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Archive for the ‘Flights of Distant Past’ Category

1974

Six thirteen year olds

held hands

boy girl boy

and waded barefoot

through ankle deep water

hunched over

through the sewer pipe

behind the abandoned house everyone thought was haunted

walking slowly

enjoying the touch

of  electricity

in close proximity

and anticipation

of reaching the clearing

underneath the giant buckeye tree

Several feet up

bright yellow dandelion heads

began to fall

from the  pinhole of light

in the center of the manhole cover

tossed in by Ann

just 6 years old

while singing “Ring  Around the Rosy”

Waiting quietly

for song’s end

without a word

said between us

We began as a low rumble

building to a loud moan

and listened as she ran

screaming

back to her house

as we ran

laughing

splashing loudly through the  concrete cavern

back to the field

that held cows

behind an electric fence

as the wind

carried our laughter

across every summer

thereafter

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A pewter clock with Roman Numerals hung on the brick wall above the console TV.  A  dark  stained pine couch  and love seat faced each other both with thick navy plaid cushions  leaving  just enough room between them for four small bodies to lay on their stomachs on the braided rug to watch Saturday cartoons, each girl with their own red or tan corduroy pillow to prop their arms on while our parents sat in chairs on either side of the room faces hidden behind the morning and then the evening paper.

Above the love seat was a metal map of the world as if its surface had been peeled like an orange and flattened in segments showing the continents how they were centuries ago. Within the frame atop the map, an illustration of a solar eclipse and on the bottom a lunar eclipse.  I would spend hours, mostly when sick, sipping orange juice looking at the eclipses wondering if I would ever see one in the sky without risk of blindness.   The love seat was the perfect place to look out the large bay window behind the couch into the back yard especially on rainy days or to watch the first flurries of winter float down to melt on the still warm ground, dreaming of laughter summer held in the above ground pool.

The braided rug rich in colors of autumn was also where my mother would lay on her stomach, head resting sideways on a pillow, shirt pulled up, bra strap undone. I would sit on her butt and ever so gently scratch her back, not to relieve an itch, but to create goosebumps with cursive movements in small waves, taking great pride when she said I did it best. I didn’t earn allowance for my chores, but this calming ritual for both of us was a way to earn a trip to the ice rink or maybe even the movies and is one of the few memories I have of her where we were at peace with each other.

Separating the kitchen and the family room was a desk and hutch in the same soft dark pine of the other furniture. No one ever sat there that I can remember or not sure there was even  a chair to which to sit.  On the three rows of shelves, hardcover books written mostly by Edgar Cayce and Ruth Montgomery. Intrigued by the cover, I did take Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus up to my room one night when I was was 13, and was careful to replace it fully read the next  morning to its proper slot before she would notice it gone.  The desk drawer on the right, underneath faded pieces of construction paper in colors no one used, dried up markers and pens without caps was the wooden toy paddle that one of us begged be purchased at the check out line. The one where we competed to see how many consecutive times the red rubber ball could be hit without missing.  The one my mother beat me with leaving welts on my skin after touching an egg the color of the sky in a nest she told me to stay away from. While there are no physical scars where the thin wood repeatedly stung my skin, the emotional scars of  the abandoned eggs lingered years later along with the terror and dread that surfaced every time that drawer was pulled open in anger.

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I can still see her

my mother

rocking in the fetal position

on avocado shag

uncontrollably sobbing

the day Elvis died

I wonder

if she felt that kind of pain

when she killed me

inside

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Fabricating sins

to a shadow behind a latticed screen

too ashamed of the real ones

wondering

the cost

for telling lies to God

Can forgiveness ever be granted

when the penance given

lies in the  prayer

that she forgot

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Gently

she tucked the stray strands of white hair

behind the ear

of the dying woman whose name she didn’t yet know

Holding her hand

silently praying

for her  breath

to ease

and three labored breaths later

the prayer answered

when it ceased

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The Basement…

The trepidation to descend into the basement began the moment my hand held the brass knob to open the hollow door leading down the staircase.   The wooden railing only on the right ended several steps before the bottom, precisely where the odor of mildew began, where  the 8th stair creaked and fear set in.  A dropped ceiling and fluorescent lighting made the already cramped space more claustrophobic.  At the base of the stairs to the left was a closet that in the winter held rows of  tomatoes my mother canned from her garden’s summer harvest.

To the right was a large open space with paneled walls and industrial deep green carpeting on the floors with little or no padding between it and the concrete.  A small dinette that consisted of a  bench that seated four comfortably and wrapped around a square table with a Formica  table top meant to look like  wood.  Next to the table was an old couch that used to be in the family room, but was demoted to the cellar after the more fashionable, but less comfortable set was bought.  The hum of a small dehumidifier could be heard at all times magically turning air into water. In my earlier years a ping pong table took up the main space.  A ball dented in anger over a hard loss, sat  dusty underneath the stereo that was situated directly below the only window often decorated with multiple spider webs.  In the back was a closet with louvered doors where board games rarely played were stored. In the dead of winter I would sit there in the dark, doors closed in the cave within the cave layered in darkness not fearful but comforted.  I would reminisce of  summer sitting in the neighbor’s apple tree  being held in it’s branches .  My sister caught me once coming out of the closet and asked why I was in there. I told her I shrunk to the size of a lady bug and crawled through the cracks in the walls to visit a land that exists only in the damp cold blocks of concrete. She demanded I take her there and when I refused she told my mother who punished me for lying. I wished I hadn’t made it up, because I found out that once you let someone in on your own private fantasy, it loses potency.

Once, when I was twelve, my step dad came down to the stairs, turned on his stereo. Dixieland Jazz came streaming from the speakers nearly as tall as I was. I watched him through the slats as he hitched his trousers before sitting into the deep couch, resting his head on the back cushion, smiling with his eyes closed and tapping his feet to the music. It was odd watching him, unaware he was being  seen. He was more relaxed, content and happier than I had ever seen him. It made me sad that he didn’t come down here more often. Perhaps if he did, he wouldn’t have taken a long nap every day after work or reach for a pill box every night after dinner. I found out years later those pills he took were Valium. A vacation from his mind packed in a miniature golden suitcase.

Our ping pong table was replaced with a pool table just after the neighbor’s was.  It was  large and white with red felt, not at all like their plain brown one “It isn’t even real wood” and the balls once cleared would roll to a holder on the sides, not sit in a basket underneath each pocket like theirs.  I didn’t play pool, but pretended to when I brought Jim DiIorio downstairs when I was sixteen to make  out, each of us taking turns taking our hands off of each other long enough to roll a ball into the others so my mother wouldn’t know. Thanks to the creaky eighth step, we may have had time enough to straighten our clothes, but not our faces when she appeared  four steps later with a basket full of laundry.

Behind saloon doors in the furthermost part of the cellar was the only part of the house free of decoration. The concrete walls were not covered or painted, a tattered rug covered the concrete floor. An old metal ironing board with a padded cover stood in the corner. The heavy iron balanced upright, its insulated cord wrapped neatly around it. The same iron that tipped while at its hottest setting onto my left hand. I don’t remember the pain, only the odor of my singed flesh, the dark smoke , my stomach turning as my skin bubbled and my mothers footsteps running down the stairs after my scream. My first pair of Levi’s would stay wrinkled that day.

Next to the washer and dryer was a  plastic utility sink stained with a deep red secret near the drain. I don’t know what caused it, but I assumed it must have something to do with blood since all my questions about it went unanswered.  The furnace, hot water heater and the dryer were all run on gas, the sound of their ignition always made me jump as the machinery running the house began to breathe with its ignition.

It was always hot in the summer and cold in the winter, always dark and scary especially if someone upstairs flipped the switch not knowing I was down there. I would scream once the lights went out, and hope the light was flipped back on or I ran to the switch at the base of the stairs before whatever lurked hidden in the damp room could come out and get me.  While the walk down to the basement was a slow one, I took the steps two at a time to leave it, careful not to knock over the dog biscuits stored on the second step

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1617 Holly Hill Drive

835-2396

I can recite the address and phone number as easily now as when I lived there 35 years ago. A four bedroom, two and one half bath Colonial on a dead end road in a planned development called Plantation Place where all the streets were named after plants and trees. I was relieved we didn’t live in Boxer Heights with roads names of  Dalmatian, Basset and Great Dane.  It was third house from the dead end and across the street from my best friends.  The house sheltered not only myself, but  my dreams, fears, and nightmares. Holding both the good and the bad memories within the walls. How effortlessly the ghosts of this old house continue to haunt the mind.

Hoping to free some  memories and hold onto others, I will be writing about this home room by room from the bottom up sharing the life of the house and the fabric of those who lived  its roof.

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Up before the sun always meant one thing, it must have been Saturday. While most of my friends stayed in their pajamas and watched cartoons, I was planning my adventure.  My day began with cleaning my room, not just “redding up” as we said in Pittsburgh for a general cleaning, but putting all my Elton John albums back in their sleeves and placed in chronological order, dusting the furniture, and vacumming the yellow shag carpet.  Being the oldest, I was also given the task of cleaning the bathroom I shared with my three younger sisters.

I would fix myself a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, eating it quickly before it became too soggy while waiting for my mother to awaken to examine  my room and bathroom before I could go out and start my day.  I rarely passed the inspection first time out.  A sock left under the bed, or the residue left by using too much Comet in the sinks were typical infractions I had to correct before heading out. A quick trip to my dad’s desk blotter where he kept his loose change, and I was ready for my day.

My walk began at the end of our dead end street, up the dirt hills we would ride our bikes down hands in the air,then through the wooden slats of Milliken’s fence hoping their horses were still in the stables while I cut through the pasture into the woods.  I always thought horses were beautiful, but after being bucked off one when I was around five at the zoo, I liked to keep a safe distance between me and them.  The Milliken’s bred Morgan horses which were bigger than any horse I’d ever seen and had their manes cut close, making them look even more menacing with their crew cuts.  Beyond this dirt pasture – peace in stillness of the woods.

Rhythmic songs of cicadas began as I approached, as if they welcomed my presence.  Could it be they knew instinctively I was born of the woods and announced my arrival?  In their pauses, I swear I could hear the trees whisper my secrets to one another.   Each soft step deeper into the forest, releasing earth’s scent beneath me was one step away from my house, one step closer to home.  I cherished these times of solitude away from the pressures of school, to swim in my own thoughts without them being criticized by a mother I could never seem to please.  Light reflected off  tiny leaves danced on my skin as I made my way past the patches of wild violets to the moss beds where I would sit, running my hands across the velvet green mounds, sometimes curling up the edges to see what insects lived in the moist soil beneath.

Still early in the morning, the Bruno  boys would be having their pancakes right about now, their mom always preparing a hot breakfast for them meant I had time to explore their fort, hidden beyond the well worn paths.  The twins, a year older than I was had entered middle  school the year before, built their shelter from old plywood sheets and roof shingles stolen from construction sites of the new homes being built in and extension of our development. Inside,lying flat on a makeshift shelf, a heavy brushed silver lighter engraved with their dad’s initials. I would flip the lid and light a quick flame.  I loved the smell of the lighter fluid burnt on the end of the frayed wick.  Always with a sly smile, I replaced the lighter standing up with the lid flipped open. Scattered on the dirt floor – carpet remnants. Underneath the brown shag patch, a stash of old Playboys taken from their older brother.  The pages slightly crumpled, their favorite pages dog eared. I would slowly flip through the magazine staring at the photographs.   The women’s bodies seemed so different than my own. More curves and softer than my lean athletic body.  I just figured they didn’t ride bikes from sun up to sunset  or know the joy of climbing to the top of the tallest pine.  The only time I let anyone see my naked body was Dr. Stengel at my annual check up each summer and even then I kept my eyes closed during the examination. I couldn’t imagine why these women wearing nothing but glossy lipstick painted on fake smiles would position themselves that way on scratchy hay bales. I wondered if I would look like that soon as I began to notice changes in my own form. I found myself envious not of their womanly shape, but their long straight windblown hair, a contrast to my short curly hair, always out of place.  After I was done looking at the newest copy, I made sure to replace it under a different carpet sample… just because.

Leaving the fort behind me, bending branches along my walk back to the path, my legs become scratched by unknown thorned weeds we simply called jagger bushes. The slow drag across my bare legs leaving little bloody perforated scratches.  Once on the path, I was able to move at a quicker pace through the woods, listening to small animals scamper in the distance while birds sang from their high perches in the trees.  Exiting the woods on Stoltz Rd, crossing the busy road carefully into the entrance to South Park.

South Park was a large wooded area with several small winding roads leading to picnic pavillions, an ice skating rink, public swimming pool. Corrigan Drive the main drag through the center of the park. Saturday mornings this strip of road  was busy with teenage boys in souped up cars with shiny paint jobs cruising the park slowing down to take a look at the pretty girls.  Those girls who were not at all awkward like myself. Girls in tube tops and hot pants whose hips and long flowing hair danced as they walked. Girls so pretty they could be found between the stuck pages of Playboy magazine.

Instead of walking the paved pathways, I opted instead to wade barefoot in the clear creek that paralleled Corrigan.  Stuffing my socks into my shoes, I would carefully place them on the banks and slowly dip my toes into the cold water.  I can still feel the blistering hot sun burning my shoulders as the cold water quickly numbed my feet, the gentle current bubbling against my calves.  My feet searching below rock to sink into the soft silt clouding the clear water with each step.

Having reached the exit to the park, I would cross the busy intersection to the strip mall that included a Baskin Robbins shop. Using the change I took from my fathers blotter, I would order a double scoop cone consisting of one dark chocolate scoop, one mint chocolate chip. The walk back home was always more leisurely exhilaration mixed with melancholy. Walking along the roadside home, just one more stop before finally reaching home. I would pass by a hidden playground, the pavillion not used due to the simple fact that there was no restroom close by. I would stop there and swing.  The hot rubber seat forming to my hips as soon as I sat down. In no time  I would be soaring through the air in no time. Pumping my legs, feeling the wind through my hair, leaning back eyes closed it felt like flying.  Swinging high my soul soared until blisters formed on my palms from the metals links I gripped tightly.  One last furious pump into the sky before jumping always wishing that miraculously I would not land, but fly higher than the tops of the highest trees I had ever climbed and to fly becoming one with the sky. That was never to be, but if i was lucky, I would land perfectly on my feet before heading home.

Traipsing through the woods on the way home, the Bruno boys could be heard laughing in their fort, the faint smell of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. I ran quickly on a distant path not to be seen, Tony often teasing me about my lanky body and calling me a tomboy. We both knew it was because I beat him in bicycle races and could pop the biggest wheelies in my pink bike with streamers than he could in his fancier boy bike.

Safe through the pasture, the horses in for the day I was back on my paved street walking slowly back to my house. My mom in the back yard, talking over the chain link fence to the neighbor meant I could enter the house and get a large glass of water without aswering questions about where  I had been.  Taking the thirteen steps back to my room two at a time, careful not to wake my napping dad, I went back to my room, shut the door pulled out my favorite Elton John album and listened to “Your Song” as fell backwards onto my bed  letting the music drift my day into a beautiful memory.

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Warm breezes carry songs of summers past

barefoot memories and carefree laughter echo

between cries of Marco!

Polo!

Rainbow streamers flying from unmanned bike handles

as I rode down the steepest hill

past neighbors cutting grass

arms raised

with a smile on my face

If I close my eyes now

and feel the wind

as I listen to the sound of the lawnmowers

I can almost remember what it felt like

to be brave

beautiful

and unstoppable

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Driving past that old cinderblock house, I only remember the happiness that bloomed there.  Our first house, the one where we grew from a couple to a family.  In an instant, I see my now grown son as a baby doing a soldier crawl on the beige tile floors. I hear music coming from the back pool, and the laughter of friends who have since moved away.

Where do the memories of the tears go? The bitter arguments. The feelings of neglect. The endless power struggle to hold on to myself while becoming immersed  in motherhood.

Do the tears I shed now, out of a clear blue mind, fall from the pain of another me in a parallel plane? One too strong willed to cry. One too weak to show her vulnerability as she slowly became invisible in her own life.

Drive by memories of what used to be and what continues to breathe

somewhere else …

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