Songs Without Music–My Poetry: Taking it With Me

Paper thin wings

With a hint of uncertainty

Fluttering in my stomach

Getting jammed in my heart

Taking all of my breath away

With your dreams and desires

With your passion and innocence

 

Love, hatred and indifference

Of your many-layered beauty

Gossamer wings glistening brightly

Reflected aged light

From the Sun

That though far

Felt near on that day

 

A feeling I carry with me

Wrapped up tight in my pocket

Of this ragged old coat that I wear

To bring back to me the feeling

Of belonging

Acceptance

Fun

And laughter

And even the sunlight

With her mocking brightness

Follows me

When I am trudging down an unfriendly foreign street

Miserable

But fulfilling my dreams.

 

2003

Unfinished Business: Screaming on the Hilltop

**Unfinished Business pieces are blurbs that I started to write but never really explored**

I sat in the dirt on top of a dark hill, looking out over an expanse of lights that made up the city below, and finally allowed the tears to rush like a river through a broken dam.

From way up here the world seemed quiet and safe, but I knew better. I knew that down below these hills stretched a city full of broken promises and shattered dreams; it was a city crawling with the consequences of such heartbreak. Violence, deceit and death crowded so many corners of the labyrinthine streets below that just the thought of making my way back down into that abyss set my insides to trembling.

I must have been out of my mind to come here, to leave all that I had known for the past 15 years and start out on this dangerous journey with an impossible goal. But I had to do it…and I knew that. Despite that I was freezing cold, starving, and afraid for my life I knew that I was still happier in that condition sitting on that hill than I would have been curled up on the couch back home with a full meal before me and my favorite shows on the television. I had failed in my quest, but not in my intent. It was true that I had not accomplished what I had set out to achieve, but I had won in the end anyway because I had tried. I had given it my best shot, and for the first time in my life I really knew that…I felt accomplishment. Why, then had I felt this ache in my chest all day, building against my rib cage until I felt like screaming? I had made the hour and a half hike up the hill to this spot for just that reason, to scream…to unleash all of the confusing emotions that seemed pent up in the very coils of my intestine, that gripped my heart like a vice…to scream until my throat became raw, to raise both fists to the sky and dare any higher being to knock me down.

Instead, I had reached my destination out of breath, dripping sweat and feeling defeated. I had crumpled to the earth, dropped to my knees, hanged my head and silently sobbed. Not at all what I had imagined doing when setting out for the climb up, but my emotions had been nothing if not erratic and completely unpredictable so why wouldn’t my behavior reflect the same?

In the distance before me, on the horizon, the sun gave its last encore before finally succumbing to the coming night, seemingly submerging itself into the now pitch black waters of the Pacific Ocean. The sky quickly changed from deep blue to an inky black, and all at once the lights of the city grew exponentially brighter. It was then too that the hill around me suddenly lit up as large round lamps came to life behind me, pointing at different angles in upward positions. The electricity hummed loudly in my ears where it had been silent only moments before. I stood, brushed the dirt from my jeans and turned, tilting my head back to take in the view.

I suddenly wondered then if anyone could see me all the way up here…just a black silhouette standing against the large white letters of the famous Hollywood Sign.

The Night I Said Yes to the Dress (written May 2005)

It had been a hot June day in Berryville, Arkansas, the kind of day that demanded shade and a cold beverage just to make the heat bearable. By night, however, the sun had set behind the Ozark Mountains around Eureka Springs, allowing the chill to creep in between the trees. By three o’clock in the morning, the chill had grown cold. I sat on the porch of an old run down house in those early morning hours, a house that could have been owned by Jed Clampett before he discovered black gold. The cold air easily won its way to my skin through the simple floral-patterned dress that I had agreed to wear and the sandals that were two sizes too small. My butt had become sore from the hard concrete ledge that I sat on, and the safety pin that has been used to secure my dress had come undone and was stabbing me in the side, causing discomfort. Nocturnal insects, some the size of small birds, invaded the night, flying into my hair and down my collar. Most people would have been miserable in this situation, or at least visibly annoyed. I, on the other hand, was in heaven.

Banjo music filled the night, pouring out from the glow of the porch light that illuminated a band of Ozark Mountain musicians. Only they weren’t really from the Ozarks, and only one of them was a real working musician. They were actors. The house I speak of, while real and lived in by someone, had been transformed into “Pa Da’s” house that June night. It was a movie set, and I had managed to wedge myself in as an extra. Lucy Ricardo would’ve been proud.

I was living a dream, my dream, to be working behind the scenes on the set of a movie. I had quit my full-time job of four years as head cashier at TJ Maxx on a day’s notice to run off and work on a movie set…for free. I interned with the wardrobe department, distressing clothes to make them look worn and dirty, and driving anywhere between Fayetteville and Branson to buy and return clothes for the costume designers. Working with the head costume designer, Kelli Jones, was an interesting experience. She told me about designing costumes for one of my favorite television shows at the time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I spent my days driving and waiting. There is a lot of downtime on the set of a movie for the less-involved crew members and cast, and I spent mine sitting outside the wardrobe trailer drawing pictures, smoking cigarettes, and watching for Johnny Galecki to walk by in his oh-so-funny brown and yellow plaid pants. After seeing him as Darlene’s boyfriend on the sitcom, Roseanne, it was strange to see him in person. People seem so much bigger when they’re not a few inches tall on a television screen.

The most demanding part of my job was dressing the extras. On days when scenes required a lot of background people, a line would form at the back of the wardrobe trailer where we would throw open the doors and toss out costumes. We sized them up, dressed them down and took their drivers licenses for collateral. After all, that was some top-grade hillbilly clothing that we couldn’t afford to lose. Most people graciously accepted the outfits that we threw together for them to wear, but many complained.

“How can they complain?” I wondered. “They should feel lucky.” To be an extra would surpass the amazing experience that I was already having, and I had already mentioned more than once the desire to be one. It seems that getting in front of cameras has always been a goal of mine.

When I was a teenager, I used to chase news cameras…think Alvin the chipmunk. At special events or community gatherings I would spot a reporter and cameraman conducting interviews, and I would walk around in the background in hopes of catching a glimpse of myself on television during the evening news. Television, film, stage…these have always been the settings of my dreams, and I’ve yearned to invade them in anyway I could, even if it meant being an extra in a real-life news story.

As Eileen, another of the costume designers I was working with, and I were dressing extras for the scene at “Pa Da’s House”, Kelli stepped up into the trailer holding a plain, sleeveless dress that was a blue with a faded floral print.

“Lisa wants one of the extras to wear this dress,” she said adamantly. Lisa Blount was the lead actress and one of the producers. Her husband, Ray McKinnon, was the director the film as well as one of the lead actors. Subsequently, because of these things, she usually succeeded in getting what she wanted. The problem was that the extras were complaining about the clothes again and none of them wanted to wear the dress.

“These people are insane!” I thought. I hate dresses. Skirts, dresses, kilts…even shorts. If an article of clothing allows a breeze between my knees, I generally prefer not to wear it. However, if putting on the dress would land me in front of a movie camera, you can bet your ass that I’d be pulling that dress over my head faster than the director could yell “Picture up!”

I said this to Kelli, and she smiled.

“You’ll wear it?” She asked. I looked her straight in the eyes, mine no doubt filled with excitement, anxiety and hope and said two words to her…”Hell yes.”

The girls I worked with were thrilled. Someone would wear the dress, the dreaded dress, and Lisa would be happy.

“You are such a trooper,” they said. It wasn’t until I was sitting out on that porch ledge in the cold early morning, fighting creatures of the night, that I realized that they were right…I was a trooper, and I was loving it. Apparently, Lisa later told Kelli that she was glad I wore the dress, and that I had looked like a genuine flower child of the Ozarks.

There was a small crowd of extras in the scene that night, some sitting in various places on the porch, and the rest scattered throughout the yard. Kelli later told me I was one of the more prominent extras. She said that I could easily be seen, that I was smack in the middle of the camera’s view. Between takes, I would chat with the guys on the porch who would sit and lightly strum their instruments…a banjo, a bass, a fiddle and a guitar.

Harry Dean Stanton played the part of Pa Da; he also played the guitar. Harry is a veteran actor who has been in more than a hundred films and television shows, and he was very sweet to me that night. Some of his roles have included playing Molly Ringwald’s dad in Pretty in Pink, the judge in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and a character named Brett in the science-fiction blockbuster Alien. He and one of the other actors, Jaime Jamison, really took it upon themselves to look out for me on set. Harry lit my cigarettes and kept me supplied with coffee between takes while Jaime, who played in a band with Dennis Quaid in L.A., made sure that I stayed warm. At one point, he even walked across a dark field back to the trailers to retrieve my sweater after I had forgotten it.

One of my best memories is from that night. Ray, the director, had just yelled, “Cut!” and people were milling about and chatting. Suddenly a familiar song began to float across the night from the porch and someone began to sing. It was Harry playing “Margaritaville” on his guitar and singing along as loud as he could. Like a round of applause or a standing ovation, the song grew contagious until everyone was singing along and swaying to the music. Even Ray, who wore a sour expression for a majority of the shoot, either from stress or to remain in character as the film’s token asshole, began to sing with a smile on his face. It was downright enchanting. Here all these people had come together from various parts of the country to make this magic happen out in the middle of the Arkansas hills at all hours of the night and morning, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.

I felt like I was surrounded by people who understood my dreams, many of them having the same Hollywood stars in their eyes that I’ve had since I first pointed to Shirley Temple on a television screen and said, “Look! That’s me.” I was three then, I’m 24 now, and not a whole hell of a lot has changed…instead now I point to television and movie screens and say, “That will be me.”

Around four in the morning, Ray yelled, “Cut!” for the final time. The scene was finished in record time, and it had only taken a handful of takes to get it just right. Hopping down from my prominent spot on the porch, I rubbed my sore behind and reached for my sweater. It was time to head back to the trailer to change out of my costume. When I left Eureka Springs in those dark, early hours, I was wide awake and felt on top of the world. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom what had happened. So, instead of driving just the one hour back to Fayetteville, I drove straight through to where she lived in Fort Smith. I pulled into the driveway just after dawn, as the world was beginning to wake and grow bright with the sun’s yawn. Unlocking the door, I crept down the darkened hall to mom’s bedroom and climbed under the covers next to her.

“Guess what, mom?” I whispered to her, waking her with a start. She obviously had not expected me to show up at that hour, but after her initial surprise subsided I told her all about my night, melting into sleep in mid-narration.

I had to wait two years to see the movie. After it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last October, it took a while for the production company to find a distributor. Finally picked up by First Look Pictures, Chrystal premiered in Fayetteville’s Fiesta Theater last week. I went to see the movie with my mom. It was she who had instilled in me a love of entertainment that has given birth to my dreams. Her pride and excitement was priceless as she caught her first glimpse of me on the big screen. I looked up at myself and then to her. Smiling, I pointed up at the screen, and in a childlike voice I said, “Look! That’s me.” And this time, it really was.

“You did it,” she whispered, never taking her eyes off the screen. “My girl, the movie star.” Mom likes to exaggerate, and I let her. I know that all I did was conquer one small stepping stone toward whatever it is I want from the entertainment industry, what that is exactly…I don’t know. Whether it’s a job behind the cameras as one of Hollywood’s unsung heroes, or in front of the cameras where recognition has the potential to flow like honey, I can at least say that I’ve already done something…not matter how small that something may seem to be.

 

(…and sometimes life takes you in a totally different direction lol)

 

*Chrystal is available on DVD*

From Concrete to Shadows: A Treasure Chest—X Marks the Spot (written May 2005)

The box is large and old. The cardboard has become dented and wrinkled in spots where the container has been dropped or smashed against the bed of one moving truck after another, and the tape that once held it together now hangs in tatters, the glue having dried and decayed. I recognized the box at once from the words that I had scribbled across it in all-caps with a black fat-tip permanent marker many years before:

FRAGILE: SARAH’S X-FILE COLLECTION, MESS WITH THIS BOX AND YOU MESS WITH ME!

I couldn’t help but laugh quietly to myself; I had always been so melodramatic.

The contents of this ragged old box represent an obsession that monopolized seven years of my life, and it would have been longer had the executive producer, Chris Carter, not decided to finally throw in the towel on the long-running hit series. I wasn’t too upset about the big finale, because the show had changed…and so had I. I knew it was the right time, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia for what the show used to be, and what it had meant to me. Some people don’t understand my obsession with The X-Files. They don’t understand how or why I would wrap so much of myself around a television show. Looking back, I honestly don’t fully understand the answer to that myself, but I cannot deny how important it has been to me. In this rusty backyard shed I have found a box with at least a thousand dollars worth of X-File memorabilia that once served as my adolescent security blanket.

Wearing a black jacket with leather sleeves, The Truth is Out There embroidered on the back with The X-Files logo on the front, I sit down, criss-cross my legs and drag the box toward me. I pull gently on the crackling tape and lift the flaps. Using a flashlight, I peer inside and feel a smile creep across my face.

“My t-shirts,” I whisper to some ghost from the past that I feel watching me. The very first X-File t-shirt I ever got has long faded from black to gray, and large holes prevent me from wearing it out in public. It was the first of seven XF t-shirts that I would eventually collect. The first three were bought in California and the other four in Arkansas.

Moving to a different state and going to a new school were torture for me. I had always been shy, and had only really formed a solid group of friends just a few years prior to being ripped out of California at the roots. My entire world felt upside down, or at least suspended at a very unpleasant angle. Nothing was familiar except for my mom and grandma, and I hated them for dragging me 2,000 miles away from my home. I had never felt so alone, and I looked forward to Friday nights more than ever before. Mulder, Scully and their investigations into the paranormal had become my only constant. My world had changed, but theirs hadn’t—it was familiar to me, and I escaped there as much as possible.

I remember the last episode of The X-Files that I saw while living in California. It aired the night before we moved. Most of the furniture had been packed. The house was dark and empty save for one bedroom, my old bedroom, in which I had asked that my bed and TV be left until morning. My mom, grandma and I piled into that bed that night between 9:00 and 10:00pm to watch my show for the last time in that house…a house that had been witness to our entire family for over 30 years. The episode was titled, “War of the Copophrages” and was about possible killer cockroaches. I’ll never forget the ingenuity of the writers when what looked like a real-live cockroach scuttled across the television screen—that was a such a great startling tactic! I love that episode, because it was at the center of such a great memory.

Inside the box, hidden beneath mounds of recorded videocassettes that have since been replaced by an enormous and expensive DVD collection, is a green felt jewelry box. Tucked inside is a simple gold-cross necklace. It’s almost identical to the one that Scully’s mother gave her for either her 15th birthday or Christmas—the show contradicts itself on that one. I told my mom that I wanted a necklace like Scully’s. It had become a recurring symbol on the show, a personal sentiment of a television character that I had become emotionally attached to in some way. The reason being something I wouldn’t figure out for years. My mom did buy the necklace for me, and she gave it to me for Christmas when I was 15. I wore it religiously, pardon the pun, and didn’t take it off for nearly five years until I had finished high school and was in college.

After I finished my first two years of college, I noticed a change in the role that The X-Files played in my life. I still feel a sense of loyalty—to a TV show if you can imagine that, but it doesn’t occupy my thoughts so much anymore. I have finally stopped comparing and correlating so much of my life with this fictitious world that I found haven in for so long, but there is a type of connection that remains. I am grateful to all the people who made the show possible and helped maintain this rock that I clung to so desperately through so many years of emotional turmoil.

No one could look into this box and see what I see, and I feel both satisfied by that and lonely as well. These comic books, novels and trading cards may increase in value, but in my opinion they are priceless. Magazines featuring the show or the actors, copies of scripts, autographed photos, posters, old TV Guides, games, guide books—the list goes on and on. My hand stops as something catches the light of the flashlight, reflecting it up into my eyes. I pull out a laminated 8×10 piece of cardboard to which I had attached my collection of movie ticket stubs from seeing The X-Files: Fight the Future film in the theater—an even dozen. Wiping the dust off with the hem of my shirt, I bend down to close the flaps on the box and turn to leave, taking my ticket collection with me. Some people don’t understand my obsession with The X-Files, and for the most part, neither do I. That’s okay, though, because it makes me happy…and no one needs to understand that but me.

From Concrete to Shadows: Time and Shadows (written April 2005)

Time here,

all but means nothing, just shadows that move across the wall.

They keep me company, but they don’t ask of me,

they don’t say nothing at all.—“Time” by Sarah McLachlan

 

Sunlight filters through dirty blinds that have bent and cracked over the years. They are blanketed in a yellow-tinted residue that has come from smoking steadily since I could legally buy my first pack of Marlboros, and I reach for one now from the nightstand. Opening the flip-top box, I pluck one from the two that are left and light it, watching it burn red and diminish, much like the day outside my window.

I have discovered solitude.

Locked away in my old bedroom, huddled beneath the coverlet in the soft light that precedes evening, I pretend that I am melting into non-existence. The constant chaos that explodes int he wake of undisciplined children, while in reality is just down the hall, sounds like distant shenanigans from memories of my own childhood.

I have escaped my 11-year old cousin who has seemingly crossed over the threshold into the adolescent zone over the course of one month. Her new favorite mantras consist of “I’m bored”, “That’s not fair” and “So what”. Her attitude parallels mine when I was her age, but for different reasons, and while I remember the emotional turmoil at that age, I realize that I don’t really know what to say to her. I remember that as being my most impressionable age, and I feel guilty that the demands of college have taken away much of the time I once had for her. She doesn’t understand that my homework is never done, and why I can rarely find the time to help her with her own. She is easily hurt and angry, and in turn I resent the work that demands so much of my time, and I resent her, which makes me resent myself. I need escape, and I find it in a room where the paths of shadows tell time.

I am oblivious to the obscene outbursts of defiance from her three year old brother who looks his mother straight in the eye before screaming, “No! Dammit! I’ll cut your head off!” Usually tossing in a few F-bombs for good measure, he has learned a lot from the domestic violence that has defined his perception of human interaction. Anxiety and high-blood pressure as a result of having the strong desire to spank the child, but not the permission, results in a three year old child successfully claiming the territory as his very own and driving me from the room.

What was once my territory has been encroached upon, invaded by distant relatives who in the past year have grown increasingly less distant. As an only child, I grew up in a peaceful atmosphere, basking in the calm of my own space. I was a quiet child, opting for a coloring book and crayons rather than the obnoxious racket that my young cousins find so appealing. A typical evening for me as a child consisted of my mother sitting in her La-Z-Boy engrossed in a fantasy novel, my grandmother either reading the latest tabloid or watching the local news…sometimes while crocheting or sewing on a quilt, and me sitting at the dining room table or on the couch doing homework or drawing. I could leave the commotion at school and relax at home…a luxury that has seemingly expired.

My relatives moved in like a flash flood, preceded by a subliminal trickle that pointed to nothing out of the ordinary. My uncle moved in with us after losing his wife of more than 20 years to cancer, and while he is equally quiet himself and easy to live with, he apparently opened the flood gate through which other family members began to perceive our home as a boarding house. Within the last year my aunt followed, resulting in three of my grandmother’s four children living with her once again. The chaos moved in when my aunt decided to take on the responsibility of raising her young grandchildren, transforming my once quiet have into an unstable daycare.

Remnants of conversation float down the hall from the living room, which I have pushed miles away from myself. Inside my head, these remnants are converted into silence, becoming nothing…just shadows that move across the wall. The cigarette gone, I turn away from the window and the dust that dances in the fading light. Hours have passed since I crawled away from the mayhem earlier in the day when I stole away to do homework. However, once alone in the silence with my textbooks and notepads sprawled on the bed, I began to feel the weight of my responsibilities coupled with my ever pervasive sense of self-doubt that comes with living in disorder. I lacked the motivation to move my pen across the page and thought it might be more simple to remove a splinter from the back of my head with dull scissors. Following several minutes of internal conflict, I tossed my books on the floor with a heavy sigh, kicked off my shoes and crawled under the blankets where I am n ow curled with my knees pulled against my chest and my eyes staring blankly at the wall.

I lie with my back to the window, listening tot he tree branches tap on the glass as though knocking on a door. I watch their shadows on the wall begin to fade and experience a sudden emptiness as I realize that the day will soon be gone; it seems that time is always running out for one thing or another, and that I waste most of my irretrievable time worrying about tomorrow, my responsibilities and the expectations of others. I have slowly tracked the shadows along their path from where they covered the dresser, across the wall to the closed door from which they are slowly fading. Now, I feel the abstract burdens of tomorrow encroaching upon me, demanding time and attention. In the tree’s shadow I have found momentary solace; I have found peace…even if for only a short time.

 

And I need just a little more silence,

And I need just a little more time.

But you send your thieves to me,

silently stalking me, 

dragging me into your war.

Would you give me no choice in this?

I know you can’t resist

Trying to reopen a sore

 

Each heartbeat is another moment gone, and it is this passage of time that I have adopted as the foundation of my discontent. I find myself resenting my responsibilities, because they seem like so many cats on my back, clawing for attention. I feel my ambition faltering, my passion and potential wilting inside of my body leaving an empty shell for the passage of time to once again ravage.

A distant ringing pierces the silence, beginning with the phone that has been set on the end table beside my grandma’s recliner for her convenience. A new ring joins in, coming from the cordless phone on the nightstand next to my head. The sound stabs at my ears, for a moment reclaiming me from the brink of sleep where I had been trying to evade my conscious mind. The phone rings once…twice. The intrusive noise ceases mid-way through the third ring, and through the walls I can hear my grandma’s voice.

“Hello?” Then there is a brief silence before, “Just a minute.” I think to myself, “Crap, I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to talk to anyone.” I wait for the knock on the door, but I hear nothing. Whoever had called had not asked for me, and I feel a sense of relief as I unplug the phone and again allow my eyes to slip shut.

Sometimes I ache for a void.

Gladly would I welcome a temporary stay in a place both silent and empty where I can only face myself and untie the knots. I am fighting to recall a time when I could sit under a tree and not feel guilty for being in a library with nose in a textbook or out searching for yet another part-time job, and if possible I would wage a war with time to reclaim my freedom. To sit against the bark of a tree and gauge the passing hours by the sun’s kiss of shadows on the Earth, listening to nothing but wind, birds and leaves instead of ticking wristwatches and blaring alarm clocks seems a dream. However, everyday is a deadline nipping at my heels and any amount of relaxation or self-exploration seems a luxury reserved for children, the wealthy and retired.

 

Leave me be, I don’t want to argue

I’d just get confused and I’d come all undone

If I agree, well it’s just to appease you

Cause I don’t remember what we’re fighting for.

 

However, I know that to wage war with time would not be possible, and that most people struggle with the juggling of dreams, responsibilities and quality time to themselves. I am not alone in my frustrations, and although I understand that, I can’t help but feel that time has stolen something from us. With the help of humankind’s dependence on technology, capitalism, convenience and instant gratification, time has transformed from a casual bystander measuring seasons and lifespans into a predator that both stalks and dictates. Time is infinite and invincible. To accept defeat and succumb to time’s consumption of all that exists seems inevitable. I keep in mind, however, that while the shadow disappears with time, it will return to travel the same path on the next sunny day, and I am comforted.

 

Time here,

all but means nothings,

just shadows that move across the wall.

They keep me company,

but they don’t ask of me

they don’t say nothing at all.

 

Darkness has embraced my bedroom with me in it. Having fallen asleep while listening to the pleasant silence so intently, I wake now to a house that seems quiet and empty. The children have been in bed for hours, as well as the rest of the house. The shadows are gone, too. Turning on my bedside lamp, I fish the last cigarette out of my pack and light it, leaning to grab one of my notepads from the floor. I open it to a blank page, take my pen in hand…and try again.

 

From Concrete to Shadows: Leaving My Mark (Written March 2005)

I can remember the day I made it.

Well, to be more precise I can vaguely recall silent fragments of the day I made it. I remember my kindergarten classroom, the tiled floor, the tables at the back of the room, the square outlines painted on the floor where we sat at story time. Each of us was assigned our own square; we could not share a square. To one side of the room were two ovens–that classroom had it all, even private bathrooms. I remember the clay. Our teacher and her assistant had made circular plate-like slabs about eight inches in diameter out of clay, and each of us was told to press our small hand into the center of one to give to our parents as a gift.

I pressed my hand into the clay–such a small impression and not very deep. I pressed harder. Old Mrs. Cole place her hands, aged and arthritic, over mine and leaned forward gently pushing her weight into the clay without hurting my wee hands. She helped me make my mark, but no evidence of her hand print was left to be seen–only mine. Mrs. Cole may have seemed as old as a Michelangelo sculpture, but she could hold a pen steady. She etched my name, Sarah, neatly into the clay and beside that she wrote the year, 1986. I was five years old. The clay was then baked in one of the ovens, and after that I chose a red ribbon from a rainbow of ribbons at the front of the room. Mrs. Cole’s assistant, who was only slightly younger, tied it on so that my mom could hang it on the wall.

To say that my mom loved my clay hand print would be an understatement. More clearly the classroom, I can remember how proud my mom was of me. That was the first thing that I ever made and gave to my mom that I knew she honestly liked. Her response was genuine, even to a small child.

Mom did hang it on the wall. It has hung in her bedroom for 19 years now. The clay has darkened to a peach color, its natural white surface having collected dust and dirt for the better part of two decades. The red ribbon eventually deteriorated and was replaced with a light pink ribbon. Longer than the first ribbon, the latter was tied in a fancy bow bringing the craft project back to life.

Late one night, with my mother, I was watching a British comedy, “The Last of the Summer Wine.” As I was about to walk through her door to hunt down a snack in the kitchen, I looked up at my hand print hanging on the wall above the light switch, and I stopped. I saw it nearly everyday, sometimes multiple times during any one day, but I never really looked at it. It was just there. I raised my hand, the hand of a 24 year old, placing it beside the childhood relic. Seeing my hand next to the impression I had made so long ago, it was tough to grasp that they are one hand of the same person.

Taking a moment, I placed my hand over the print and simply stood there, trying to connect that intangible shadow of the child I had been to the person I had become. It felt as though the little girl who had made the print did not exist anymore. That little girl would always be that child in my mind’s eye; she did not grow up. I grew up and beyond her, eventually leaving her behind. She has remained there in my memories. It seems that a stranger left this hand print, a familiar stranger begging me to not forget. I have not forgotten. Most of all, I remember my mom’s pride in a creation that was so small and simple.

I am still a student these days, but have been promoted from making impressions on clay tablets to typing essays on word processors. I still try to conjure that expression of delight and surprise from my mom, but it has grown tougher over the years. My accomplishments and good grades are no longer a relief or surprise. There is nothing you can compare to those early achievements, when parents are still hanging in the balance of uncertainty concerning their child’s ability to do well in school. The well-written papers, compliments from professors and passing grades receive a reaction that is little more than, “That’s good,” in a disinterested, monotonous tone these days. However, the clay hand print still hangs on mom’s bedroom wall, silently declaring that, if nothing else, I have at least left my mark.

 

(*Follow-up* My mom passed away in 2016…not quite two years ago. So, the clay hand print that I made in kindergarten is now hanging on my living room wall beneath of photo of my mom and I together when I was very young. I am now 37.)

From Concrete to Shadows: Winter Evening in the City (Written Feb. 2005)

The world is cold.

The air is cold.

The buildings that skirt the shopping center, though bright and warm indoors, are cold brick and stone that stand silent against the bustle of the parking lot before them. The parking lot, a black void with painted boundaries where mindless droids of metal and steel are left temporarily forgotten. The bench on which I sit is also cold; it green-painted ice, slicing through my denim pants to get at the warmth I have stored inside–to eradicate it. I am warmth; I am a human body amidst a modern city shrouded in January dreariness. Faces float among the sea of cars in the parking lot as their legs carry them through the waves of moving traffic. They are people spiting the cold to shop the clearance racks. Bundled bodies walk with haste toward the light, toward the warmth, toward the capitalism that has drawn them from their comfortable homes.

A woman and child, most likely mother and daughter, emerge from the glass-double doors carrying a bag in each hand. The woman blends into the cold-gray sky above us. She wears dark clothing–gray and charcoal, her chestnut hair hidden beneath a winter cap that is a near identical match in color to the sidewalk beneath my feet. She holds a cell phone pressed against her ear, and she seems to be discussing something of importance with the disembodied voice that shares the line. She does not notice the little girl next to her; she does not notice the small hand that is tugging on her purse strap. Maybe she does notice. Maybe she is simply choosing not acknowledge the child. By comparison, the girl seems a tropical island standing next to her metropolitan mother of stone who does not smile. With her long-blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail revealing an elfin face and blue eyes with long eyelashes, the child seems oddly out of place in this chilly locale with its muted heartbeat. She wears a bright yellow sweater to keep herself warm. Her sneakers, pink and white, are equipped with red lights in the heels that flash with each small step. Mother and child continue walking together across the asphalt void to their own temporarily forgotten droid, however the girl lags behind as she has given up trying to gain the attention of the woman who never even looks back to check that she is still there.

People come and go. They walk by and smile, or they just walk by. Some chat on cell phones, some to each other, some on cell phones instead of to each other. When people approach the store doors, I notice, more women than men have been opening or holding the door open for another person. Chivalry isn’t dead–it just crossed the gender boundary. A young couple shuffled by with their fingers interlaced. High-school sweethearts I suspect; they couldn’t be much older than that. Did they even see me? Do I exist int heir world, or is it just the two of them–alone in love. Both of them were adorned in Abercrombie and Old Navy from head to foot, and I wondered what brought them to the shopping center. No bags. Were they even shopping? I had heard the young man proclaim, “Will Ferrell was awesome in that movie!” The girl giggled and snuggled closer. She had started to say something as they walked further away, but her words were lost to me then as they were picked up by the wind and carried over the roof of the building behind me. It had grown colder. The sun would set soon, I realized as I looked down at my watch to see the small hand approaching the five.

A kid stopped and asked me for a cigarette. I had lit one to keep my mind off of the wind chill.

“How old are you?” I asked him, trying to sound like an authoritative adult simply because I was older. He didn’t want to answer, and that was probably because he looked to be about twelve years old.

“Sixteen.” Still underage. I only one left anyway.

“Right–well, I don’t have a spare anyway. Sorry kid.” He grumbled and left–probably more disgruntled with the world than he was before and wanting a cigarette all the more for it. I watched him go, bent and pulled in against the cold. He wore a huge bulky sweatshirt. It was black with Viva La Bam written on the back in white, and it had a hood which at that moment he pulled up to cover his head. Maybe I should’ve given him the cigarette in exchange for wearing the sweatshirt for a few minutes. Damn it was cold.

I was nearly to the point of tossing my last cigarette butt when the moon began to rise on the tail of the retreating sun. Either the moon had just been full or would be soon. In any case, it began to rise now before the sun had completely gone. A short, pudgy woman had made her way to her car and was preparing to back up, while another woman waited patiently for the free space. That was nothing new, happens all the time. Before the second lady could pull into the spot, however, some young guy in a Dodge Ram barreled around the corner at a breakneck speed and zoomed into the parking space ahead of her. She sat still, stunned no doubt, and probably angry. He, on the other hand, hopped out of his truck and walked toward the doors with a bouncy step and a whistle. Was he oblivious or just inconsiderate? I almost wanted to ask him.

I have noticed a lot of disregard by people for others. It’s as though they walk past each other in this parking lot, on this sidewalk, and more than likely within this store and never even look one another in the eye. People generally do not speak to on another, and in some cases they even choose to ignore the very people they are with, with the exception of the young couple. I sat on this green bench for the larger part of an hour, and I wonder how many people could even tell someone later that I was there. Could they see me? Could they see past the end of their nose? The time has come to leave, just as the sun has finally done…because it is cold.