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Archive for the ‘Hardship’ Category

I sit outside a coffee shop on callous concrete, hoping someone will give me something, anything, money, food, a coffee, kindness, but it’s bitter out and they are all understandably numb.

Men in unyielding suits talk on their phones and hold doors for capable people. I watch women with big hair chatter and chide, wrinkle their noses and throw half full cups into the trash as they skip away.

Not one looks at me and too, feel less.

I cup my hands ‘round my mouth and savor the small touch of hospitality my warm breath provides. The air gets colder, my muscles stiffer, as time ticks on. I sit motionless, unable to think of much else other than where I’ll be in a few hours.

“Hey, can you hang on to my dog?” My body tenses at the unexpected voice so close to me.

I look at the little curly haired dog, and up at the little curly haired boy.

“I need to grab something real quick and he can’t run super fast, so if you’d just hold him for me…”

“No problem,” I agree, not sure what choice I have as the half-pint runs off without waiting for an answer.

The dog climbs up onto my lap. His belly is like a hot water bottle, his sandy fur a cozy coat. He stretches upwards and licks my face, his tongue soft and velvety. I feel myself loosen a little, a strained elastic slipping back to its natural state.

The very next person to come out hands me a five-dollar bill.

“Say no to drugs.” he laughs half serious, the next, a cup of steaming coffee and a few crumpled bills. “Cute pup,’” she smiles. “Buy him a treat!”

By the time the boy returns, I’ve had a sandwich, a conversation and the shake of a hand. A shop employee even leaves a bowl full of fresh water for the dog and a handful of broken cookie bits.

“Thanks for watching Jack,” the boy’s tone is raspy, breathless. “It would’ve taken me way longer if I’d had to drag him along.”

He hands me a somewhat grizzly sleeping bag and a greyish pillow. “Here, they’re yours.” he tells me.

“What? No,” I say, shocked. “Where did you get these?”

“I gotta go,” he says, grabbing the dog. “I can come back tomorrow though. People are way more generous when Jack’s around.”

He takes off so quickly I barely have time to notice his dirty fingernails, his hoodie full of holes or Jack effortlessly keeping up alongside him.

What I do notice as they trot off, is that I now feel more.

homeless boy and dog

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Sandy Hook

Children are exhausting ~ a full-on, twenty-four/seven job.

I have three and I’ve never been so thankful to be run-ragged in all my life.

With respect to Newtown, Connecticut, I have lingered over my own public recognition of this event. After all, who am I? I know no one. I don’t understand. I can’t relate.

But, I do feel, I am heartsick and sadly, I have never lacked imagination.

To become entangled in deliberation, speculation and persecution would be unfair to the fallen and their families. In their honor, I choose simplicity…

Dear Santa,

Forget Christmas. Tragedy doesn’t regard time nor know its place.

Forever and always, gift peace, strength, safety and goodwill and, if you’re honestly magical, maybe one day it will be a shorter wait to access medical help than a weapon and the ‘right to bare arms’ will simply mean that shirts without sleeves can be worn by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Yours,

Truly Hazy

 

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Slop.

A spoonful of potato hits the plate with a wallop and a little spec of mash lands on the hand holding it.  Instead of shuffling on like most, he pauses, making eye contact.  I steel myself, waiting for a curse word or a dirty look but all I see is empathy.

It’s the last place I want to be and if I hadn’t already committed, I’d be home, covers over my head.

“Bad day?” he asks, his voice soft, but hoarse.

“I’m sorry,” I apologize.  “I didn’t meant to…”

“No big deal.” he shrugs.  “I’ve had worse.”  His smile, as he moves on, leaves me with goose bumps.

“Yes, please.”  The next one says as I turn away from the man with the smile.  Her toothy grin, oily bob and blackened fingernails win her an extra scoop.

“Oh, thank you!” she squeals, as though I’ve just given her a hundred dollar bill.

My head throbs and pain stabs at my sinuses as I wonder which would be more disgusting; wiping my dripping nose with my cuff or pulling out the last damp, crumpled Kleenex I’d tucked into my sleeve.

There’s a lull in the line and I stand behind my steaming tray, looking out at the fifty round tables we had spent the morning setting up.  I find it alarming that all are full.

My toothy friend sits at the one closest, chuckling and chatting with whomever she can engage, her worn out red coat contrasting with her dark hair but matching her cheeks, her potato-covered tongue on display as she laughs.

They are all oohing and ahhing over the stockings we’d filled and placed at each setting; holding up the toothbrushes, bath beads and chocolates, hooting at the decks of cards and bags of mints.

Boom, boom, boom.  I’m tempted to leave my post to grab some aspirin, but the hoards are headed my way.  The warming lamps hover over the food, making me sweat and I start to feel very claustrophobic.

“Just a little, please.” The tiny girl in front of me requests. “I can’t eat very much and I’m not allowed to waste.”

She’s only about five and the sleeves of her shiny dress are completely tattered.  Her chin is just above table level and her big, gold eyes are like dollops of honey suspended over my shiny, silver tray.

“Yeah,” her dad confirms.  “Not too much for her.  Leave the rest of her portion for someone else.”

“How about you?” I ask.

“Oh, I’ll take my fair share.” He says, looking down.  I feel his shame.

“I meant, would you like the rest of her portion?” I shrug, trying to be nonchalant.

“Well, if…” he continues to look down, head hanging like a scorned pup.

Very gently, I place a double helping next to his peas.

“Anybody asks,” I offer, “you send them my way.”

He finally looks up and I can see that his eyes are an older, much more trampled version of his girl’s.  He too, smiles a smile that leaves me reeling.

After about twenty more servings, there’s another break.  I really am desperate for some relief.  My headache has turned into a machete attack and my nose is about to explode over the entire table.

I slide two fingers into my cuff and pull out the mutilated tissue.  Cupping it against my palm, I bring it up to my nose but it’s no use.  There’s more crumple than cotton.  Embarrassed, I try to stuff it back under my sleeve, unnoticed.

Plates are clamoring and I realize someone has cleared my tray away.  That’s my cue to get out on the floor and start helping clean up.

Coffee and tea is being served and everyone’s holding their cup with both hands, aware it may be the last warmth they feel until, well, who knows when.

I make my way around the room, the blinking Christmas lights taunting my overly sensitive eyes, while I push the bus cart loaded with well-used tableware.

As I reach out for yet another empty plate, a familiar finger brushes mine.

“I’m sorry.  I know I’m not supposed to touch you,” he says, “but I thought you might need these.”

I look up from the tan and weathered hand and see his forgiving face once again.  He’s holding out a small packet of Kleenex, the same one I’d placed in his stocking this morning.

I did need them.  I needed the Kleenex, I needed the compassion and I needed these people.

I was ignorant for being surprised that every seat was spoken for, naïve for being shocked that they wanted no more than their fair share, but mostly, I was foolish for thinking that this was the last place I wanted to be.

Give hands 3

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The paths are littered with boulders, rocks and large, fallen branches. Some are blocking my way and moving them is difficult. I push and pull, tug and tear, all the while; aware I’m not alone.

I make my way up and over the many big rocks, each one cutting, bruising and scraping my skin. I shimmy under branch after branch; their leaf laden twigs, poking at my torso.

I am famished.

Gales gust through the forest and whip debris up into my face. My eyes sting with the biting force and my hands fumble at the clasped satchel strapped across my chest.

Seeking shelter behind a large trunk, I lift my meager loaf as red eyes stare out from the darkness above and paralyze me. Frozen from the cold moments before, I am now crippled with terror.

I regain my composure but realize it’s coming for me. Many more red reflections materialize in the woodland’s black backdrop and I understand the brute is not alone. The group starts to emerge from the deep and their mangy fur, glistening lips and cloth-like tongues draped over razor teeth become clear to me.

They are ravenous.

I look down, knowing the food I have will distract them, but not for more than a mere wisp of time.

I decide to run.

Holding my satchel to my chest, I bolt out into the lashing rain and flee the pack. I sail up and over rough terrain and dash past gigantic trees, their low-hanging branches narrowly missing my head. Brush slices at my cheeks but the blood is washed away by torrents pelting from the sky. The creatures snarl and snap at my heels, their teeth snag and shred the fabric of my clothes.

They are relentless.

Muscles scream and my body aches. I sense I’m reaching the end and fear the battle is lost. My journey has been long and my heart close to exploding as I climb what I believe will be my last crest. Weary, I grow, as I turn to face what will be my maker, but I see their lowered heads and tattered tails drifting back down the trail.

It’s then that I know – If I had fed them at the bottom, they would not have driven me to the top.

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My bag drops in a frayed heap by the front door and I walk the squeaky floorboards leading to the kitchen, my boots leaving sloppy prints on the dusty wood.  A pot caked in hardened cheese and bits of pasta, a crumb-covered counter and two crimson stained bottles in the sink show me that today, like most days, time has stood still inside my house.

“Sheila?” I call just loud enough to be able to say I did.

Pulling back a clump of dark wet hair from between my lips, I throw bread down on top of the stale crumbs and snag the peanut butter out of the cupboard.  Searching the fridge for jam, I realize there’s no point, nothing will have changed since this morning.  I smear extra peanut butter on one of the slices before whacking the two together.  We don’t cut crusts in this house.  I try to live by “waste not, want not” but seem to come up short most of the time.

I sit at the cluttered table as Eden leaps up ready to share, sending several unopened bills to the floor.  “No, no, babe.  I can’t.”  The cat rubs her shoddy fur against my sharp wrist bone and meows a feeble yowl.  “Sorry, Shitty Kitty,” I lean in to kiss her forehead, “I’m just too hungry to share today.”

“Shitty Kitty” had become my name for Eden when, years ago, Sheila had stumbled over her.  Angry, she’d booted the cat half way across the room and shrilled; “Get out ya goddamn piece of shit!”  Slurring; “Go da hell,” She’d slumped onto the couch and rubbed at her barely bashed shin.  When Sheila had finally crashed, the cat limped out from under a chair.  I’d picked her up and stroking her chin I’d whispered; “Yeah, but you’re my goddamn shitty kitty.”

I leave the plate for Eden to lick, grab my satchel and head upstairs.  As always, I try not to look as I pass her door but I catch a glimpse of Sheila’s bare leg wilting off the side of the bed.  Her narrow calve is as anemic as the paint on her walls.  It’s stark and still against her dark sheets, a hostage.

I open the door to my own murky room.  It groans at being forced to appear welcoming.  The light from the floor lamp muted with a grey silk scarf, casts moon glow off its dark surroundings.

Smearing the sooty liquid over my walls and ceiling way back when had been calming and the smell of fresh paint had blessed me with a welcome high.  Wiping out the lavender of younger years had felt like I was burying something I never wanted to see again and now the fragrant incense that I smoldered nightly to battle the wafts of Sheila’s stale alcohol smothered even that indulgence.

She never comes in here.  Not any more.  My room affords me numbness but for her, it is the opposite.  For Sheila, it threatens to wrench out the ugly from her booze-blunted brain.  The hurt and the pain toy with the corners of her waxy, Crayola-red lips.  Nightmares of the past curl their wicked fingers at her brow and flicker in her vacant eyes.  No, Sheila never comes close to my door unless she is fraught for something only I can give or get.

I drop onto the bed, bootlaces dangling, tongues drooping; my satchel landing beside me.  Smatterings of Eden’s hair cover my black leggings.  My long, white shirt is damp and my ribs push at the thin cotton.

Sheila is moving now, her bare feet making slow slapping sounds on the worn wood.  She stops at her end of the hall and I wait, ribs rising and falling.

“Liv? You home?”  Her voice is grave and marred by the icepick of a headache that comes with a hangover.  “Olivia! Are, you, home?”

“I called, Ma.  You didn’t answer.  What more d’ya want?”

Sheila is exquisite.  Her auburn hair drips over her pale shoulders and down her back in thick, wispy tendrils; her skin, porcelain without a lick of paint despite her self-sabotage attempts over the past five years.

“Throw the frozen Lasagna in, would’ya?”

We have frozen lasagna three nights a week.  That’s how long one tray of it lasts the two of us.  Sheila eats like a bird.

“Yeah, Ma.  I’ll get to it in a minute.”  I pause, knowing what’s coming next.

“And Liv?  Grab me the Advil and a glass of water.”

“Sure, Ma.  Whatever you want.”

Through the crack in the doorway I see her frail wrist and delicate fingers drifting back into lock-up.

I heave myself up from the bed, grab a dry shirt and throw my hair up in a bun as I saunter back downstairs.

Oven at 450, I open the freezer and take the Lasagna out, leaving it empty.  There will be a shiny new foil tray when Sheila gives me enough money to buy another one next week.

I fill a glass from the tap and bring the ever-present Advil back up the stairs.

Men loved Sheila.  Boyfriends used to come and go.  She was the kind of woman they could look after, protect.  She made them feel strong, in control.  She made them…powerful.

As I reach her door, the pills rattle in my hand and just like that, I’m ten again, carrying medicine to her, back when she only needed it once in a blue moon.  Her sheets were light then and matched my dress.  Lavender was her favorite color and I’d chosen it that morning to please her.  He was lying beside her, both of them face down and much like today, her leg had hung over the side.  I remember admiring her flawless skin and dainty, painted toenails.  White particles hovered all around them making my kid mind dream of snow.  Sun lit them both like gossamer angels.  Even at ten, I’d understood the irony.

Leaving the bottle and the water on her nightstand, I’d quietly backed out of the room not wanting to wake them.

I hadn’t realized my Mother had woken that morning, just as I was disappearing.  She’d lifted her head, about to call out to me, maybe even to ask for a cuddle, but instead, her bleary eyes had met with the three dark red splotches I hadn’t known I’d dripped onto her floor.  It wasn’t until I’d gone to the bathroom later that day that I’d discovered the blood and frantically scrubbed at the stains, ashamed she might see.

There were no more men after that and no more Mommy; just Sheila, me and the bottles; bottles of booze, bottles of pills, bottles of feelings we’d never discussed.  She blames herself.  I know that.  I blame him.  He knows that.

I’d tried my best to smother the lavender for her.  Turns out it’s a hardy vine.  I’d killed the color, but destruction had flourished and I will always blame myself.  No one knows that.

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It’s my birthday!  I don’t often use exclamation marks, but in this case I’m attempting to make myself feel better about being another year older.  It’s already lost its audacity though, as my birthday was yesterday.  It turns out yesterday was an optimum day for birthdays, not new posts.

I’m from the North of Ireland, Belfast born.  I’m proud of my heritage and cherish my visits back to the abundance of family and friends I am lucky enough to have left over there.

Searching for a little inspiration to adorn my facebook page on the morn’ of my birth day, I came across a quote by a fellow Irishman, Brendan Behan.  It goes like this:

I’m a drinker with a writing problem.” ~ Brendan Behan

Now, I have no way of really knowing why, but I promptly lost two followers; almost as fast I uploaded, they checked out.

Brendan and I are trying not to take it personally, but we have to be honest, it stung just a little, especially for me, it being my special day n’ all.

I could jump to many conclusions about why they deserted me, but we all know what assuming does.  It’s not flattering.  I’m just going to accept their departure gracefully and adopt the attitude that perhaps I have done you all a disservice in not making clear (which, by the way, is the opposite of hazy) what you can expect from me.  I accept responsibility.  I am eager to rectify:

1. I do not praise alcoholism, but I will promote someone who was able to achieve substantial success and become “one of the most important Irish literary figures of the 20th century” in his forty-one short years here on earth.

2. I don’t pick and choose.  Holding back is not my forte.

3. I fib.  I pick, I choose, I do hold back.  I don’t depict autobiographical events without blending them into almost unrecognizable abstract.

4. I’m British, I write and I drink.  Unlike Mr. Behan, I don’t see any of these as a problem, but for your reading pleasure, I try not to mix the three.

5. I secretly like being another year older.  I just needed an excuse to use an exclamation mark.

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Sometimes, and let me be clear, only sometimes, I don’t think I’m bitchy enough to be a writer. (That alone should be enough to spark more interest in my blog than usual)

I was on a plane to New York last week. My daughter and I pre-booked our seats and got to the airport (absurdly) early for check-in. Long story short, we were well prepared and took every measure to insure we were sitting together and that my girl got the window seat she’d been dreaming of.

As we approached our seats, we were met with a stare of frigid disappointment. A mother sat with her tot on her lap and said;

Oh, we were hoping you wouldn’t be together.”

“Sorry?” I asked, confused.

“My son and I are seated apart, so we were hoping you were going to be able to switch with us.”

“Ah,” I said in an understanding tone. I looked at the little boy, no more than three. I could feel her pain.

I turned to my daughter, only a child herself, and was met with her pleading eyes, but before I could say anything, she relented; “It’s okay, the little boy can sit with his mom.”

I could see she was troubled, only being eleven, but sensing the gravity of the situation, she knew he needed his mommy just a little more than she did.

“Are you sure honey? I asked. “You don’t have to switch if you’re worried. The seat’s yours after all.”

As we were having this conversation, a mere formality, the outcome of which we already knew, we were interrupted by the woman; “’She is just that much older. My boy really needs to sit with me.”

As I absorbed what she was saying, the flight attendant piped in; “Yes, she is older. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

Amidst the blink of an eye, and some unnecessary tongue flapping, what had started as empathy for the woman and her child was now bordering on resentment and flirting at the edge of anger within me. I was being bullied.

“It’s alright,” I answered, slightly exasperated. “We’ll change seats.”

We settled into our new digs and I leaned back, glad to be out of the limelight. An aisle separated my girl and I. We looked at each other and smiled. No big deal.

Two hours in, she reclined her seat, startling, but not (even close to) disrupting a woman behind her. The woman’s wild curls bounced and her eyes widened behind her very round, thick-rimmed glasses.

With a cluck of her tongue, she looked down her nose and over her specs at the person next to her.

“This is why I wouldn’t switch with them in the first place. I’m a writer”, she claimed with an exasperated tone while stroking the keys of her laptop. “And you see”, her voice all high and mighty, “I still can’t get any peace!”

So, maybe Ava and I couldn’t cuddle, whisper or giggle and perhaps she couldn’t rest her head on my shoulder while she was sleeping and she obviously didn’t get her much anticipated window seat, but we were going to New York, we did hold hands during take off and landing, we had the comfort that came from doing what was right and I would still be a writer…bitch or not.

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