Salamanders under backyard rocks in the damp of winter. A desiccated amphibious corpse flattened under trash can wheels. The latest generation of rust and black herky-jerky jumping spiders among the terra-cotta pots. Orb weavers’ translucent traps pinned across the path.
One small human plus two larger ones enter, sleep, wake, and exit. Two kittens curl together, a fully grown cat pouts, an elderly dog sits watch, and a leopard gecko, in the prime of life, basks in the heat lamp. A continually replenished cacophonous collection of crickets chirp. Silverfish hide. Sly cobweb makers place their work in hard to reach corners.
Hair and nails ignored too long. Stubbled legs. Core that desires, but does not necessarily receive, consistent exercise. Rapidly fading eyesight. Two pairs of reading glasses placed for convenience, bedside and bag to bag, especially useful in low-lit restaurants. Slowly shifting facial features. Mirrors passed with oblique peeks.
Markers of responsibility. Markers of time passing. Markers of life.
Photos by me.
From the prompt “Here’s my list.”
School started yesterday with one of those long 13-hour days and it continues today with an early afternoon class. I’ve already dropped a class, which is a relief, and I’ve gotten used to being the only one of my constantly shifting cohort without a placement this year. Tomorrow, the boy begins fourth grade. And so time will compress. I will be three steps closer to the completion of my graduate degree, the boy will get taller, and the kittens will grow into their feet.
In lieu of writing more of the blah blah about my cranky, school-going self, I leave you with this prompt from last week.
Colors lose their intensity, and cynicism crumbles pure joy. The third beer muddles your mind. Too many asparagus stalks and strawberries bore the palate. Sharp blows leave ugly scars, and people disappoint. Deception creates a chasm deep within.
And I will never see a Helen Frankenthaler painting the way I first did, standing in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, drunk on cherry blossoms and new knowledge, still feeling the ache of adolescent wounds. On my way to the gallery, I saw homeless men bathing in the fountains by the Capitol building. On the walk back, the fountain water flowed in their absentia. So I opened the door of my dark E Street studio with the parquet floors, disturbing the cockroaches as I reached into the half-sized refrigerator for a beer, 21 years old and alone again because it was safe and contained what felt unbounded.
Top image by me.
Bottom image of Helen Frankenthaler in 1956 from wikipedia.
From a photo prompt.
Whatever I do, whatever impulse I follow along these lines, also makes for pretty dull writing on the technical end. It’s like riding the shadow of remembered pain, tracing a path I’ve worn from soft dirt and pine needles down to rock and fossil. Sometimes I can take my responses to the daily writing prompts to another place (after Francine’s secret* is revealed, does she become more hopeful about humankind and finally ask for help?), but I afraid this week so far is about a series of mental traps, of self-reflection gone in circles. Being plumped on anxiety about the impending school year makes it worse.
I want to take you to a small cottage that smells of kerosene and mildew, want to place you there with me, 16 and abandoned to myself after a tragedy whose ripples will never smooth, and say – there! This is why I don’t ask for help. Would you do this to your own teenager? Was I that terrible? Did I deserve it?
I’ve been down this dead-end lane before. The brambles catch on my 1980s The Limited Forenza cargo pants, the moonvine threatens to wrap around my ankles and pull me back through that door, but I ask for a hand and, with help, pull myself free.
*Writing prompt from last week.
Title from the Beatles song “Help!”
From the prompt “Asking for help.” Image from the album cover of Help! courtesy of Lady P3pper.
I’ve given up on hope. It’s nothing personal. Hope represents delusion, a sort of clinging to a possible outcome as though one has control over that particular outcome. I hope he’ll call. I hope the drugs work. I hope this year is better than last. It may sound melodramatic, but when all of our striving and dreams end up in a corpse plumped up with preservatives or reduced to a box of ashes and bone, what’s the point of just hoping? Make it happen. Figure out what you can do and then do it.
Kevin was a doer. He could be a nasty jerk, too, cruel and quick, but he made goals and pursued them single-mindedly. After his death, I made things happen, too. I shed my job and went to culinary school, a dream that morphed into parenthood and a writer’s composed disposition. Somewhere along the way, I stopped wanting to do. Existence became enough for me, being present with my family, sitting quietly in the living room with a clutch of cats and my laptop. Or maybe I have been making things happen – graduate school, a new career, even curtains. It’s just the progress has been so painfully slow and muddy that it feels like I’ve been standing still. There have been moments of transcendence, but mainly it’s been months of stress with some time off to remember the joy of simple existence. Still, I have made it a long way in two years.
I won’t be a false positive, will not use cheer as a thin veneer over anger. Graduate school is a slog. The outcome may not be worth it. Despite myself, I hope that it is. And I will do my best to make it so.
From the prompt “Hope.”
Image from Machias Community Church (they claim to offer hope for free. So there’s that . . . ).