Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dirty (4th grade) Dancing


Emily Petry's slumber party and Kimmy Wyatt is glued to the TV downstairs. She's watching Dirty Dancing... I'm not allowed to watch Dirty Dancing... but I think Kimmy Wyatt is the most grown-up, beautiful, perfect human being on the planet, so I cross-leg myself right down on the carpet beside her.

This is a story about Baby. She's growing up and she wants to make her parents proud, always do the right thing, and see more in people than other people see. Am I Baby?
I curl my knees up under my nightgown and hug them tight against my chest and can't think of any other place I'd rather be. Emily brings popcorn and starts talking to Jemma about the watermelon scene.

"Can you believe she just said, 'I carried a watermelon?'"

"I know."

I would like to ask them, at this time, what would be a better way to segue into the sweaty, sexy, outrageous club scene that she has stumbled upon, but don't. I imagine myself in Baby's Keds. I carried a watermelon. Okay. So? Is this embarrassing ‘cause she should have carried two?

Emily's mom calls down to see if we're okay and I think she's the coolest parent I've ever met. We can watch PG-13s, she doesn't consider "piss" a curse word, and lets us have the whole basement to ourselves!

Okay. The main girl dancer, Penny, is pregnant. My mouth drops open wide and none of us can believe it ‘cause a) she's not married and b) we're still not perfectly clear on how that even happens. She has some sort of botched surgery and Baby gets in trouble with her dad. Parents never seem to understand. I totally relate with Baby.

Now though - BABY GETS TO DANCE! I think that Patrick Swayze is the sexiest man I have ever seen and this movie, two years later, is what prompts me to secretly practice dancing in my full-length mirror at home before every school dance in middle school. I don't know what I'll do though if anyone ever tries that fingers down the inside of my arm thing. I just know I'll DIE of tickle tingles.

Pretty soon, Baby and Johnny are a couple and I am informed that the reason they are in his bed together is because they just had sex. Whoa. This is where my dear, precocious friend Emily takes the remote control and keeps rewinding the scene where Johnny gets out of bed. I SWEAR WE CAN ALMOST SEE HIS BUTT! This is the wildest slumber party ever. She has him getting out of bed, backing into bed, up and down, the sheets tossing as we see AT LEAST an inch of the top part of his right buttocks. It's incredible.

At the same time, I am gonna be so nervous if anyone ever tries to kiss me like he kissed her. I feel tingles. My body feels hot. Even Kimmy is sitting up straight in her bean bag chair. I really hope this movie leads to one of those boy talks later where I sit back and nod my head as the other girls gossip, (Emily's big sister has told her EVERYTHING about boys), while at the same time soaking up everything they say to ask my mom about later. Of course if she asks where I heard that stuff, I'll tell her from TV or from this girl in class who is super mean to me and whom I really hate.

Baby is slowly becoming my hero. She is sexy, but look! You can still be playful if you want without being a nerd! Baby and Johnny are dancing and goofing off, crawling toward each other, and hiding behind a screen. All of us girls pair off and start to call "Come 'ere lover boy" and "if he STILL doesn't answer" and I, especially, feel like I have this part of flirting down pat. (Of course, I take out my retainer first because a) it doesn't make me feel sexy and b)... Emily took hers out.)

Someone mentions that they've already seen this movie and want to do Ouija board instead. I am terrified. Not of the spirits (okay a little), but more of peeling my eyes away from this love story. One that I am absolutely under no circumstances allowed to see and one that everyone will be talking about in the cafeteria!

Luckily, Emily announces that we're staying up all night long and if we go to sleep, she'll put shaving cream on our faces, so, "What's the hurry?"

(Thank God.)

It's the end-of-season party and Baby's lame sister does a horrible talent show presentation that makes us all hope we never grow up to be like her. We hate that Baby is stuck with her parents while Johnny is just a beautiful memory for her diary pages.

When, wait! Dressed in black leather from head to toe, Johnny crashes the party and cowboy boots his way over to her table where he announces that "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

We scream.

We scream in unison.

We clap, and squeal, and kick our feet, and scream.

Our knight has ripped us away from the stifling clutches of our parents and knows that we are each beautiful stars that should be shining onstage in a down and dirty version of the mambo! Truly!

The only thing better than seeing ourselves twirl in Baby's beautiful dress and saucily swing our hips around with her as she kicks and points in those fabulous silver shoes is...

the lift.

Baby soars into the air and we are giddy! Arms outstretched, we fly with her! 8 year old girls, accustomed to passing notes in class, writing boys' names on folders, and perfecting our bangs every day into magnificent statuesque towers are now seeing the glory of teenagedom!

Ends up that after Ouija board, we try seances and Emily passes out. I get freaked out by all the conjouring of the dead and the devil stuff, so I call my mom to come pick me up in the middle of the night.

She holds my hand on the way home, which I hate but allow when not in public.

I look out the car window into the 2am night, the moon pouring silver onto hay bales and rolling Kentucky hills. As I’ve Had the Time of my Life repeats over and over in my head, I can’t help but hide a grin… I can't wait to carry a watermelon.

Old? Never.

Words flow from my fingertips freely. Always have. I know what I want to say. I say it. Words sometimes wrestle each other as they fight their way around my mouth, each demanding a voice. Thoughts, ideas, but mostly, emotions. Whatever I'm feeling is splashed across my face and flowing from my mouth, skyrocketing from my heart to the back of my teeth, before my mind can stop it. Blurting. Loud.

But not my husband. He is quiet. His emotions hide, tucked into the corners of his heart and mind. Feelings curl up hushed inside, are only given away by the clench of his jaw or curl of his toes. Words are tools, carefully chosen to build an idea and express it logically. Thoughtfully. Firm.

I say.

He shows.

It is Wednesday. Not a holiday or special occasion. It is a regular old Wednesday in March. The night is not as cold as it has been – I feel winter losing its hold – but the wind still whips fighting til the end. It is Wednesday after class and I am tired and cranky and hungry. It is Wednesday and he works early tomorrow and I still have a twenty minute walk ahead of me.

At our door, I take off my high heels so as not to click-clack across the hard wood floor when I walk in and possibly wake him. Our apartment is small and he will be asleep. I use my key and hear the loud clap of the heavy duty, standard issue, New York City lock slap open. Turning the knob, I give a little push...

And see red rose petals leading straight from the foyer to the dining room, where the table has been set, two candles lit, and a red rose placed in a too big vase. In a trance, the door smacks closed behind me as my husband takes me in his arms and kisses my cheek.

“I'm glad you're home,” he says, taking my bag and coat, but not letting go of me, arms firm around my waist. He kisses me again, soft lips all over my face, warm breath down my neck. My mouth would like to participate, but is fixed wide open in shock.

“You shaved,” is the only thing I can think to say.

“Just for you,” he tells me, ocean blue eyes sparkling.

He grabs my hand and leads me to the table, pulling out my chair. He uncovers a filet mignon, corn on the cob heavy with salt and butter, and broccoli. He offers his hand and we say Grace, thanking God for the food and for each other. I am spinning.

“What got into you?” I ask, whole milk coating an empty stomach.

A shrug of his shoulders trumps talking about his feelings, and that's okay. I swallow every analytical idea shooting up my throat, swallow the words that are fighting to ask questions, swallow the emotion that threatens crying. Acoustic guitar plays from the computer, lulling me into the trance set before me. Our shadows bounce off the mirrors on our walls and I see my life... and love it.

He takes our plates to the sink and I lean back in my chair. Watching him. Full.

He leads me past rose petals down the hall to our bedroom. Candles keep the mood soft, another long stemmed rose graces my pillow, and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries sit atop the white bedspread. He went to the bakery.

The soft hands I have loved for six years tenderly take hold of each side of my face. In his kiss, I hear every word he doesn't say. He needs me. He thinks about me all day. He is happy to be my husband. He feels loved and safe with me. He misses me, even when I'm only gone for a few hours, on a Wednesday.

My husband is a man's man, a sports and weather kind of man, a never let 'em see you sweat or cry type of man. And I am worth his time, his vulnerability. I am special.

There is nothing new about rose petals, or dinner, or candlelight, or strawberries, or flowers, or music, or shaving, or saying “I love you”.

But it never gets old, either.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Country Girls

As soon as Bus 30 drops me at the end of our long gravel driveway, I get the mail and race up the hill to my house. My best friend, Janie, waves from her propped down window, “LYLAS! LYLAS! Love Ya Like A Sister!” and continues to bump along the one lane road to her house around the bend. We have all afternoon and yet no time at all. My younger brother chases after me in his Mickey Mouse shoes and Michael Jackson t-shirt, but he knows it's no use: No Boys Allowed.

I change from my “good school” clothes into my “around the house” clothes (my parents can be so lame sometimes) and I'm off. We always meet at my Uncle Jeff's pond and skip rocks and talk about boys and try to figure out why this one girl in our class hates us both so badly. And then we make fun of her, cause making fun of her together – alone – by the pond – makes it easier to bare when she makes fun of us – in front of everybody – at school. It is 5th grade and we are best friends.

We run across the fields, dodging cow pies and thistles. The farm is sprawling – our kingdom. My hair is summer, blonde and bright, skin browned and freckled. Janie's hair is autumn, burnt orange and bright, skin white and freckled. Running together, we are a beautiful Indian Summer.

We turn cartwheels, jump rope, taunt the bull from behind a woven wire fence. We throw our smiles back into the sun and send its rays back with a message: Nothing is brighter than our futures.

We walk through rows of tobacco, tall and leafy, sticky and sweet smelling. It covers us, our fortress, as we sit in the dirt and talk about how cute Kurt Williams looks with a buzz cut and how life-threatening it will be if I have to get braces.

We sit cross-legged under the shade of the tobacco, stalks thick yet hollow looking, and Janie cries. She misses her dad. He drives a truck and he's been gone two weeks... California and Idaho and a Dakota. I hold her hand, caked in dirt and tobacco gum, and feel guilty that my daddy tucks me in every night.

“Every time we pass a Big Rig, I pull my arm up and down as hard as I can,” I fiercely demonstrate, elbow crazily slicing into the humidity, “just in case it's your daddy.” She sniffs, and smiles.

I pull out an eraser, big and purple, the kind you stick on the end of a pencil, the kind that cost me 25 cents from the big gray dispenser by the principal's office. “You're my best friend,” I say. She wipes her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her t-shirt. “I saw Laura Beth and Becca do this at recess today. You rub the eraser as hard as you can over the back of your hand... rub it til it bleeds. Then we put our hands together, moosh 'em around, and we're Blood Sisters. Best Friends Forever. It's like a pact. Makes us family. Real sisters.”

She gulps. “Does it hurt?”

I shrug and give it a few rough back-n-forths.

“Owwwwwwwwwwwww!” I throw a cry down every row of tobacco. I scare foxes from their holes!

“It hurts,” I confirm.

We sit in silence. I blow on the back of my hand, feel stupid, defeated.

And then, Janie stands up and rips a leaf from a stalk next to her.

“Since when are we like those stuck up city girls anyway? We're farm girls, country girls. Tobacco Sisters.” She rolls the leaf up and squeezes, the stickiness dripping down on the back of her hand and then mine. She rubs the leaf on her hand, hard. Passes it to me. My hand is still raw, but this feels better... feels right.

I stand next to her, not as tall as my uncle's crop, and we rub the back of our hands together.

“Sisters,” she says.

I look at her blue eyes and see my own reflection, smiling. “Sisters.”

Thursday, March 05, 2009

a la Dad

The microwave buzzes as does the air around us.  We stand across from each other, Dad on one side of the counter, me on the other.  We are poised for these 10 seconds in time, spoons in hand.  The ice cream has been put back in the freezer, the chocolate syrup back in the fridge.  The only thing left to do, is wait.

This is our tradition.  We melt our vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.  Not to a milkshake consistency, just for a little softness.  It's easier on Dad's sensitive teeth and I just like whatever my dad likes.  

The back deck is the place for ice cream.  A summer night is the best time.  We each have a chair, sit back far, and a there's a homemade bench for leg-propping.  Ice cream bowls held with left-hand against chests, we slowly slurp spoonful after spoonful and look up at the stars.  The Dipper is ours – really, either one – it's ours.  Just mine and my Dad's.  The first time I stayed away from home, he told me to look up into the sky and that if we could both see the Dipper, then we couldn't be that far away from each other.  That has worked from slumber party, to summer camp, to New York City.

I miss my dad a lot.  His corny jokes, “Knock knock” - “Who's there?” - “Hotch.” - “Hotch who?” - “God bless you,” he says with a grin.  

My dad is solid, was Room Father in second grade and then in third grade, he brought coins from Africa and gave them to my entire class!  At my 10 year reunion, Lorie Perraut told me she still had hers.  My dad took a job on 3rd shift when I got to Middle School and our time was a little cut into.  We left Post-Its for each other every day.  He got home in the morning in time to put us on the bus and then tried to sleep while we were at school.  Pretty hard task for a country boy who's whole life has been 4:30am wake-up calls to milk the cows.  My dad aged and tired right in front of our eyes in those send-me-to-college years... in those put-clothes-on-my-back years and food-on-our-table years.  A retired man now, he's a cowboy again, romping over our farm on a 4-wheeler with my Uncle Jeff as they check their cattle and keep an eye on the “neighbors”... you know, the ones crowding in on the “back ten”... acres, that is.  

My dad nodded off in church every Sunday during those years, but he didn't miss often.  Religion by osmosis maybe, but we could never beg off since he never did.  

My dad stayed up with me til sunrise one winter night when I woke up screaming.  I was 100% sure that a rapist was in my closet.  The dream was so real and I swore I saw a face.  My dad checked it out – all it really took was turning on the lights – but he saw how shaken I was, blankets tucked up tightly under my chin.  He made ice cream, our way, and we ate it in the living room.  Stood with our backs to the wood-burning stove, the heat pressing up against our backsides and thighs.  (I like to take the heat as long as possible and then run to the couch and sit down, feel it run up my spine, glorious.) We talked until dawn that night... talked about life, about death, about jealous girls, and boys' initials on my notebooks... about what I want to be when I grow up... about growing up.  

With my dad, I feel safe and taken care of and worth his time.  

I always look forward to ice cream a la Dad.  We hold our bowls to our lips and slurp up the very last bit of chocolately goodness.  And we smile.  Contented.  The company sweeter than the confection.