Missing Rings

Missing Rings

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Ah, rings. There are six shown above, a good variety. There could be, perhaps should be, more to display. I’ve collected a few rings over my lifetime, especially when much younger and my hands seemed to desire adornments more than they do now. Not that they were uniquely lovely hands. They were so functional–fingers long though skinny–for playing my cello and a little harp, for noodling around on piano, for writing everything in longhand and, of course, bike riding and swinging from tree branches.

I was less interested in any jewelry until I entered high school. Rings have been gifts, or were found at fancy and plain shops. I made them, too, from silver. Most sit in my wood jewelry box. Even after giving a couple away to daughters, I counted eleven more in nesting spots. Out of those, more than half could be tossed now, as I have little if any attachment to them. This tidying task is on my To Do list along with the others. But the ones I value most are ones I wear often, usually three at once and daily.

All are shown above with the kindly regarded fourth, and a fifth set back. Apart. I prefer jewelry made of silver as gold tends toward flashier. I like the coolness of silver, a twilit ribbon of water or the horizon on a rain-promised day or snow and ice in barest morning shadow. Silver soothes and lightens, shows its beauty in a decorous way.

In the front row: a moonstone set in a clean silver setting. In the second row: a phoenix inset with a small turquoise, then a silver ring with a filigree of floral designs, and a gold one with twin pearls. In the back is a wide rose gold band. It is not my wedding band.

In fact, I have no wedding band. I have had, of course; I have been married more than once and am now. But I’ve had no ring on my left ring finger with a purpose of declaring “married.” Not for quite a while.

My very first wedding ring was handmade by an white-haired, philosophizing, gifted jeweler and artisan in Sarasota, Florida. I had admired his work and his affability when on a vacation, before I was even expecting to marry Ned. Then such plans came to be and my fiancé and I, twenty-two and twenty respectively, designed interlocking shapes. The drawings and sizes were mailed and finally they came back, hand cast in luminous gold. The rings had heft and beauty, perfect for the event, a church wedding we shared with friends and family. I felt the ring’s unique presence, and it held my hopes.

But our marriage ended nine years later. And much later, the ring was sold for its considerable gold. It was an act of angry grief. I thought it was only an object and would never regret it. Now, 36 years later, the memory of its meaning remains beyond the thing itself. I sometimes wish it was around– to pass on one day to children we had and loved together. To admire its glow, its creative design, to feel its weight and exquisiteness a moment before returning it to a quiet spot.

My current husband, Marc, and I married in the living room of our rambling blue house, our combined five children, my parents and a few friends in attendance along with a gentle-eyed minister. The day before we had bought silver bands at a hippie shop where artsy-craftsy items were sold. It was a college town; we had little extra money; we had put it off until late. It seemed less important than getting things settled with our new family and moving on with life. The bands were worn for perhaps three years, then one day mine was simply gone. It was winter. My hands were bluish-white with cold as always, and I sought lotion to put on chapped skin. I looked down to find the ring had disappeared. It had had a small split in the thin curve of silver; it had not held up well. I wondered if it finally just broke apart and fell while I was doing daily chores. It never was found.

I began wearing another silver band, the one in the photograph on the right. I had made it in my high school art class. It was plain, save for six delicate lines that scored the round-edged circle. I liked having it on; it passed easily for my wedding ring. We first spent money on our children and other priorities, not jewelry. So I decided to keep wearing it and my husband was agreeable. Then five years later he bought me a little bit fancy blue topaz which I gladly wore until…yes, disaster…the good-sized stone fell from a loosened prong as I rode a bike. Gone for good. I really missed that one but it was back to the silver band.

Twelve years later I still wore that high school band even though we divorced. I figured it was one that was wholly mine, married or not. I had created and enjoyed its simplicity for twenty-five years at that point.

Some rings came and left with me, one marriage to the other, one life passage to another, as well as when single for six years after the second divorce. Since high school I had worn on my right hand one of two rings. You can see a gold one set with diminutive pearls as well as one in silver with a large moonstone.

The pearl ring was a gift from my parents for my sixteenth birthday. I was very surprised by their action partly due to the extravagance–they usually didn’t buy us much of “extraneous” things (meaning, irrelevant to our cultural and academic education) nor anything fancy, I felt very grown up when wearing it, pleased they entrusted me with a possession of loveliness and some value. It looked classy on my hand. They were the only pearls I enjoyed wearing, despite a single strand of pearls being a girls’  preferred piece of jewelry for dressing up (I had a pearl necklace, handed down from my big sister). The importance of it was their gifting it. And it matters I’ve managed to keep it for so long. And that it still fits.

The moonstone ring was one I bought with money saved a long time. I got it a year or so after receiving the pearl ring. I saw it at the finest jewelry store in town, where my girlfriends and I liked to browse, ogling bright gemstones, shining silver necklaces and bracelets–all while under laser gazes and snippety glances of elegant saleswomen. Rarely could I even  small things there for best friends. It was the style then to engrave a locket or  an “ID” bracelet with initials or a message and give to closest friends.

When I spotted the moonstone, it dazzled me more than any diamond could. It held a deep glow in its milky depths. It changed when turned under display lights, brighter, then softer and richer. It seemed to presage something mysterious and good. I had to know more about this stone, and read soon after that it was said to enhance intuition, that it encouraged hope and balanced energy. That did it; I had to have it. It felt like this was meant to be my ring, whether or not it had any special qualities. For me it did; the moonstone spoke to me. And so I purchased it and wore it for the next decades on my right hand. Without it, my hand feels oddly bare.

Now it’s worn on my left ring finger, the traditionally designated marriage finger. I mentioned I don’t have a wedding band now and thus, this takes its place alongside the basic silver one I made so long ago. The reason I don’t have an official one? When Marc and I remarried and finally got around to designing silver bands, it turned into a trying experience all around. I wanted a sapphire as well as a tiny diamond from a family ring set into a wide, textured band. It was made in such a way that the settings kept catching on fabric. Too, when it was cold and my fingers “shrank”, the ring turned and another finger got scraped. Then the diamond fell out. Marc’s heavier ring, with no stones, was fine. I returned mine to the jeweler  but she stated it couldn’t be well repaired or redesigned for a reasonable price or length of time. After a trying exchange, I finally got part of the money back. I was so frustrated and disappointed.

And I was done with all that. I was starting to wonder about this wedding ring business. So far I haven’t found another wedding ring that thrills me. Thus, my old moonstone and silver band now keep their place on my left finger. Marc is nonchalant about all this; he wears his sturdy silver band.

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Another ring in the picture displays a small phoenix. That story is simple: it came from my (now only living) sister, who has collected a great deal of turquoise jewelry so knows her stones and silver. She gave it to me after a difficult time in my life when I was determined to embrace sobriety well and gratefully, yet was experiencing self-doubt and melancholy. The mythology of the phoenix is that across many cultures this majestic bird has symbolized death and rebirth, a bird who perishes in a fire of its own making, only to come alive and rise up once more. It seems foolish not to wear that one. I do appreciate its beauty as I wear it, but it was more my sister’s love that helped me increase my strength and hope, to start over again.

The wide ring with a complex design appears to bear flowers or geometric shapes reminiscent of ceramic tiles that often draw me. I bought this one about ten years ago after it was potted at a silver shop in Hood River, Oregon. The day was sunny and breezy. Down the hill flowed the powerful Columbia River, brightly marked with windsurfers and paddleboarders, many kayaks and sailboats. We had watched and walked, drunk our cold brew coffee and chatted. When I saw the ring I thought: I’m always happy here and this ring feels just like that feels. It suits me well with both flowers and geometry. I’ve worn it since on my right hand.

The last one in the picture, a rose gold band, is enigmatic. I put it at the back because it has no meaning other than what I may choose to ascribe to it. It is, ironically, most like a wedding band and it likely is. It just is not and never will be mine.

It was after a senior concert at a high school that our daughter attended. I had gone alone, as Marc was on a work trip, and parked on a major street near businesses. I was tired but pleased with her concert; Alexandra had gone off with friends. I put a few items to take home on the passenger side of the car seat, closed the door and looked down for no good reason. There, between the curb and my car, lay a ring. It barely glinted. I could only see it a moment because  headlights swept across pavement. I picked it up, and held it closer to my eyes, then looked around, wondering who may have lost it. It could have been anybody who had parked there–and  at any given time. I wondered, though, if it was someone with kids at the school. Or a business person crossing the street. A woman walking her dogs. A visitor to the area.

For a moment I thought about taking it into the school, but the building was nearly dark as evening came to a close. It could belong to an elderly woman or someone who had fingers like I did, thin, bony, “slippery” when cold. But how would I ever know? I put it in my pants pocket and left. Then I forgot about it.

It was a week later when I started to wash the dress pants that the ring was retrieved. I turned it over in my fingers. It was a pretty rose gold, I was sure of it, with its golden-coppery sheen. I tried it on my right ring finger. To my surprise, it fit. I felt a bit shaky with that sense of doing something wrong as I stood in my laundry room, admiring–wearing–another woman’s ring. It could have adorned someone’s hand for fifty years. It had tiny scratches, was worn on the edges, maybe from lying in leaves and dirt a long while. Or the result of years of wear and tear. Life being lived. Who was she? What did she think when she realized it was not on her finger?

I can’t tell you why I kept it, there was no real reason. I didn’t know what to do with it, how on earth I’d find such a person. I considered putting an ad in the city newspaper but how would that work out? Anyone might say it was hers; no one might even read it, it’s just the paper. I had a ring with no home, no place to be. No hand to warm. Maybe I kept it because it just turned up for me–someone who doesn’t even own a ring specific to marriage. As I write that sentence, no feeling surfaces. Still, it remains in my polished jewelry box with those I no longer wear. For all I know, it might also be similar to the ones I wear: not emblematic of marriage, exactly, but a gift. Or even a ring she found in a dusty shop or yes, right on the ground. But I guess I have become its de facto keeper.

I do know this: rings don’t have power in and of themselves. They are small adornments, enhance a hand or symbolize things but we make our own meanings. Yet they can exert influence on us. They can stir things up one way or another, perhaps help us release our own magic. Hold a semblance of our pasts and aid the sharing of our stories. They can even contribute to our creation of new chapters in unseen ways as we move forward.


Discover Challenge: Open-Mindedness/Gender Identity, More a River than a Clear, Still Pond


Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

via Discover Challenge: Open-Minded

I have a grandchild whom I will name Z, who has felt and seemed more like a boy than a girl even since toddlerhood. Not just to Z but also to others after the first three or four years. Not a tomboy, not really. Just more male than female, somehow. There was a way of moving and interacting, of expressing ideas and needs that didn’t seem to line up with what society deems feminine. If that sounds sexist, I guess you would need to experience what I saw and felt as I have gotten to know Z. There must be some essential difference between “boy” and “girl” well imprinted before birth, then more asserted earlier than later, and not just outwardly but via personality. Yet if anything in the beginning,  Z seemed behaviorally more gender-less to me than female, or not. I was just waiting to see what happened and thought nothing more.

Then I didn’t see Z for many years due to a divorce from Z’s grandfather. I also moved far away. I had pictures, though, and it always seemed Z was well, almost masquerading. The usual school and family pictures I studied displayed two granddaughters side by side, both in frilly dresses, hair in tiny rows of braids with fussy ribbons (Z) or straightened and glossy (older girl, Y). Yes, Z and sister, Y, are bi-racial, more Black than white if they cared to say so when asked (my husband is bi-racial). In the photos, though, the gender contrasts were remarkable: Z looked constrained and out of sorts and overdressed while Y was happy, at ease and already elegantly pretty. She danced, sang, painted her nails, fussed iwth her hair. Z  cared for comfort in clothes, headed out on the bike, and made noise enough for three.  Z’s mother stated that Z didn’t like to hang out with girls any more than before. Z and Y had fights galore; they were so unalike. Z was more defined by increased traditional male-identified behavior and perhaps attitude with each passing year.

It had become problematic–that is, there was real confusion in the other kids– by second and third grade at school and in the neighborhood. Fusses and questions. And then Z began to hint that Z felt not like a girl but a boy. Was, in truth, not really a girl. And things got harder. Bullying commenced; distress intensified for Z. And in some manner, the family.

When a few years later that daughter and two children moved to my city, I waited for them at the airport. And there came the jaunty, grinning, enthusiastic, hearty Z with hair shorn and fashioned into a mohawk. The stance, the walk: Z was sending a signal and no one would shrug and say well, Z was really still a girl. Despite biological facts and the hormonal changes on the horizon; Z was 1o by then. I was faintly disconcerted at first. Maybe quietly stunned is the better descriptor as the days and weeks went by. Sure not less impacted. This child was someone other than who everyone else had determined. And Z had already suffered consequences. It was almost like Z “passed” as male although Z really was truly struggling to “pass” as a female everywhere— when it didn’t even resonate one bit. Z’s skin color–dark brown identifying Z as black, Z’s whiteness almost like a footnote–was not debatable and so was less an issue than the other. Or so it seemed at first. That was another matter, further revealed as the middle school loomed.

I wondered what the new city would offer, as Portland has generally had many resources for folks other than heterosexual, even young teens. And as a side note, one of my sisters was a Director of agencies that provided some of those services. Z and family had migrated from a conservative suburban area to a much better situation as far as supports were concerned.

I had already observed over the decades that a great many people leaned toward androgyny. Our gender appears to be a matter of how much or little of hormones born with and our more mysterious inclinations, I suspect. We are a fantastic conglomeration of parts, chemicals and genes that hide or reveal innumerable variations. It seemed testosterone and estrogen were only part of the story. There are those who apparently have more of one than the other. Appearance of one gender or the other, noted or searched for in people’s faces and even bodies can be tricky, I thought and still think. I have always found gender identity a beautiful yet peculiar aspect of being human. Because, in the most primary ways I’ve identified as profoundly female, yet intellectually and creatively I’ve experienced realms beyond gender while engaged in exploring ideas and creating. It seemed irrelevant to me that I was a girl growing up in those crucial ways–and that was perhaps odd, considering my femaleness was also victimized as a child. So, being a girl could be socially daunting even as I felt it deeply mysterious, thrilling, to grow up. And yet–I was a female who thrived in places that anyone at all could live and aspire and succeed: in mind, spirit and heart. And why not? Being female was sort of an aside when I was in thrall creatively. While it was the boys who distracted me and then opened up other worlds, to be sure.

But the reality for Z was that, regardless of birth identification as female, the other reality prevailed: Z adamantly felt and so must be male. Z finally made this clear to family, then changed her name to a masculine name, even asked for male pronouns. The name has stuck for years now; the habit of different pronouns has been established. I think it must have been long sought and practiced privately before spoken aloud. Changes began to happen and complications occurred.

It hasn’t slowed down seven years later. Z. takes testosterone hormone shots, something I found almost scary, certainly jarring when first informed. There has been a lot of therapy. And Z talks, behaves and portrays his more singular self as who he feels he truly has been, is, will be. Few find him other than what he wants the world to see, even though it can’t be easy at in high school, either. I know there has been a lot of pain and anger, hope and courage and a new freedom with newer constraints all mixed up together. There must have been bargaining of one sort or another with himself, with his mother and father and sister, with friends and enemies until finally: enough! Z was Z and that was that.

Being open-minded has been critical. There is a child’s future at stake. There is love that is at the center of things and hope for his future, one that may be safe and fulfilling. Yes, it has been a challenge, at times. I felt I once had a granddaughter, now more and more a grandson. We get double takes sometimes when out and about. Some of the family does not feel even close to comfortable much less accepting. I find myself glimpsing Z and seeing more and less, the girl, the boy or all that may be in between. And I wonder who this person is becoming. I can’t say I have no uneasiness to wrestle with, or no fear or worry for Z. I can’t say I understand, that it all makes sense to me with no further thought necessary. Because I have been at home as a woman only so cannot begin to imagine, not really, how it is to not feel aligned internally and externally regarding one’s identity as a whole person. And I suspect that is what it’s all about in the end: not Gender, even, as much as being allowed to be one’s own unique self. And that’s hard for all and for certain much harder for some others. But we all fight for and work toward what it is that matters most.

I will simply care for Z, no matter what. Because I want Z to–as a human being first and last–experience peace and joy, to know and give love, to reach for and attain valued goals and dreams. To be who Z wants to be/become. And I say this although right now Z is not close to me. We used to take good walks and talk a blue streak, used to play board games and share more meals and plenty of laughs. For now, Z’s journey is about heading out in another direction. But I’m still here.

Perhaps being open-minded asks us to make a responsible commitment to gaining greater information. To be willing to at least try to understand the best we can, despite different, sometimes opposing experiences. I ask myself to first to feel and act compassionately–this must reach beyond my lack of direct, personal knowledge and comfort zone. I am a true believer in kindness, and possess a lifelong desire to learn what I don’t know.


Note: This is not my usual Wednesday nonfiction post but a response to the “Discover Challenge” word prompts bloggers are invited to write about if desired. The topic of open-mindedness got me going. I will post my regular nonfiction piece, as well. Thanks for reading.

The Bus to Betelgeuse

Photo by Robert McFarlane

He disliked buses, their narrowness and heaviness, built with two skimpy rows of seats crammed against moving walls, the invasion of strangers’ bulk and breath so close to his space. The walls looked stationary but trundled through the mayhem of city streets while stale air blasted. Still, they were indispensable.

Cars weren’t much better, just smaller. Michael hadn’t owned one that had run more than a few months at best. Taxis were worse with tons of humans occupying the same places day in, day out, and being trapped with a driver who couldn’t bear to stop talking or wouldn’t answer one question decently. He’d relented and taken buses for three years now. And this one would be carrying him along with other restless or drowsy people for the next two hours, a marathon in his view. He didn’t know if he was up to it and stared ahead into the unspooling velvet of darkness, half-wondering if there was a stop where he could still jump off.

Elena had never understood Michael’s attitude about public transportation, but there were plenty of things she didn’t get yet.

“What’s the big deal? You’re picked up and moved from point A to point B for less than you’d pay for a crappy car’s maintenance and insurance or a parade of taxis. You can chat with neighbors or not. You can read or sleep. You don’t even have to pay attention to the driving. It’s perfect, really.”

Michael waited for the final word. She had one more often than not. He knew what this one was.

“Besides you’re an actor, you should be grateful for the chance to study human nature closer-up. You can even be anyone you want for the ride and no one will know the difference.”

“It’s mostly tolerable and does the job,” he said and kissed the top of her head. She came up to his shoulder but she always seemed taller–until she leaned close. He put his nose to the crown of her head: a minty-herbal scent. It was as much her signature as the sheen of long auburn hair or the pale dash under her chin, a reminder of a fall at two years old.

They’d been together long enough, three years now. Each morning she went off to her computer programmer job and he–if he got lucky and his agent called–showed up for a couple auditions and tried to impress. He was moderately well paid for acting the last twelve years, which said something. Commercials and the stage, a bit part in a couple of indies. The first had been his bread and butter but lately he’d been hired for fewer.

George, his agent said: “Frankly, being thirty-eight doesn’t help; each year you’ll be older, less handsome, it’ll get harder. What’s your back-up plan?–not too early to get that going.”

It shouldn’t have shocked him but it did. He didn’t look old according to Elena or those who did hire him. His resonant voice was in strong and elastic form. His looks were as useful as ever, good enough like his physique. But it all could be crumbling under his feet, he being the last to know. Michael had no “back-up plan.” He wasn’t counting on Elena, of course, it wasn’t her responsibility to uphold his financial health. Though she did, at times. He didn’t tell her much about his bank account; it was one of those topics he intended to continue to avoid.

So when the final paycheck from Tiptop Organic Jams and Jellies covered his portion of rent in their Chicago flat, with only five hundred left over, he started to sweat. Nothing else materialized the next three weeks. He had a little in savings but it wouldn’t be savings if he spent it all now. It was his rule to forget about it. Only a dire emergency could make him ransack that little nest. It wasn’t to that point. Yet.

Then his cousin called. A fill-in plan presented itself.

Leon was Michael’s only male cousin. He’d inherited four car dealerships his father had begun and built to sterling success. Then he managed to run them even more profitably after Uncle Craig dropped over from a heart attack. No one missed him –a loyal friend, a bulldog of a boss–nearly as much after Leon got hold of the business and upped their salaries.

Though they talked every three or four months or at least texted, the last time Michael had visited (with Elena) his bigger-than life cousin was at a New Year’s Eve party a year and a half back. It was held at the overly grand (“mammoth cracker jack of a house” Michael warned Elena, giant-sized to fit his cousin’s personality) in the ‘burbs. Three young ones and a Labrador running riot over expensive carpets and hardwood. Leon’s wife, Meadow, smiling as if her mouth was wired open. It was likely to show off the blinding white capped teeth. But Michael missed that crooked front one; there was something endearing about it all the years he had known and cared abut her. Everything was overdone, reflective of Leon’s fortune. Michael tended to feel as out of place as a beat up tan Ford truck in a showroom full of gleaming Aston Martins. It could have been much worse, this was his cousin, after all, nothing was big news. Elena went into social shock.

Leon–affable, expansive, hyper as ever–was too busy wheeling and dealing in the back so-called game room to talk more than a moment. The booze didn’t just flow. It had started to transfuse guests’ blood by eleven o’clock. Troublesome mischief percolated under the surface, you could see the looks, feel the air crackle with a hilarity that veered toward old insults or fresh complaints or ill-mannered desires. He wasn’t delicate of nature but Elena paled, the combination of such affluence and drama was too much. They left shortly after midnight though they’d been invited to stay overnight. He might have done so but she declined by abruptly leaving while he was trying to decide, coats on his arm. He felt he had little choice but to follow her. He was disappointed that his cousin’s life seemed drowning in ostentation. But it was his money, his choice.

“So, I’m thinking I could use you this summer, Bro,” Leon confided after they caught each other up the first five minutes.

Michael felt suspicion rise up as he poured an oily cup of late afternoon coffee. “Bro”–a blast from the past. He sank his teeth into a third chocolate chip cookie. He could hear Leon chewing gum, a habit since he’d quit smoking. His cousin had an obnoxious talent with gum since he was a kid. The more agitated, the more snapping and cracking. Leon once could  blow bubbles like nobody’s business.

“That right, Cuz? What’s up?” He took another small bite.

“Well, you know Amy and Ian are natural hams like you… but I can’t get them to go to the children’s acting school out here. They’re eight and ten, why wouldn’t they want to play make believe with other kids, learn the skills if they like it so much? They think it’ll be boring, of course. So I was thinking that you’d come out for the next few weeks, get them going so next fall they’d be primed, set to go to the after school program.” He paused for a breath. “You working now?”

Michael stopped chewing, crisp cookie turning to mush as he looked at the street scene below. A bus stop was at their corner and all day people clustered and broke apart, gathered then disappeared inside cranky city bus doors. He wished they’d move that stop so he could get some relief from it all when at home.

“I’m not a teacher, as you know, and certainly not of children. Never taught a kid one good thing on purpose, anyway. I’m just taking a break between jobs.”

Did his cousin really think he’d throw away summer opportunities trying to teach his kids acting–a little family fun?

“Aw, you can do anything you put your mind to, teaching kids is nothing. They look up to you, Michael, they point out your commercials every time like they were Oscar winning moments. They think you’re famous, friends find you impressive. If you taught them fundamentals, they’d be motivated as heck to learn more.”

“Nice. But unfair, Leon, to put me on the spot. Besides, ever think I’m out there, doing my best footwork every single day? Or do you think I get good jobs waiting around for the phone to ring, one solicitous summons after another for my rare talent?”

Leon laughed. “You and those words. Naw, of course not, but I’ll bet you have a spare couple of weeks, at least. I know you aren’t in any plays for now–Meadow keeps up with Chicago theater gossip, we donate money everywhere… We’d try between your jobs. Twice a day classes or one long one, a big performance at the end….we could have friends over, make an occasion of it, opening night sort of thing!” He covered the phone with a hand and spoke rapidly to someone in his office, then returned. “Think about it. I’m too busy to talk more but wanted to put it out there–”

“Where would I live, Leon? In your servant-supplied guesthouse? Or would Meadow deliver breakfast in bed with a blue-black rose in a crystal vase?” It came out sharper than expected. The imagined scenarios were weird and ridiculous and he was verging on rude. He was ready to say “thanks but no thanks” and just hang up, sit on the back balcony and while the time away until his agent called. “I take that back, really uncalled for.”

But Leon erupted into a chortling; likely whoever was there looked his way. It took a second for him to start again. “Michael, we have this house with seven spacious bedrooms and only four are occupied at the moment. Your own room, en suite. The one at the back facing the pool as you like it. Come on, man, what a deal. You can swim and tan and teach my kids how to make more drama and I’ll pay you a couple grand, okay?”

Michael’s eyes locked on the next bus coming to a halt. “What’s that?”

“More, then? I doubt you could top that right now.”

“Two weeks, huh? I might have to come back to the city for jobs, you never know.”

“Three weeks at minimum, okay, plus add a few days for rehearsals, right? We’ll revisit the money later.”

“I’ll think it over,” Michael said, considering his bank account, how it longed to tally greater numbers.

“You do that, Bro, talk soon,” he said cheerfully and rang off.


Elena came in and let the door bang shut, then dumped a bag of groceries on the kitchen chair. He told her what Leon had said.

“You’re not even close to him, Michael, you hated being out there last time. You talk on the phone, what–twice a year?”

“A lot more than that if you count texting, which we do. Hate is a very strong word, I found it discomfiting. You hated it. Anyway, I’m the poorer one in this flat. The fact is, I can use that money.”

“You don’t need money right now, I’m working, you’ll get more jobs. You always do.”

“That’s yours. I make my own. And it’s been a bit of a dry spell…I’m getting older, maybe that’s the slow down.”

“Oh, poosh-wah, you’re the perfect age.” She kissed him as he freed the carrots and potatoes from plastic bags. “So you’re going to the hinterlands to teach your niece and nephew– what? How to pretend more? Do they even have talent?”

“I don’t quite know. Amy sang pretty well even at five and has taken loads of dance. She’s ten now so odds are she has more going on. Ian may or may not, he’s been into skateboarding…It doesn’t matter. I can use this money so I should do it.”

She took a jug of milk from one hand and then an egg carton from another, appraising each as if she wasn’t sure what it was, then crammed them into the refrigerator with a  shake of her head. “Seriously? Odd idea, but it’s your family. And bank account.”

But Michael had decided. A couple of weeks in the suburbs might even do more good than harm. Maybe he’d re-think his career. He might even be a good teacher–a whole new option if needed. Then a cringe ran up back and neck, transforming into a furrowed brow. He didn’t even like kids much; he was awkward around them. He was an only child, himself. Even being around Amy, Ian and little Leon II, well, he never knew just what to say or do, though he loved them. They were family, after all. He repeated to himself four times, as if a mantra: two grand–that’s to start. But he felt less excited than before. He felt something else altogether, a hint of shame, a sense he was doing the wrong thing here, after all.

Michael was accepting money from his family to…what?…have a good time with and share his calling–that’s what acting was for him–with his niece and nephew.

What was wrong with him? And what was Leon thinking–first, asking him to do this but second, offering to pay him? Perhaps bribing him, if you wanted to call it like it was? What was he expecting of him? And then he considered. His father had died early from heart disease. He was not even sixty. Leon had just turned forty-one but maybe he, too, had felt the passage of time like a blemish upon the present.

And then it occurred to him that they both had careers that depended on selling. Cars or one’s own self, it was still a sales job so Leon was as much an actor as was he. It must run in the family.


It was getting dark, and a nighttime phantasmagoria of lights, moving and still, provided hypnotic relief as he settled in his seat. Michael had packed a bag in the morning, then attended an audition that went poorly at the Moda Nouveau Theatre. The play was stilted and ironic, not enough action or–dare he admit it–heart. The director was not one he’d have even enjoyed. It was work, but he wished he could find an old-fashioned meaty role.

He had met Elena for mediocre Italian before the bus left at eight-thirty. They’d talked about her coming out the next week-end, but they both knew she’d rather be at home or with friends than at his cousin’s. She’d only met him that one time and it had bombed. It was okay; he could always go back to the city to see her. The first night out he’d be staying at a good hotel to help ease him into Leon’s world. Elena’s generous treat, her way of trying to be more supportive, he guessed. But when they parted it was like she just floated away and he was left on his own for once. It didn’t feel bad.

When he had to embark, she had held on to his neck longer than usual, smoothed his forehead, hair. Kissed him twice, gently. He wondered if she was trying to tell him something but they had noting more to say. He’d call when he had something of import to hare.

The bus was nearly empty. Well, who else was going to head out to East Norwood this time of day on a Thursday night? What would be the point unless returning from an event? But despite the hard bench seat, he relaxed. His head filled, then emptied of miscellaneous things as miles ticked by and the road and country turned ebony. The visit might do him good or it might not but he couldn’t dispute right timing due to the need of monetary infusion. He suspected Leon would pay him more if the kids liked him, if it worked out well.

But as he watched dark shapes outside the window morph and recede he also saw Leon and himself racing down the big hill by his uncle’s older but big colonial house. The yard alone made every visit a joy, such private acreage. There were two rope swings hanging from tall trees and even a trapeze. A flower and kitchen garden that overtook a portion of land. A kidney-shaped pool in the back with a yellow canopy sheltering chairs and a round table. A fire pit where they roasted hot dogs and made S’mores.

Michael could make out the Big and Little Dipper without any trouble. His dad pointed out a few more constellations, including Cassiopeia and Orion–the last Michael’s favorite. Orion was a superior hunter whom he felt was a nighttime guardian, even a slayer of monsters. And there was Betelgeuse, the cool red star with the silly name. A supergiant star beaming from Orion’s shoulder. Michael longed to see that red star up close. He thought it a powerful amulet captive in the sky, it was so bright, the ninth brightest they could see with their eyes, his dad said. He secretly felt its light pulsed at him so he made his own small pulsing, open-and-closed-fingered motion back at it, like a lighthouse beam flashing on and off. If, that is, no one saw him. Once Leon did but said nothing, just waved at the star, then ran off into circles, yelling at nothing.

They had freedoms at that house, in that yard, that Michael didn’t experience any other place. The expansive space and open air were like a drug before he knew what that really was. Everything seemed more fascinating, intense. He and Leon were “thick as thieves” as his mother said laughing, getting into minor scrapes, mapping out escapades. His cousin followed his lead back then. Michael always had a story plotted, an adventure outlined. The summer visits at his cousin’s was shaped by happiness. Even when he broke his arm falling out of his own measly tree so was half-lame all summer–Leon showed him things he could still manage. Even when Leon got tonsillitis so was bedridden much of the summer. Michael told him stories until he fell sleep, face pressed against the damp pillow, drool slipping from his thin lips. Or he’d bring him a worm, a frog, a colorful rock or piece of moss for the terrarium in his vast blue bedroom, anything to make him smile weakly.

Even when Michael’s mother and father divorced the summer he was eleven, almost twelve. They still went, his father and himself, but it was different at first, painfully quiet. No one knew what to say. Michael headed to his usual room  to stare out the window at the sparkling pool. Then Leon burst through the door, yanked him right out of his gloom. They went swimming and diving for hours, skin like glowing. Later, they sought crickets’ hideouts. Pretended to hunt with the dogs and makeshift bows and arrows.

Leon didn’t have to ask Michael anything. He saw what the divorce was doing to him. So he was just there.

Nothing was hardly ever worse–maybe some hot headed fights he lost to him,  a few bad mishaps they still didn’t tattle on each other about but maybe should have–when he was with Leon, and usually things were much better. Back then, anyway.

Why and when had they left all that far behind? Money interceded. Ambitions of different sorts. They’d grown up, that’s all, and then time started to dribble away and then it somehow was on its way to running out, so many grains of sand piling up at the bottom of the hourglass. Pathetically small, those grains.

His phone rang and he, half-dozing, started; it was George, his agent. The bus was approaching its final stop so he let it go to voice mail. Michael grabbed his bag and got off the bus. The sudden cool of deepening night swept across his face. He breathed in as though starving for oxygen, walked at a brisk pace three blocks to the boutique hotel.

Before slipping into the big empty bed, he remembered to check his message.

“Michael, good news. You aced it! Interlake Transit Corp. wants you for their commercial. Maybe an employee training flick, as well. The one in Wisconsin, remember? They pay very well. Call me back tonight so I can get back to them bright and early.”

Michael dialed his number; it went to voice mail.

“George, really, the transit people?” He snickered to himself. “Sounds excellent! But not until I’m done with my family business. If they can’t wait a couple weeks, I’m not their man. Not even kidding.”

He turned out the light and stared at the ceiling awhile, wondering what lay ahead. He drifted off. And in the theater of sleep he saw Leon running along the creek behind his mammoth and overwrought house and he was trying to say something, his hand gesturing to hurry up, to follow him. He was calling with lighthearted urgency, shouting out Michael’s name, so Michael flew toward the creek to catch up with him. Rammed right into him so they tumbled into the shining dark creek, then rose drenched and howling like happy fools, like common kids, while Betelgeuse threw its distant but fiery brilliance–perhaps a signal—upon them.

Friday’s Quick Pick: Berry Gorging Time

One of my favorite trips in summer was visiting Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada as well as surrounding areas. Glorious Rocky Mountain vistas, turquoise lakes, pristine wilderness stretching for miles and miles. One of the most remarkable experiences we had was watching at least a dozen bears gorging on great offerings of just-ripened berries alongside the road. Cars lined up right by them. Berries were growing along the roads and were easy pickings. People cautiously snapped pictures of these majestic, powerful creatures. Perhaps one of two ventured out of their vehicles.

Their very presence was enchanting and awe-inspiring; it gave me chills to be in their presence. And intimidating, as some feasted only feet away, and all were close enough to charge. They move rapidly. But the bumper crop of berries kept them fully engaged. Since there was such an abundance, we heard they were out roaming, eating their fill everywhere and thus, there were trails and areas we could not walk or hike, at the least warned with orange ties to trees and signs.

I think this cub is a grizzly bear. There is a black bear in the second to last frame but there were other sorts of bears in the area taking advantage of the berry abundance. (Let me know for certain if you are a bear expert!)

I have so many beautiful shots–how could they not be with such landscapes?–of that journey, more may show up here from time to time. Enjoy!

Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 041 Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 045 Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 044 Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 048 Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 050 Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 034Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 053

High School Reunions…Made for Other Folks

BannerEvery summer there are high school class reunions going on, or there are plans for one sooner or later. It’s clear many people like to attend them, enjoy catching up with friends from ten, twenty, thirty or more years back. It’s almost an American institution, perhaps a more grown up rite of passage. They meet before and after the official reunion dinner and dance. They gather for drinks, for lunches, for fun outdoor activities. I’m guessing about this–I don’t know the trends for current high school reunions–as, so far, I don’t intend on attending a future one in the Midwestern town where I grew up. I don’t have the energy, patience or perhaps steely nerves.

I did go to a reunion once, in 1988. That was my class’ twentieth reunion. My age, 38. I can bring to the fore a picture of my spouse and me standing in front of my parents’ house in the town of my childhood and youth. Marc wore a nice suit and looked darned good. I was tan, slim with muscular arms and legs. My hair was cropped very short and streaked with blond. My dress had a straight black skirt with bodice of blue and white floral design, a funky but trendy combination of feminine/sporty. I wore high heels which about ruined me by end of night.

The tan and body shape were partly a result of being active outdoors even then, without any taint of sunblock. I also wrangled five kids daily. But the main reason was that I engaged in serious weight lifting and circuit training four times a week or more. I had a thing about being fit, storing optimum energy for 24 hour use despite regularly feeling undermined by: migraines (newest aggravation then), a lifelong digestive disorder treated but often downplayed, PTSD and sporadically managed alcohol abuse. Oh and the fatigue that’s part of parenting five. (Sorry to have to put those two sentences together. I love my kids!)

But you couldn’t really tell all this by looking at me. That was the point. I suppose that is the point for all who attend these things–we want to put on our best faces. But first there was the challenge of even trying to place name with faces–and if the face changed much, the names become irrelevant. I mean, twenty years! Greetings were enthusiastic but brief.  Conversations seemed truncated, casual in a studied way, friendly without effecting significant interest. The main topics were career choice/trajectory, place of residence, marital and parenthood status. And a boat load of reminiscences. Recollections of the good ole neighborhoods; games won and lost together; foolish escapades survived; people longed for or dated, left or found (careful what you reveal–they might be sitting across from you); demon and angel teachers and trying classes; college experiences and degrees; travel to far flung places since then. And so on. That might seem a lot but it’s said in bursts of fast paragraphs with short sentences while others try to talk over you. I strained to acknowledge everyone courteously, with small successes.

I had little idea what to say in those rapid exchanges. I am verbal, for certain, but under either less or more personal circumstances. How to abbreviate my own history? I considered: well, I had married twice, was raising a bunch of children. I’d embarked on a career path that included developing/overseeing geriatric programs/services. I had studied painting/creative writing and sociology/linguistics. Not quite what folks expected since I had been raised and trained to be a classical musician. Or at least a singer. But I was not singing anymore nor did I play cello much. I had not even gone into theater. During my youth, I’d been in plays, even written a few, adored being in musicals. I still loved to dance, however, and when the DJ got things going Marc and I go out there and shimmied and shook. Rhythm is not a small thing to us, but a uniting force. I was relived to not have to make small talk so let it all loose out there. Afterwards, some people asked if I was an aerobics instructor, which I found strangely satisfactory yet also dismal.

Other than that, I have little memory of the whole thing. I felt too dazed to record it in my memory bank. It wasn’t that I drank a lot–I drank nothing at all since I’d been sober quite awhile. But I do know no one really spoke with my spouse; he was not from the area. He was rather an undefinable race (multiracial, now). Our small city was quite insular in certain ways, more upper class and educated than not, far more white than not, generally conservative as well as civil and friendly. People inquired after my parents, who were well known and liked, and my ambitious siblings. The food was decent, the music loud and appropriately nostalgic. Everyone was bright eyed. Still, all seemed a bit hazy, off-kilter even stone cold sober. I felt like a reluctant participant in a vaguely familiar cabaret.

Conversations ran out of steam sooner than expected. I had imagined we’d have lively interactions, that there would be some heft in our exchanges–we were grown-ups now, right?– and that it might be fun to rejoin friends of yesteryear. It turned out the ones I hoped most to see didn’t come. Maybe there were too busy or intimidated or bored with the idea. I wished I had their numbers.A famous classmate, the cartoonist Cathy Guisewite, arrived stealthily in a trim, beautifully tailored pink suit and left just as invisibly. We didn’t speak; I felt it crass to push through the tight circle around her. We’d shared drama and English classes, had once talked about creativity and adolescent angst. But it was okay with me–she was living a weirdly famous life doing something I’d never predicted. I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do with my own life besides navigate the wild endless seas of motherhood and wifedom.

The main point was this: I had no idea who these names and faces really were. I welcomed all exterior presentations, recognized most despite a few false starts. But gone was the easy (or lukewarm or uneasy) familiarity that had been engendered during our youth. That had been so important to us all. Like many of the others, I had left our city, more or less, around eighteen. I had lived all over the place. My closest friends had moved, as well, and they hadn’t gotten plane tickets. I had also married right before age twenty-one, unlike most other women I knew–they’d finished college and embarked on careers before making such a momentous decision. And I’d divorced, remarried. My life was complicated. Weren’t theirs, too?

Well, I’d never know. It turned out that people don’t speak of personal matters at class reunions. I guess this demonstrates reasonable personal and social boundaries but still, I got such little sense of how and why they had changed and what mattered most that it all may as well have been occurring in an unreal environ. For one thing, I noted they tended to huddle together with whoever they’d hung with during school. It was surprising that aging cheerleaders and athletes circled up, the intellectuals and creatives convened in another spot, the proud but less-well-heeled here, the ivy leaguers with understated elegance there and so on. I wished everyone would break it up, then circle up in a quiet place (sans alcohol) and just tell us who they really were and what the heck they enjoyed doing these days. And throw in a good story or two. Or heck, I thought, let’s just make a snake line and sing out, dance and shout–that would be more fun! Except for the drunks who had only started on their alcohol goals.

It became apparent there was no clear cut spot for me as Marc and I sat back and watched. I could feel him getting twitchy; he’s even more an introvert than I.

Perhaps that was true even twenty years earlier. I’d been an athletic girl but mostly into the arts and academically oriented;  middle class but with well-educated, outgoing parents and talented siblings. And I dated plenty in between studies and performances. But there were other things going on that no one knew of, or if so said nothing. Of course, most kids grow up with difficulties of one stripe or another. But who admitted it as we once strode down those long hallways, flirted, joked and tussled, strove to be cool or at least act unruffled? Back then I was pretty sure my issues were as apparent as a brash tattoo. The school was small enough that rumors; even real stuff circulated fast. I’d acted as if none of it was anyone’s business and worked harder to excel.

Twenty years past that time and it seemed we were all still on exhibit. I was chafing under a barrage of superficial anecdotes, forced laughter, a sour waft of alcohol on everyone’s breath as they awkwardly hugged or whispered in my ear. Trying to catch meaning of basic content over roar of music and tangled conversations was…trying. When people resorted to yelling, I retreated in defeat, my spouse holding my hand.

Marc and I kept smiling back, enjoyed a last couple of rousing and also tender dances–the best part of the night, perhaps–then left long before eleven o’clock. Maybe the more interesting stuff happened later. I was so glad to breathe fresh air and then drive away, even though there were good folks inside. I wondered how they really felt about the hullabaloo. Most probably had a blast worth sharing. Well, we each have our needs, our ways and means.

But I decided that would be my last reunion. If I wanted to better know old acquaintances or once-dear friends there had to be more effective ways. In time, there were. On its way to our homes and hands was the internet with attendant gadgetry–all the social media we could ask for and more. But do these modes of communication help us genuinely reconnect? I remain unconvinced.

So it may seem antithetical that I’m part of an online group that helps old school chums get in touch. Or at least check out current data, maybe a photo. I’ve shared thoughts with a few. Mostly I’m just as curious as the next person, so drop in to see who is where and doing what. It’s a very brief cyberspace greeting, less personal even than Facebook. I’m not sure why I keep my membership up as it hasn’t brought any real satisfaction, no more than that night in 1988 when we clinked glasses, tossed about a few words.

The real surprise: the number of people who have visited my profile. It’s a large number and it utterly baffles me. Why and how might so many think they remember me? And more so, the comments they leave at times are…well, they can move me a little. When someone noted that they always felt good when thinking of me, it was as if that person had offered a thing both generous and undeserved. I was so intent on slogging through life in the 1960s that survival mode took much of what I had; likely the rest went to music. Trying to undo damage of trauma with random drugs didn’t work too well. Seeking spiritual wholeness in ways and places that often led right back to a harried life was fraught with booby traps. I was adrift between grief and a fickle hope; the steadfast buoy was my small, heavily tested faith in God.

Honestly, I was apart from those youthful crowds. I strode on stage and performed, asked probing questions in class, enjoyed friends, dated good-lookers, brainy types. I so wanted to be kind. I wanted to be smart. And fun yet far deeper than that. But I was not optimistic, not certain of any future at all. I felt as if I walked alone despite the lovely and not so lovely people that came and went in my life.

The bigger story, of course, is that we each suffer, strive, fail and begin again if we are fortunate. It’s a gift to be able to go on; some of us, let us not forget, do not. Those who must, do change somehow–we’re human, we have an adaptability quotient– and sometimes a great deal. We may yet own personality characteristics displayed in school years. And we might have grown into a talent, garnered success predicted in hale and hearty yearbook messages. Or maybe we chose far different courses in life, became persons no one suspected would emerge. But we have certainly moved on, most of us, by now.

At reunions or in other transitory encounters, the real and true story will likely remain hidden from glimpses shared. But you never know what can happen when you reach toward the past or are reached.

Recently a friend I made at age 14 found me on Facebook. I know, a twist of fate since I have been critical of such things but time will tell. She meant a lot during the short period I knew her. She was funny, fascinated by everything, endearing in her kindnesses with a creative spark lighting her up. She hailed from the West coast; that alone made her exotic, so of interest. We hit it off, had great times for a year and a half. And then she moved away. I so missed her. I’ve often wondered: what happened to that firecracker gal? I even borrowed part of her name for a character when writing a novel.

So when she found me, it was a delight. Now maybe I’ll be able to fill in some blanks. Who she is yet becoming, what and who she cares about, what she adores about getting older and what she finds annoying. Or maybe we’ll have a warm moment and then…nothing. I’ll take the small risk. I suspect it will be worth it.

But another reunion of my graduating class? I’ve done that already. Give me the chance to sit across from a person, share a meandering conversation. Let’s take a hike and enjoy the mysteries of the wilds. Let me listen closely and embrace a kindred spirit or discover someone I didn’t ever expect. Life that means something tends to surprise.

I will offer and hope for an authentic, a true person. There has been great artificiality and terrible deceit in the world–was that what we thought would aggregate as we rallied for world peace and better education, for freedom of speech and greater equality? I may again protest, will work for common ground and share the love I believe keeps this world yet turning. I can also be a better friend today as my world overlaps yours at many a turn. But the resonant multi-layered truth is what I prefer even as it becomes complicated. It was always and still remains one of those sacred things. In this regard, I won’t likely change.