.

He came in my hand, hot and sweaty, shoved down the front of his jeans.

I came on his fingers, long and steady beneath my skirt. His other arm held my leg up, his hand squeezing behind my knee.

We felt engulfed, our cheeks flushed and our lungs breathless, in the misery of frustration and want.

So we started meeting at friends’ houses, tumbling backwards onto scratchy couches that smelled of plaster walls and damp cement. “Tell me if I hurt you,” he’d whisper every time. And he did. But I never told him. Because I knew he never meant it.

“You make me sick! You’re a fucking disgusting whore!”

I wrote about him. About the things he did to me with his hands and dick and kisses. I wrote about the way he made me feel and what I hoped he felt for me. I wrote about everything I still wanted to do. All the things he said he dreamed of me doing, whispered into my ear, his breath warm on my cheek.

We laughed on the phone in the evenings and on weekends when we couldn’t see each other.

“He’s just a friend,” I told my parents.

“She’s tutoring me,” he told his.

“My mom is my whole world,” he said to me. “She is a really sweet lady. She just isn’t crazy about me seeing a white girl.”

I shrugged. “I don’t think my mom will care that you’re black,” I told him. “But I’m not sure about my dad.”

“You’re a cunt! Do you hear me? A useless slut!”

It ended up not mattering. We broke it off shortly after my father found and read my journal.

And that’s how my dad became the first man to call me a slut.

Why Don’t I Talk About You Like You’re New?

I don’t talk about you like you’re new.

I used to gush about you

Couldn’t talk enough about you

Couldn’t get enough about you

All the things about you

That I loved

The way your hair curled just so

And your hands worked, like whoa

The way your eyes twinkled and I’d know

There was something there for me

Something special you’d show just me

A little private thing I’d see

If I just let you in

You hung on so tight

So much wrong that you made right

Yet I stopped talking about you like you’re new

I stopped noticing the things you do

That made me curl up into you

Life, it tidal waves around us

And I stopped reaching out for you

I just assume you’ll stay beside me

That you’ll remember the things inside me

That first made you want to light me

Up from inside out

But I can’t shake this secret doubt

That maybe I’m the one without

The courage to seek out

The riddle’s answer true

Why don’t I talk about you

Like you’re new?

Washed Away With a Whisper

picmonkey_image

My skin crawls sometimes
A burning unease
Buzzing like tattoo needles
Etching in my sins
Just below the surface
Just out of sight from everyone else

Taunting

Unsettled pacing
My hands pulling through my hair
My fingers pounding at the keys
Tears tightrope across my lashes
My soul aflame
My heart a kick drum rhythm

Aching

Play with me
I beg
Weak
And needy
Desperate for quiet

A quiet that hovers just out of reach

Always
Just below the surface
Just out of sight from everyone else

A screaming specter only I can see

Threatening me

I can’t get free

Play with me
And when he does
I beg
Weak
And needy
Push me further
Make it hurt
More

Quiet the burning and buzzing
That you can’t hear
That you don’t see
Break me please

Make me free

And then
Sometimes
The quiet comes unexpectedly
Minus the pain
Before I ever beg

Sometimes it’s all washed away with a whisper

Make them sick with wanting to know what that feels like

For just a moment
Without a struggle
I’m set free

 

*inspired by the photo quote above – words of encouragement written to me from a friend.