More Hocus Pocus

Monday mosey 022

Everything was fine, overall exceptional in fact, until it wasn’t. And Roxie had to fix it.

Phillip had left for West Africa on another medical humanitarian posting–he’d said something about tending to the burn epidemic once more, all that open fire cooking that injured so many vulnerable women and children who gathered round the flames. He was a dedicated doctor, and she had early on adapted to his leave taking. He was fortunate to have married her and said so. Roxie was no clinging vine in addition to having unusual empathy for others. Phillip knew he could trust her to take care of their daughter, house and bills while away, and also suffer little from the loneliness he’d heard colleagues note of their wives.

“Oh, not Roxie. You know her–she’s more capable of entertaining herself than I am. Or she’s on some sort of field trip with Marta or working on the latest home improvement scheme. Or taking some kind of class–remember her flamenco phase?”

He laughed with delight, eyes looking in the distance as if imagining her dancing. The others understood he was perhaps luckier than they could imagine, and envy skirted their consciousness. They did wonder about her. Their wives thought she was a bit of an odd duck if one with impeccable taste. But most saw Roxie as a kind of free spirit who was as dedicated to her responsibilities as Phillip was to his.

She, on the other hand, found her husband sexier, brighter and more thoughtful than any man she’d expected to engage in a lifelong partnership. Other women could honestly agree, in private if not in public. They were like two lovely but mismatched socks that somehow looked and worked very well together.

Phillip had been gone two months last winter; this time it might be three weeks or four. Roxie knew to be flexible. Marta was so used to kissing her father goodbye as they idled at the airport curb that she’d have been alarmed if he had always stayed home.

“Dad texted yet that he got there?”

Marta had stopped by to get her tennis racket. Her friend waited at the door.

“Hmm?” Roxie looked up from the pile of mail. She waved at Ginny and studied Marta’s outfit of leggings and a blousy cotton shirt. “It’s not that warm, get a jacket. No, he hasn’t yet. Time zones, you know, immigration authorities, exhaustion.” She turned the corners of her mouth down and her eyebrows rose in a mock show of dismay. They both knew how it went per his descriptions.

“Okay, tell him I said ‘hi’. Tonight I have that group project at Ginny’s, remember? After we play tennis. And oh, I got invited for dinner before the project.”

Roxie looked from Marta’s to Ginny’s open faces and was satisfied. They were twelve. They were not the same as last year. Even their eyes were different, as if they saw things in a whole new light, or in more shadow, hard to say which. But so far, so good, she most often surmised. Marta kissed her mother on the cheek and bounded out with tennis racket and backpack.

Roxie finished sorting mail, then stowed it in cubbyholes of her desk by the sunroom. She fed the fish in the aquarium, petted Wiley the cat who was curled on the window ledge catching the last heat of day. She saw what Wiley might see, neighbors arriving home, dogs chasing kids versa across emerald lawns, skateboarders whizzing down the sidewalk. It was all so orderly. Predictable. She reached toward the ceiling, stretching.

Roxie couldn’t think what to eat now–she had planned on pizza before hearing Marta was leaving–so grabbed a banana and iced tea and took two steps at a time to the second floor.

Their bedroom was vast. High ceilings, many windows encouraging light to bathe the space. It was so accommodating there was a floral loveseat, another desk (antique one she’d refurbished), the king sized bed, a caramel-colored leather chair with footstool, a small lamp table and two dressers. She pulled several bronze sheers closed, then ate in the chair with feet up. A free night, unfolding like a dream.

Chilled tea slipped down her throat as she closed her eyes. It was nice the first nights he left, shaped by silken quietness if Marta was gone or in her room. Roxie luxuriated in their home, felt as if it expanded with Phillip’s absence. Not necessarily a good thing. But sometimes. Her breathing slowed while the rhythm of the day changed its time signature as the sun hovered above the tree line beyond. A subtle excitement infused her body and mind.

Roxie admitted she at times felt as if her real life leapt up and did a brazen little dance when she was left alone. She might actually sway about the rooms and hallways, humming away. Feelings welled up within the emptiness: relief, restlessness, curiosity, acute awareness of her senses, a desire to reach outward or inward to something else. She had a good and decent life day in, day out, a metronome life in a sense: orderly. Fruitful, too. Even Marta was all she might have ordered for a child. But when they were here, when Phillip was about, there was little time to attend to her other life.

She changed out of navy pants and white shirt, then into a loose aqua caftan and long sweater. Her long straw-colored hair was unbraided, rippling over her shoulders and down her back. She took banana peel and glass down the stairs, feet bare, quick.

In her most used desk, a bottom drawer held among other things a bundle of papers secured with a rubber band. She took it out, picked up her slim, silver-cylindered mechanical pencil and entered the sun room to settle in, tea close at hand.

They were unbound. She first fanned out the correspondence on the glass-topped coffee table before her. Which to choose? It was a group of eight letters received over the last few weeks that she hadn’t had time to address. The freedom to re-read, to study, to respond succinctly.

Roxie was a certified graphologist. She studied people’s handwriting to learn of their assets and liabilities, their public and private lives, their health and hopes. If there was one thing Phillip abhorred it was attempting to label something as exacting, even scientific, when it was all just hocus pocus to his thinking. Phillip disapproved, thought it was a waste of valuable time and attention. They had argued about it when they had become serious so long ago. She had grudgingly agreed to stop “playing around with it” then. But gradually Roxie had begun secretly taking the esoteric (he: “hogwash”) coursework, practicing the art and science of it and finally passed a difficult national certification exam.

She had not told him of it until he had discovered her triumphant notification letter folded up in a drawer of her jewelry box. Six months ago Phillip had been looking for a necklace he’d given her to adorn a dress she was wearing to a formal dinner. She forgot it was there, her little private spot not private anymore.

“You have to be kidding me!” He’d sputtered and gasped. “I can’t believe you did this!”

“But it’s not nonsense, Phillip. Graphologists are engaged in useful, meaningful ways! Police departments use us, employments agencies and human resources departments and psychologists utilize us. I could make money using my skills. I could have a career doing this!”

“Don’t say ‘us’, you’re not one of them yet, Roxanne. Some fortune telling fool. I don’t want my wife pretending this is anything but a game, an entertainment. Certainly it is not science.” His upper lip almost curled. “And you don’t need to make any money. If you really want something more to do, use that good economics degree, volunteer more, take up another hobby.”

Roxie thought he was a misaligned copy of her husband for those moments. She had never felt anything but his equal even though she’d stayed at home rather than work in some high-rise. She knew she had a worthy mind; she knew he respected her. This life had been one she chose in part because he believed her capable of so much and encouraged her to enjoy even imaginative leanings, reach beyond comfort zones, learn new things. But graphology? It was just ridiculous to him. As it seemed to be others who didn’t understand its nature and applications.

“But it helps catch criminals, it can decipher hidden talents or liabilities that make one fit for a certain job. It can help determine if one person is a better mate than another.”

“Oh, save me from your impassioned attempt at persuasion, Roxie. I’m not going to change my mind. It was one thing when you messed around with it for fun, another that you now take it this seriously. I still can’t believe you secretly finished coursework–how much did that cost? how did you manage it?–and now you expect me to praise you for it? You know better.”

She watched his forehead furrow in a deeper scowl. His gaze of clear judgment was close to intolerable. Roxie found his masculinity and beauty revolting at that moment and turned away. Left their room. As far as he was concerned his intelligence was marred by egotism–that fabulous mind of his, that command of reality– run amok. What could he be thinking, that he would call her accomplishment ridiculous?

It was a long week of separate bedrooms and by the time he’d left again, she’d determined to carry on with her passionate involvement in handwriting analysis. But he would not be the wiser as long as he felt her foolish. Their marriage didn’t feel as neat and clean after that, but they staunched the rupture with greater good will and their healthy, continued chemistry.

There was a post office box rented for her new Interpretive Analysis Enterprises (IAE). She advertised online at sites he would never look at. She offered cogent evaluations of personality types and offered input on problems with relationships based on samples of handwriting. Roxie opened a savings account in her name at a credit union. What felt at first like deception began to seem more like a tandem life that was well designed and pivotal to her happiness. One day he might come around; one day she would tell him the whole story, yes. Meanwhile, her work was starting to flourish and she found it harder to get it done without him knowing.

Marta knew about IAE and didn’t have to be told to keep it to herself–she had heard their noisy differing opinions on it. She thought her mother was cool to do this if also risky to do it. But Marta didn’t feel it was any of her business so really didn’t care.

Roxie’s eye now caught sight of handwriting that was elegant yet sharply drawn. She held it close, scanned the loops above and below each invisible line, each dotted “i”, every crossed “t”. The handwriting was rapid, almost thready. Intelligent, steady of hand but jarring–slashed “t” crossings and quickly dashed “dots” above letter “i”s. There was a compressed quality to script and a pressure that belied irritation. Roxie moved her fingertips over the inky page and then under it. There was more than irritation, there was anger as each word left progressively deeper indentations. Handwriting that was beautiful at first glance became an instrument of vehemence and displeasure.

She had seen anger before, of course, but it was the fine quality of the paper took her aback. Most used notebook paper or simple computer paper, as not many people had in their possession much, if any, stationary. This page was written with rich blue ink, a micro fine point. Roxie preferred a basic black ballpoint pen to be used as it was easier to read. She could garner different insights due to the sort of writing implement they used. Others sent inquiries written with felt tips or boldly flowing, perhaps pink or purple ink. Some sent penciled letters. The problem with that was that such writers tended to erase often (perfectionism perhaps a trait) and start over–that interrupted the natural flow of letters, spaces and so on. And if the lead was dull it could skew the entire effect.

Frowning at the aggrieved words, she held it at a distance to properly read through. Then she read it two more times.

Dear Roxanne Stannis,

You won’t recognize my name–it is an alias–but I know yours because I know about your husband. Who doesn’t, in the medical center? He’s outstanding in every way, as we all have heard. Gifted diagnostician, reassuring in manner. Generous of time and clear in every intention (more on that later). I could write a well-informed biopic of Dr. Phillip Stannis and his work at Grand Isle Medical Center and Silvertin Hospice. But if I did I would have to include the other side of Dr. Stannis.

I think you should know the rest of the story. Oh, yes, he’s a selfless workhorse and so altruistic he helps the neediest of the lot. He sacrifices precious time and money to travel to dangerous places whenever he’s called to use his skills. He’s the go-to as far as the horrific burn unit, for certain. I am not writing to cast aspersions on his medical abilities. I am not truly able to ascertain his level of expertise as doctor, to even understand some of his methods. So bear with me. This is not professional in a typical manner.
No, it is personal even if within a professional context.

Roxie put the letter down and put hand to throat. Who on earth was this? The name, Cassie Weaks–was to be an alias so it didn’t really help to study a fake signature. She felt like she was going to choke from her own anxiety. She took a long gulp of iced tea and continued.

I’ll simplify, Mrs. Stannis. He’s a dictator to the underlings. He can be boorish, blunt and critical to the point of some wanting to slap him. He finds flaws and then picks, loosening ends until they come undone. If one does the thing instructed but lags a second, then it isn’t done fast enough. His looks can scald when displeased and he doesn’t know the meaning of a genuine compliment. Never have I met anyone so difficult to please–and my parents were despotic commanders of excellence so I should find him manageable in comparison.
Is this the underside of moderate genius? I think not. He is just dismissive and unpleasant to those who have so much less power, who are at his beck and call. And for this, I loathe him.

So I just wanted you to know the rest of the story of your husband. We work so hard and he gives so little to those who are helpless to do anything but take it. We need our jobs. I think we should have trophies for putting up with him. I don’t know how you manage it–you deserve a trophy, too, or maybe you just deserve each other…

He will have no idea who I am. Because I’m just a nobody while he’s a wonder of wonders, a most valiant human being, a handsome paragon of men who deserves all and more. Right? You can have him!

Sincerely,

Cassie Weaks

Roxie felt her insides scrunch up and turn over but she peered at the words, each letter formation, the spacing, the pressure and rhythm. She studied it all; as if they were written of someone other than Phillip.

She could not imagine who this was but after twenty minutes noting all the details and adding them up, there were some things that came through: the writer, likely female from the choice of words and their formation, was completely disgruntled with her job as well as her self-image. She was run ragged by her own miserable perfectionist tendencies. Smart–perhaps smarter than her position encouraged–she was taking the upper hand and protesting rather than feel powerless one more day. Greatly offended by what she perceived as Phillip’s critical responses, she felt it as a far deeper wound than it should have been. She was a person of neediness who was not feeling fulfilled in many ways at home, not just at work. Lonely, if her lack of trust was noted correctly in how the truncated endings of words and the too-close spacing, protective of self. Perhaps even enamored of said doctor for whom she reportedly held contempt; romantically satisfied, she was not. But her anger was certain. She could even snap one of these days, create some havoc.

Roxie looked at a small stack of envelopes but one that matched her handwriting had no return address, of course. She worked on the sample an hour more. After she concluded it was a letter of complaint, one that was to distress Roxie, she determined she might have to turn it over to Phillip or the hospital’s human resources unless she could solve the mystery. She might visit his work space more often, meet for lunch if possible, check out employees he was around, sneak looks at written memos on his desk to compare handwriting. Maybe they could resolve this together–well, that might be a stretch. But maybe he would even suspect who she was.

But did Roxie believe her husband was all that? No. Not one minute. She knew him warts and all, and yet she knew he was a man of principle. Could he pressure others at times? Yes, in more subtle ways than mentioned. Was he liable to ask a lot of the staff? Yes, as he did himself. Was his brilliance difficult at random times, his ego likely to show up as annoying pride? Again, no denying she had seen that. But she could not believe he would be so unkind deliberately or even remotely unfair in his professional interchanges. He believed strongly in the his own as well as the medical code of ethics. Phillip loved his work and his patients, held staff in generally high regard. He sacrificed a great deal to care, to heal, to try to make life better for others. Roxie believed in him even if they were not always in agreement.

Even if he did think her graphology was smoke and mirrors.
So it would be worked out somehow. It might mean telling Phillip what she was up to a gain; her little business was a success so far, after all. But this one letter only served to expose the writer’s personhood, to open up her secret anger and pain, to share her misguided desires for more in her life. Roxie felt a little sad.

She stood on the back steps and looked out over the rolling lawn. The sun was setting making the puffy clouds pink and coral at the edges. Her mind roamed and recalled women she’d met who worked with him or near him. One after another was eliminated until…Anne? An RN. The night shift head nurse who had blatantly looked at him with a changing combination of admiration, desire, coyness and rage? Roxie had noticed her when she’d picked him up three times that winter due to his ancient Volvo having issues. Her coppery hair was pushed back impatiently when he asked her to do something out of the ordinary so he could finally go home. Her eyes flashing, then lingering on his face. My oh my, Anne. Well, Roxie would have to get a handwriting sample and compare. It couldn’t be that hard. She could be wrong. Work to do, for certain.

Her phone rang. She took it from her caftan pocket, put it to her ear without looking.

“Yes, sweetie? Coming home soon?”

“Oh, Roxie, how I wish, just to hold you for a good, long moment,” Phillip responded, his resonant voice laden with weariness. Tender with affection.

They checked in briefly. Hung up. Roxie wandered into the yard, admired tulips, daffodils, hyacinths in their glory. How she loved to hear Phillip’s voice when he was gone. If she wasn’t already married to the man, she would have to fall smack dab in love with him, herself.

Luce Carmichael, Mistress of Missives

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The vestibule flooded with silken light and illumined dust but I saw her hesitate on the porch. The sheer curtain that blurred the outside world revealed red pants and a yellow shirt, a delicate arrangement of features. She was looking at my name plate, wondering if she wanted to ring the bell. Then she excited the chimes with one button press.

I– the Lucille (Luce for short) Carmichael, Handwriting Analyst noted at my door–answered, the sweetness of cherry blossoms entering with the young woman. She was perhaps twenty, not so small but bent by a burden, whatever that turned out to be.

“Helen Meyer. Two o-clock appointment–am I late?”

“Not at all,” I said, ushering her into the solarium. “It’s warm in here, I have cracked one of the windows. Don’t mind Sibelius.”

My copper-colored tabby, a lover of classical music, took that moment to wind himself around Helen’s legs, then sauntered out the French doors. Her eyes followed him longingly. Was she a feline afficionado or a tad lonely?

“Tha plants are amazing,” she noted, settling into the cushioned wicker armchair. “Towering,” she added and pointed at my ancient umbrella plant.

Was she going to be another client with a hidden fear of plants that might overtake her? I had met such a one once who had to be ushered quickly into the formal living room, my least favorite spot.

But no, she only turned to me, anticipating something.

“I had little to do with them. My son had a knack.”

She was about to ask: was he no longer tending them? I could see Helen had natural curiosity, her eyes running over every inch of the space. Anxiety, as well. Her fingers clutched her purse with a delicate tremble. She had called me a month ago, inquiring about my work and then called back two weeks later, seeking a consultation. Love matters. It usually was, not matter who or what or why.

“I brought his letters, only two. He sends them to me on special occasions as he knows I like that.” She unzipped her battered leather bag and pulled out two envelopes, then removed the letters and handed them to me.

I took them. “Before we begin, what is it you are looking for? I can tell you all sorts of information, little quirks and odd hiccups of personality, tendencies and proclivities, but it would save time if you would describe for me your concerns.”

Her smooth brow bunched up, her brown eyes clouded. I was afraid I would have to restate the paragraph but waited.

“I’m not sure. I mean, we have been together almost a year and I know him well. Maybe. And he’s talking about a permanent relationship.”

“Too soon? You could give me a sample of your writing. I might clear away a few of those cobwebs.”

She laughed. “I’d thought of that. But I need more insight into him. Toby, our writer in question.” She leaned forward, hands grasping her knees. “It’s just that, you see, my grandmother hasn’t been so welcoming of him. She finds him lacking.”

I held close the letters to my eyes as if to see inside the envelopes, like a mentalist, then stood. “First things first. Let me study these a moment. But would you like an iced tea? I have just made some fresh.”

“No, thank you, well, on second thought, yes.  Please. No sugar.”

“Never sugar. I like things to be unaltered and undiminished. It’s a mint mixture.”

Helen nodded then closed her eyes against the brightness that filled the solarium. I could have lowered the rice paper blinds but the spring light and warmth were soothing to all living things. Sibelius trotted after me but seeing I offered no conversation, disappeared around a corner. The teas were fixed, tall blue glasses set upon a wooden tray and carried in. Helen’s eyelids flicked open.

Her grandmother was the heaviness, I thought, and set our drinks on the table between us. I thought Toby a secondary issue, but wasn’t sure why.

The letters were nicely written, words conveying a tendency toward romantic reassurances, his budding devotion clear in both. The handwriting was firm, rounded, each “o” and “a” full of space, slightly open at top–he might not seek all secrets but was easy-going. The “ls” were inflated as well as other upper loops–a man more often than not impelled by his feelings. The lower loop lines were longer but tidier; the mid-zone a bit uneven but in proportion to the two other zones. The slant tended forward more as he wrote, his emotions driving the words. The personal pronoun “I” was standard copybook, modest. His statements were heartfelt. He was vibrant–you could see that in the longer dashes of the “ts” and verve of the hand. An athlete (the lower zone reflected a very active person), yet someone who appreciated talk, just not as much as action. An uncomplicated person in a good sense. Not ambitious, more relaxed than that. He might be prone to outbursts–those upper loops nearly ballooned here and there–but not violently. The rhythm was steady but unremarkable–not a fast thinker but not slow, either.

I had begun to delve deeper when I realized Helen was watching intently. I tended to get lost in my work. For that reason I preferred people mail me their samples at least a week before arriving at my door. And no emails with attachments. I had to have pages in hand. See the marks, feel the pressure of the pen’s or pencil’s tip on paper, examine it closely, even utilize a magnifying glass to discern the telltale trail from head to hand to pen to paper. Observe neurological manifestation of who they were in motion, in fact, not fancy. Or at least that is what I believed and practiced. And that was my bread and butter.

But Helen had limited time, she said. I fit her in between a wearisome relative and a fan of my column from Great Britain. What was wrong with this fellow? Little that I could see. Perhaps too intense for Helen. A bit prone to sentimentality–that wasn’t a crime, was it? Loose lipped at times, as he would want to garner any allies if needed but he also he liked people. Given to surprising excessive emotion when one considered the rest of the traits. A personality that spoke of a solid young adult who had room to grow.

I made it my business to pronounce no judgements, to put any personal preferences aside. I had to report only how data added up. Every mark could make a difference, even a flick or slide of a line that slipped past the controlled hand, a truncated or jagged start or finish to a word or letter that might promise something untoward and could not restrain itself for long. This is what a police department would expect me to discern and note. But Toby, this writer of love letters, was not the slightest bit dangerous. An unremarkable sort. Dependable. And not exactly inspiring great things.

I took a long quaff of my iced tea.

“Tell me about your grandmother.”

“Pardon?”

“You stated she has her doubts. She has influence in your life, that is clear or you wouldn’t place such importance on her opinion. You’re close, is that right?”

“She helped raise me for years. My mother has MS,” she said, reaching for Sibelius as he sat nearby, tail flicking. He barely sniffed her hand, then leaped atop his favorite book on the table, a history of American architecture. “Grandmother Dee has strong opinions about everything. She and I have had some times.”

I noted the wry expression, a small downturn of her lips. “Good ones, too?”

“Oh I hope when all is said and done the good will outweigh the bad. As for her feelings about us…I don’t know. But I am still affected by her disapproval despite having left home–her and mom still live together–five years ago.”

“Ah. She disapproves of only Toby? Or of you?”

Helen jerked her head towards me. “Me. Why should I care? Well, she’s smart and educated and has the advantage of decades of experiences. Three husbands, every one of them unable to outlive her. She’ll be eighty-one this fall. She’s not very well and her mind is like…”

I waited. A sieve? An iron fist? A file cabinet of every right and even more wrongs?

“It’s like….a crazy garden. An incredibly flourishing garden with grand flowers and very few weeds,” Helen said, voice dampened with a hint of tears. “She doesn’t tolerate weeds. She’s a careful and tidy person even now.”

“Weeds? Is that how she sees Toby?”

I calculated whether or not I should also add and you? but did not. Even though it seemed so, as she brushed her cheek of a tear and tried to recapture a sense of dignity.

It happened here. The solarium, a refuge. My careful investigation of private places. Even Sibelius with his lovely and gentle demeanor. It’s said a handwriting expert is not unlike being a detective combined with therapist except I don’t diagnose so anyone could officially  hold me to it. I have intuitions and ideas. The written word to reveal the truth. And sometimes people became too tender or have to deal with an upwelling of anger or are disoriented by the findings or talk of them, uncertain which way their world is meant to be turning.

Helen had gotten hold of herself and was petting Sibelius, who then deigned to lick a finger.

“I think she finds Toby less than, you know, he isn’t quite good enough for me, she thinks. For our family. It’s not money so much. He’s going to be a plumber–they do alright. I think it’s that she was forever telling me I would marry a lawyer, maybe a surgeon or at least an eye doctor or vet, for crying out loud! I was her project all those years as mom faltered. I failed to stay on the honor roll in school. I got into trouble if you want to know, drank too early to escape, barely made it to graduation. But I pulled it together, went to community college. I work as a medical assistant but that is a far cry from what everyone hoped.”

She looked at me full in the face, then fell back against the seat cushion. “I’m not the daughter my mother needed or the granddaughter Grandmother Dee hoped for. And now Toby is standing in their way somehow–of what? What they think I should do? But the ridiculous thing is, Grandma Dee believes I have the same requirements she does and I just don’t know it yet.”

I found that more than disheartening: the poor young man was made a scapegoat of sorts. An impediment to a needy grandmother’s precarious sense of well-being–her flourishing mental garden notwithstanding. Her mother I could understand–she wanted so much more than she could give her daughter. But Dee? Why would she impute this child with her own greed for more? Yes, it was likely the old woman wanted security for her family before she left this world. But I would have no further concern with any of it.

“That is difficult. Such a complicated unit, the family. But would you like to know what I have found?”

“Of course, I’m so sorry, please tell me.”

“As you think, I suspect: reliable, good-hearted, healthy of body. Toby is given to experiencing and expression of intense emotions. He is not unstable but has fierce feelings that can run him. He likes people, is not suspicious and is sincere in his caring for you. I see no criminality or significant instability, no malice, no secret proclivity for behaviors that could distress either of you in a serious manner. Your boyfriend is of sound enough mind, reasonable intelligence and accountable. I would say”–and here I swept open my arms and hands to conclude the findings– “that he is well-adjusted, a little young perhaps but on his way to becoming a kind and solid man. He is likely to stick by you no matter what comes.”

She didn’t respond at first. She took it all in, registering my findings and counter checking against her own list, waiting to determine if hearing his several attributes were going to make her more certain of her choice.

Would Helen stick by him? I felt it more likely than not.

Sibelius roused himself and jumped down, left the room as if his own work was done as guardian of books and plants, assistant to the handwriting analyst. Or he was bored and hungry.

“Is that enough at this time?” I wondered if she expected something more. She hadn’t paid for a Level II consult; she had just brought in the samples, after all, but I wanted my clients to be satisfied. “Is there something else?”

She stood up and walked around the room, paused at the umbrella plant. It was something to behold, it was true, thirty years old and a lovely survivor.

“I don’t know what I want, to be honest. I do know Toby. I learned some new things. I do feel reassured by your evaluation to some extent. But it’s me, after all.” She spun around and pointed at her chest, at the heart where the finger always wants to point. “I should move back home, that’s what worries me. I should stay with my grandmother who’s not going to be around forever and help out my mother who needs me. I ought to give up Toby and just concentrate on being there for them.”

I sipped my tea. Here it was, the hurt and guilt. The real dilemma. I kept thinking about grandmother’s weeds, Helen seeing herself and Toby as something un welcome, even noxious in that vast garden. How would she reconcile that with a sense of duty? Give up love that would be steadfast? Sadness found me.

“But I do want to stay with Toby. I see he is a genuine person, not extraordinary maybe but the kind of guy I need. Someone I can count on in unpredictable life. I just hope I can offer him as much. I want everyone to be satisfied, but that’s not really possible. Grandmother Dee and mom will have to make do with me as I am. Not fabulous but still a part of the family. As Toby and I are going to be together. But we live in the same city, so we can help them out. I won’t turn away now or tomorrow.”

She never did seek any important answers from me. Helen needed someone to hear her. I was a captive listener, removed from her personal realm. Someone to confirm what she already felt she knew. She was like many of my clients, ready to know as much as they could handle, able to see truth as it suited them. Did she hear my notation about his intense emotions? Did she know this might cause her some grief one day? But she was willing to take the chance. For now.

We finished our tea. Sibelius trotted up to her as she prepared to leave.

“Thank you for your help. I think I have a better idea what is best for me, for Toby and for my two mothers.” She gave a short laugh. “I might bring you a sample of my own writing sometime. I’m not sure I’m in the right career.”

I looked at her and saw her helping, taking care with details, encouraging, keeping things in balance when patients were too afraid to look to the doctors. Her mind was an inquisitive tool. Fair above all. I didn’t need her sample.

“Have you thought of being a nurse? Or even a doctor?”

Helen’s finely arched brows shot up. “I’ve daydreamed of being a doctor or even RN… I never said it out loud!”

“Well, you have now. Give it real thought. There is still time to explore options.”

“Thank you, this was more than worth it.”

I watched her stride down the pathway. Grandmother Dee was wrong about the weeds in her garden and never told her granddaughter the whole truth. Helen had a flair about her, a touch of pizzazz in her bold willingness to question, then learn. It was like the errant gift of a bright-blooming weed or an orphan plant that provides spots of unusual form or color, a good surprise. And she possessed courage that got to the essence of things. These would offset all that sturdy everyday-ness that Toby so easily offered her. They would fit together just fine. The dowager (could I think that? was it true?) Dee might even see it all come to pass.

I leaned against the door. Helen hadn’t asked me about my son but that wasn’t her business, not her place. I glanced at his picture on the wall. Jack: in a boat, in Nova Scotia. One who couldn’t stay put. Off to more adventures, some foolish, some not. I wondered what he was growing there? Was there a lasting partner I might one day know? Sibelius never knew him nor did he care that I was reminiscing. He made his impatient sound and rubbed against my bare foot.

I entered the white and blue kitchen to set out lunch for us both. My next client wasn’t due til three o’clock, a man seeking clues to his ex-wife’s disappearance. Yes, always love matters. It’s what we are about, beginning to end.

 

Signifying: Strokes Across a Page

DSCN0821I came across a plastic bag full of handwritten notes from my middle teen years recently. They had been stored at my childhood home but when my mother sold the house following my father’s death, she gave them to me along with other mementos. I was surprised to see them but took them to my home where I squashed them deep into a desk drawer. When I found them last week I read each one, wondering over the scribbled thoughts, desires and dreams that had lasted decades in an attic. Not that they revealed mind boggling information. We were kids trying to grow up and each note displayed the awkward but maturing mind and heart of the writer. Our favorite topics? Love or lack thereof, and friendship or loss of. Same thing, I guess.

I have thought about handwritten communications more the last few months. I’ve recently written about letters in short story posts. But it arose spectacularly when I was very ill with severe muscle toxicity after taking a statin for many years. I shared some of that here. I had increasing trouble with many common muscle actions and reactions but one of the hardest to deal with was the way it impacted my hands. My grip became so weakened that even signing my name became a challenge. Far from being automatic, certainly not elegant, the letters formed clumsily and erroneously. It was tiring to command and make strokes as I meant. It was frightening. I stopped the statin, got progressively better and five months later I finally write more like myself.

I have enjoyed writing longhand. I found practicing penmanship as a child pleasant; it’s a bit alarming that schools don’t stress cursive writing, anymore, as if it is archaic. By my teens I became fascinated by how individual cursive writing was. During note-swapping years I saw that each person’s writing could dramatically change along with emotions. A few years later our writing matured with our characters. Furthermore, it seemed altered by health issues. I decided to study graphology, commonly known as handwriting analysis. The mind, after all, originates a thought; the brain initiates a cascading string of connections and reactions. The neurological interplay between nerve and muscle and intent intrigued me. It became a lifelong interest and I developed some skill. It has aided insight into myself and others. Physicality and attendant health, personality, even subtle psychological strength and weakness are rendered apparent in the study of peoples’ writing. When I was just beginning my hobby, graphology was still considered “occult” or a pseudo-science if worth consideration at all. Today, employers, psychologists and police departments utilize professional graphologists to supplement their understanding of human nature. I would like that work.

But I have other ruminations today. What is the importance of writing things down? What do we share with language set upon paper besides words? And what may be lost with less use of pencil and pen? How many times a day do I write things down?

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It begins at nighttime before going to bed: the list. I use a mechanical pencil–it writes easily, is erasable–upon the smooth paper in a black-bound Moleskine journal created for people like me. Each page is undated. I prepare myself, define what I want to accomplish. There, in a book at my place on the dining room table, is where I clarify goals and projects, set deadlines and remind myself of appointments. It reinforces motivation but I doodle a little, play with my printing and writing. I’m relieved to be able to write again. I anticipate the coming days. And then let go of tomorrow until it arrives.

I write on my PC every day but I record odds and ends of what I think about: unusual words, characters’ names for stories, lines of poems or stories. Observations that range widely. I jot down names of songs I hear and composers, books I want, a photography idea. For all this there are very small notebooks to tuck into pockets, purses and cars. The bigger ones are stashed all over the house.

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There are paper cards of myriad designs and I buy them for no special reason other than they please my eye. Stir me. And then they are sent after I put words inside. A right card for an occasion is lovely but when one randomly snags my attention it is better. I feel happy when I think how a surprised family member or friend will discover it in the mail. Study the front, then open it. I prefer them blank so I can write something good for the person, tell them I care. I take my time.

Paper does that: helps you get inside time, then put time aside, and work or play more slowly.

I wrote daily in diaries as a child. Then for decades I scribbled about my feelings and events in three-ring notebooks. At times I used a formal, bound journal. I haven’t kept one for years; I am busy writing other things. But they served their purpose in every way. Today diaries seem to remain popular despite our vast electronica. When working as a counselor, journaling was a profoundly useful tool for my clients. It was a time and place just for themselves, a luxury for many. Time is allotted in a private spot at home or elsewhere and you have at it, setting free your most curious thoughts, and verbalizing crises, goals, prayers, rants, longings, hurts. And usually, one feels relief afterwards. The mind was engaged then emptied; the heart unburdened, clarified. The soul became calmer, softer. Opened. We can give ourselves to the paper with thoughtfulness. We can trust it, let the pen make visible grave fears and truest needs. No one gets to edit or critique; no one gets to read without permission. It is a depository for treasures and a dumping ground for junk. Some people don’t even know they have such a powerful voice until committing themselves to paper, hand moving at the necessary speed, paper invitingly empty until transformed with all that matters that moment. And it spells freedom.

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The brain works with us even when we don’t know it, transferring data to memory. Sorting, organizing, circulating as we create and own our peculiarly unique thoughts. We can either let them lodge in the caverns of mind or dissipate into celestial ethers. Or put them into the world. And writing things down helps nail a thought in place so we can retrieve it later to appreciate or use again. If I forget something I will recall the writing of it; the words or numbers flash across my mental screen just as they were written.

So, what shall we tell one another on paper that we cannot or will not speak aloud? What meaning can we impart by offering our written thoughts, one human hand to another? Once the pen speaks, the words have a life. They stay put. They may do good and also harm. But they help define the creatures we are. They allow us the exquisite opportunity to tell our side, ask our questions, impart our understanding. Do I think words are everything? No. But when I have them to give, I want them to travel well across that page to a receiver on the other end. Even if God, alone.

I kept my mother’s witty and perceptive travelogues. And many letters and cards. She is gone but I have something of her because she wrote about things. To me. Her hand pressed against cool sheets of stationary, her pen flowed across emptiness until it came alive with tales and advice. And at the end, her own handwriting gave me this: “Your loving Mother.”

My name signed on the bottom of a document, a tiny scrap or a missive means something, as does yours. It is staking our particularity in the vastness of humanity. My hand and your hand make it so. Signify yourself; leave your lively mark upon the paper. Reveal yourself, then try not to delete.

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