The Video

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There is a video.

A video that a distant biological relative who I will never know posted on YouTube. It’s from before my Uncle Mac accidentally shot himself in the head; a time capsule from a moment when my family was a vivid, magnetic thing.

The video is from 1982 or 1983.  Thirty-two minutes into the footage the camera finds my mother’s face.

My mother, with her brown hair feathered around her forehead, beams in an eggplant sweater.  Her bangs fall into her eyes, graze her plump cheeks.  Underneath her purple sweater she is pregnant with me or Rebecca, with one of us, depending on if this is 1982 or 1983.  Maybe no one else in the room knows, maybe that is what her smile is about when the camera lens finds her.

Or maybe she isn’t pregnant at all.  If this is September of 1982—it could be September of 1982—then I am two months old and my mom is not yet pregnant with Rebecca.

I could be reading more into it because I want this thing to be laced with as much meaning as possible, I want to make it a secret message that the universe preserved specifically for me.

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Late Bloomer

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My hair is piled on top of my head. I am dressed like a 19th century peasant.  I lose count of how many bobby pins I used. A sleeve of them, a pocketful, and yet my hair still insistently wisps around my face. It is the week before Christmas. I have been caroling at hospitals in Oklahoma City all day as part of the community outreach that the vocal music department of my performing arts high school does this time of year.

The trick on a day like this is to try to stay out of class as long as possible once you have returned from the performance. The dressing rooms behind the stage are perfect for eluding hall monitors and vice principals.  Since it is not a hallway and sometimes serves as a classroom no one is sure who is responsible for policing the space.

During the holiday season, when the band, orchestra, drama groups and dance ensembles are in high extra-curricular demand you are likely to run into the best and brightest of those departments planted in the same area, involved in the same subterfuge.  Impromptu collaborations erupt in those moments, counter tops are drummed, songs are sung around a piano in the hallway.  Sometimes the harmonies and dance steps are captured by a skulking photography student, but more often than not these things leave no trace that they ever occurred.

It is after one o’clock in the afternoon; there is little more an than hour left in the school day.

My fellow carolers had piled into someone’s car and snuck off campus to get burgers. I was too scared to actively break the rules and stayed behind, pacing the wings of the stage, re-wrapping my shawl around myself, contemplating un-pinning my hair and just attending the tail end of my Anatomy class. But ditching of this nature only works if no one goes back to class.  The minute one person breaks through that boundary, the other teachers get suspicious—if this one is back from the performance, where are the rest of them…? Then referrals get written and parents get called.

And I am not ready to remove my costume. I like the way the boots make me stand, the way the skirt brushes against my calves and the floor. I am not me in this dress, in this spot, right now.  I can float in the possibility, silence the constant buzzing in my head, and let the costume inhabit me, let it be Me for a moment. I pace the wings of the stage because it seems too pathetic to cower in the dressing room alone.  Even for me.

Thin vocal strains of the women’s chorus waft from a music room on far stage left.  A drama class performs monologs from A MidSummer Night’s Dream in the stage right classroom and, between their competing voices, the tinkling of a solo piano player can be heard from the piano in the hallway outside the stage doors.

The auditorium itself is empty, lit only in the aisles and by the functional light that spills through the glass in the classroom doors.

Behind me the stage door from the parking lot squeaks open, cutting a sliver of sunlight into the black walls. It is too soon for the other carolers to have returned from their drive unless they got caught and re-routed.

A boy’s voice, not one of the burger-getters, says Hey.

He must be talking to me; I am the only person here. I turn to see a body framed in the light from the doorway, a semi-familiar shadow suspended in sun.

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Here.

you-are-hereIt was a school day.  It was sunny, but crisp for April.  The weather at the beginning of Tornado season was always unpredictable. I was in the hallway, passing from Mrs. Pearson’s English class to Mrs. Pitt’s pre-algebra class. I held my regulation 5-inch binder close to my chest, just like the sixteen other girls in my seventh-grade class.  The boys in our grade had recently created a game in which points were awarded for slapping binders out of girls’ hands during passing period.  The snap of flesh on plastic, then the smack of the binder hitting the floor, loosening it’s rings and spewing paper shrapnel down the hallway was their glory and our mortification.

I happened to be one of the girls—bony, be-spectacled and Chiclet-breasted as I was—for which the most de-bindering points were awarded.

So I hugged my binder tight against my ribs.

It was a rowdy passing, as all passing periods are in middle school even a small parochial school like Holy Redeemer on the south side of Oklahoma City. We were crammed in the hallway with the sixth grade and the eighth grade classes between 9:00am and 9:02am, when the BOOM rattled the building.

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Because he had a gun

Because he had a gun he got off easy.  Whatever portion of suffering he was served in this life is over, because he saved a bullet for himself.  He could exit the nightmare he started whenever he chose.

He will not be forced to contend, like the fathers of the children whose lives he took, with the closet of Christmas presents that had been lovingly selected for the expression they would elicit on Noah or Sofia or Anthony or Emily’s face.

The ravages of sadness will not deepen his wrinkles or grey his hair.  He will not use, like those parents in Connecticut will, the college fund he started six years ago to special order a coffin.  He will not think—in a removed way, as if this is happening to someone else—about how coffins that size should never exist in the first place.

He will not find himself one year from now—like those mothers who are still struggling to understand—in a circle of cold, metal folding chairs in a church basement hearing choruses of “there is nothing you could have done” and know it is true, but know it is also not enough.

After the sorrow becomes less piercing, he will not be twisted into gruesome shapes by the jealousy he feels toward those other parents whose children were spared.  He will never be haunted by the faces of babies gurgling in super market checkout lines, at tiny handprints in steamed over winter windows disappearing like a ghostly hello from his little Madeleine or Tommy or Jesse or Alyssa.

Because he saved a bullet, and he had a way out.

Twenty years from now he will not—like those weary fathers in Newtown—happen upon his wife staring out the dining room window and know that she is thinking again—as she does from time to time when she thinks no one is watching—about their little boy in his final moments, wondering if he cried out for them like he had those nights when the nightmares were bad and he rested his head, damp with sweat, on her shoulder and she rocked him back to sleep.  Remembering how they assured their little boy that monsters aren’t real, how she made him say it with her until his breathing evened and the flush left his cheeks and his head grew heavy on her shoulder.  Knowing she is thinking how wrong they had been.

No, because he saved a bullet, he is spared the agony of having tiny pieces of his heart ripped out with new force every day of the rest of his life, like that mother who each morning will walk half-awake and out of habit to Jessica’s room to wake her for school only to realize afresh that she is not here.

He will not be haunted like that other mother, who will remember mostly the way she sighed loudly over her coffee mug this morning how she longed for one day when everyone could get out of the house and into the car on time.  How she wished she said, instead, lets play hooky, lets eat chocolate cake before dinner and build a fort in the living room and stay there forever with her little boy’s sweet chocolate cake breath filling the space between them when she tickled the soft spot under his arm.

No.  No he will be spared all that anguish.  Because he had a gun.

It’s getting to be a bit much…

supermarket hack chocolate tea

vanilla rooibos + dark chocolate= delicious chocolate tea

A few months ago, in a haze of afternoon jittery-ness, I decided to cut down on my caffeine intake.  I slashed my 4-5 cup a day habit to one 8oz mug with breakfast, and I stocked up on caffeine free herbal teas to feed my psychological need to have a steaming mug sitting beside my laptop at all times.

I thought a good chocolate rooibos tea would be a sensible coffee-esque substitute, and I tried a few different blends.  But that obsession can get pricey pretty fast. Many of them also lacked the deep bittersweet chocolate foundation that I was craving.

Then, this afternoon I discovered the best supermarket tea hack ever.  It’s a little “Sandra-lee semi-homemade” and a little “desperate broke nerd,” which I love.  It’s super chocolatey, and with the addition of a little honey and milk is a great low-cal substitute for hot chocolate.

Ingredients:

1 Celestial Seasonings Madagascar Vanilla Rooibos Tea sachet

5-6 dark chocolate chips

1 tsp honey

splash of milk

Toss the tea and the chocolate chips into a warmed mug. (NOTE: If you are tea nerd like me, then you will cut open the tea sachet and pour the loose tea leaves into your mug to allow them to steep freely) Pour boiling water over and stir for 30 seconds. Allow to steep for 4-5 minutes, the remove tea bag (or strain out tea leaves with a strainer, pouring your delicious brew into another mug). Add milk and honey to taste.