Light

“She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars,” Everett told his son. “And I’d have to drive her out past the suburbs to show them to her. We both know that wasn’t going to happen. So I went down to the hardware store, bought all these Christmas lights, and decorated the house. I was just trying to get her out to see them. She gave me a look and ran to the bedroom. Then I called you.”

“You gotta give her baby steps, Dad, like the doctor said.”

“I thought asking her to come out to the yard was a baby step! It’s been months. When’s she going to get better?”

In the quiet that followed, both Everett and his son heard the muffled sniffling and the telltale intakes of breath. Connor got up from the table. “It’s ok, Mom,” he reassured the locked bedroom door. “I’ll take some pictures of the lights on the house. You don’t have to leave the house.”

*****

A few days before, Miriam had watched from the living room as Everett propped the ladder outside the front window. He exhaled, and she thought for a moment that he’d taken up smoking again. Then she remembered the snow on the ground.

He raised his voice so she could hear him through the panes of glass. “They’re called icicle lights.”

He dramatically opened the box while dah-dumming the theme song from 2001: Space Odyssey. Once unfurled, he draped the lights around his neck to show how they could dangle from the eaves like icicles after a blizzard. She smiled weakly and pulled a blanket tighter around her shoulders. Everett reassured her with a wink, then climbed up the ladder carrying a hammer and a box of nails. The lights still dappled his body.

Everett’s dark silhouette—head and shoulders cut off by the top of the window— contrasted with the pale canvas behind him. After he started hammering, she felt each impact through the floorboards. She knew it was irrational, but she began to worry that it was an earthquake and not her husband causing the vibrations. She imagined him falling: his legs twisting unnaturally where he lay on the ground, his irises reflecting the blue of the November sky. What would she do? Would she risk running out to him? Last year, she would have been keeping the ladder steady as he climbed. That wasn’t a task she could handle now. On top of everything else, the man in the parking lot had stolen her marriage. If it had happened—if Everett had fallen—she realized there was nothing she could do.

Everett climbed down the ladder and was disappointed to find the still-rocking recliner empty.

*****

Miriam stopped by the mall to pick up some journals before bible study one day in May. She locked her doors and was about to walk out into the driving lane of the parking lot. It was probably the butt of a gun that caused the sudden pain at the back of her head; that’s what the police said. Her vision only registered white. She was blinded either by the blow or by the brightness of the day. She felt her body slam onto the asphalt. There was rustling around her shoulder, the thief slashing the straps of her purse. Then silence. A blind lamppost bent over her: the only witness. “I’ve just been mugged. I need to find someone.” The rational thoughts surprised her.

It hit her while she was walking toward the store. The weight of her terror. An empty parking lot, the horrible things that could happen at any given moment: viruses, hit-and-runs, freak meteors. She realized her exposure. Staring at the nestled carts in the corral, she chastised herself for parking so far away from the store.

The man in the mall security van told Everett he’d found her mumbling “No more light” and holding the back of her head.

To see the prompts we were given and other entries into the contest click the badge above. I wrote about 1,010 words of this on Sunday and killed 10% of my darlings every day for the next three days.

The Aftermath: A List

Why doesn’t the story mention poor Penelope,
alone raising crops and children side by side in a field?
Or when Odysseus finally does return,
why is there no mention of her niggling suspicions,
as loud as sirens, that her husband wasn’t lonely
at all on his trip? He must have been calling out
three womens’ names every night, while she lays
beside him knowing he’s betrayed her.
Why does the story end just before Atlas’s
unavoidable stints in rehab? Or before the ink
of unworthiness stains Noah’s sons? A lifetime of not
measuring up to their father, the Chosen.
Their only redemption is to re-save the world.

Penelope, Atlas, the three sons of Noah
knew the heroes of their stories didn’t ask
for their labors. To them, the world’s heroes
were just Husband, Soldier, Father
doing what they were told:
Complete twelve impossible tasks. Yes, sir!
Hold the world up.
Do I have to?
Build an ark! All right then.
None of them showing a glimmer of heroism
till arms raised them up above the crowd,
pushed them up on a plinth, and validated their courage.
On another day, these heroes—Odysseus, Prometheus, Noah—
would be described as pathologically in the wrong place
at the wrong time. In another time, we’d find them
lying right next to us during the tornado:
face-down in the bathtub.
Our belongings mangled together, spinning
above our spines. And afterward?
When the small-town newscaster finds them
wandering the rubble and balances a microphone
in front of their stunned little smirks,
they find themselves saying things
even they don’t believe. I’m no hero.
(I am!) Anyone would have done the same thing.
(No, but I did.) There’s not one single special thing
about me.
(Look at me! I am special.)

That is, until the newscaster walks away,
and the man pulls the camera from his shoulder,
cursing his bad knee, the poor cell phone reception,
a bad night’s sleep. Those of us watching realize
our heroes are just as surprised by their bravery
as the rest of us suckers.
And what nobody sees a few hours later,
is the Hero slouching in line at the grocery store
buying walnuts, Band-Aids, and vodka, having left
the wives, the laborers, the sons
to clean up and rebuild the town.

 

Straight from the Diary of Candi Partridge

Dear Diary,

Why does everyone like that Cosby show so much? I think it’s bogus. Last night there was a rerun of the one where Vanessa tries to sneak away from home to see her boyfriend. He’s all sticky sweet with her and then he tells her that they need to spend every moment they can with each other. Please. Get me a hose with some strong water pressure to spray them both off my tv. Teenagers just don’t date like that. I know. I’ve been dating my boyfriend Patrick for 4 whole months.

First of all, boyfriends don’t say all that lovey crap–all those beautifuls and need yous. We don’t need them to. It’s almost the 90s, people. (!!!) Women have evolved. Geraldine Ferraro was this close to being Vice President of the United States! My mom always says that when there are other adults in the room that aren’t my dad, but it’s true.

My boyfriend Patrick and I don’t need to talk. He shows that he loves me by picking me up after I’m done babysitting and walking me to the arcade. That’s what we do on Friday nights. He’ll buy me a pack of strawberry watermelon Hubba Bubba and I’ll give him the money Mrs. Davis gave me for watching Jennifer. Then he’ll play Galaga for hours. We’ll be together all night without ever needing to say a word because our love transcends using voice boxes!

What do I do while he plays games? Well, I mostly sit on the floor and lean against the side of the game and chew my gum. Sometimes I’ll trace the circles of acid marks in my jeans. Sometimes I’ll watch the arcade owner stomp around trying to catch people tipping the pinball machines. When he does he screams “TILT! TILT! You brats!” and two or three kids will start running to the front door. It’s pretty funny. Patrick just keeps feeding the machine more quarters and staring at the electronic insects that are swooping down on his battleship. Galaga screen shotHe’s not much of a talker. He started buying me gum at the arcade so I wouldn’t try to talk to him and break his concentration. That’s how I show him my love. I don’t break his concentration.  .  . and I let him pay for gum.

Second of all, a healthy adult relationship means we’re fine doing stuff apart. Vanessa Huxtable needs Jeremy to feel special. She’s completely dependent on him. Grown up relationships are about sharing lives, not living the same life. Friday night is the only time Patrick and I spend time together. He likes to hang out with his friend on the football team– Brian. And Brian has his games on Friday nights. I think Patrick’s spending every day with Brian because he feels bad about the screamfest they had in the cafeteria a while back. It was bad. They fought until Patrick finally punched Brian in the jaw and Brian stormed off with his teammates.* I tried to get Patrick to talk about it, but he just said it was no big deal and clammed up. I tried to get him to go see Rain Man with me. I said it doesn’t require conversation to sit and watch a movie together, but he just started to cry. So then I tried to show I understood about fighting with friends by telling him about the fight I’m in with Whisky.

Whisky’s my best friend. Or was. She bought this new jean jacket that looks like an old dress my grandma has in the back of her closet. The jacket and the dress are the same shade of blue and have this freakazoid fringe all over them. Mom called the dress a flapper or something when I pulled it out of the closet and asked her about it.

Anyway, after I said that about Whisky’s jacket she called me Sarcastro, which is our way of telling each other we’re being mean, and she told me to leave her room in that voice that’s all flat and cold-like. I don’t care. Her jacket did look like that dress. Denial is such a strong force in some people.

But I do miss talking to her. She and I love each other, but not like Patrick and I do, thank God, because Whisky and I talk ALL THE TIME when we’re together. And when we’re not together we’re talking on the phone. We’ll talk until Mom trips on the phone cord and yells at me to get off the line. It’s not my fault that I have to pull it so tight so it will reach into my bedroom. That’s the only way I can get any privacy in my stupid house.

Usually I’d be at Whisky’s house right now. I like it there because her mom is always baking something. Last week, it was peach cobbler. My favorite. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Patrick.

I think he looks like a taller, buffer Doogie Howser. (Future self: he’s a dorky doctor on a tv show.) But, Whisky says he looks more like that superhunk from Growing Pains. She says Pat couldn’t be Doogie because Doogie is totally innocent. I think she’s right. Like, last Friday, Patrick had Brian meet him at the arcade so they could play Mario and Luigi together. For some reason, Brian didn’t have a ball game. I’m not sure why Patrick and I have never thought to play a video game together like that. Anyway, when I told him I had to go, he just told me I knew my way back home. So I had to walk all by myself like in that weird song where the guy sings about a girl having different colored eyes. (Future self: it’s the one that goes “Tonight I think I’ll walk alone, I’ll find myself as I go home. Woo! Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo!”)

That’s what I was singing to myself all the way home. I can’t believe he made me do that. There I was walking down the street alone like a hooker. As if. So maybe I should break up with him. Seems a waste to throw away such a long relationship! But I’ve been thinking I miss Mickey, my first love. He wasn’t so into his friends like Pat is. And Mickey’s mom always made us chicken alfredo dinners and this really mature dessert with Italian cookies and whipped cream. I know it’s weird to call a food mature, but it has fancy coffee in it– not the powdered kind– so how else would you describe it? Besides, Mickey is really fun. We have a lot more in common. And he showed me how to hide the creases under my eyes using some concealer. Maybe he can help me figure out how to make up with Whisky, too.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with me. Oh, Cosby show’s on! Gotta go.

Chow!

Candi signature

 

 

*taken from Stephen Chbosky fantastic novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, that very much influenced Candi’s character

The Trouble With Women (it’s not what it sounds like)

Whenever my partner enters the room while I’m digging into the past, I’m either bent over the laptop taking notes, furiously typing another search into a search engine, or, and most likely, I’m muttering to myself. I’m sure, to him, I have the same constipated look on my face as Russell Crowe’s characters in 80% of his movie.

But concentration is necessary. I am resurrecting lives after all.

Chamberlain affidavit
Christiana Chamberlain’s affidavit. I love how flowery the language is, but the editor in me wants to take a red pen to most of it!

Case in point: reviewing the document at left that was in the pile of papers my family received from my Genealogical Fairy Godmother.

On December 17, 1888, a seventy-year-old woman named Christiana Chamberlain trudged into the office of a county clerk in Wellington, Kansas, and asked him to write an affidavit. She swore an oath to the man that what she was about to say was absolute truth. The lawyer reached for a piece of lined paper and his quill pen and began to write.

Christiana tells the lawyer that she was present at a wedding some 45 years before in a place called Mascedonia, Ontario County, New York. (Click here for larger version and transcript of the affidavit.) Pretty straight forward, huh?

The reason she took the trouble to tell a lawyer this was to help a widow reclaim money from her late husband’s Civil War pension. That widow happens to be my 2nd great-grandmother, Emily Chelesta Patterson. I knew very little about Emily’s life before she married, just maiden name (Patterson), the state in which she was born, and a rough birth year. And I knew even less of Emily’s mother or father, nor any siblings she may have.

That’s the trouble with finding our female relatives’ stories: they’re as integral as the men to the plot lines of our families, but their childhoods are hidden behind their husbands’ last names.

Up until scrutinizing this old letter, my family agreed that Emily’s husband, Thomas Wilson, had been married twice. The snippet below from the 1850 Census lists a woman named Anna living with Thomas and his children. Every census after that lists Emily as the woman of the house and mother to George, Mary, Ambrose, Joanna and Emogene. The names Anna and Emily are different enough and different ages and places of birth were listed for them. We had each looked at this record and assumed Anna had passed away, and Thomas had married Emily to help him care for his 5 children. But Christiana’s statement verifies that Emily was Thomas’s wife when the 1850 census was taken. So Anna was Emily, and I had the happy task of erasing a name off my To Research list.

One simple misunderstood name set the researchers off the track for years.
One simple misheard name set us researchers off track for 10 years. Source: 1850 United States Federal Census, New York, Ontario County, Manchester town, p. 71

But then it occurred to me that the 45 years between the marriage in 1843, and the affidavit written in 1888 was a mighty long time. Christiana lived in Wellington, Kansas, at the time she gave the affidavit; Emily lived in Shiawassee County, Michigan. They must have been very tight for Emily to have asked such a favor from so far away. Seems like Emily could have asked younger family members to attest to the marriage—siblings or cousins who might have attended. The two women would have to be as close as sisters to maintain such a friendship for so long. Sisters? Wait a minute.

So, I started researching Christiana, tracking her and her family back in time from Kansas and sure enough, I eventually found a marriage record that a Christiana Patterson married a man named Chamberlain in Illinois. After living in Kansas a while, the Chamberlains moved to Orange County, California. When Christiana passed away in her home in 1908, her niece Joanna (Emily’s daughter) lived in a house around the corner. Ha ha, success! I still have to do the work to prove that my theory is correct, but I now had strong clues to follow to research my enigmatic great-grandmother.

(You might be thinking: Why didn’t the affidavit mention their relationship? Well, the statement goes on to attest that Christiana had no personal stakes in Emily receiving her husband’s money. Mentioning their relationship could have marred her integrity.)

That’s what I mean by resurrecting people’s lives. I had to go back into the “fantasyland of the past” to get into the circumstances of the people involved in that affidavit in order to piece together that Emily and Christiana were sisters (allegedly, probably).

And to think if I hadn’t gone through my Fairy Godmother’s papers for the 101st time I might not have ever made that important connection. It really is so gratifying to solve another piece of the family history puzzle, like Sudoku only using people to fill in the boxes instead of numbers!

*This post was inspired by the DPWriting Challenge, whose prompt this week was to teach something.