Sunday, February 7, 2010

Suddenly Everything Makes Sense*

Around 1988 I’m working as a waitress at a German restaurant on July 4th. The chef gets angry and walks out in the middle of dinner service. We are all panicking. I want to walk out, too, but we apologize to the customers and watch the fireworks over New York City from the picture window.

Around 1971 we live on Alberta Avenue next door to the Ruhf family. Ricky and his brothers have a secret clubhouse in the woods nearby. I like to spy on them. They accidentally burn it down with a cigarette they aren’t supposed to be smoking. I long for a big brother just like Ricky.

Around 1978 I find a sand dollar on the beach in Sea Bright. It’s late winter and much too cold to swim. We live in a tiny rental house on Ocean Avenue. We call it the cracker box. Mrs. Rooney lives next door and sells hot dogs from a Sabrett cart. I think the tiny bird-like shells inside the sand dollar are heartbreakingly beautiful.

Around 1985 I spend the summer taking care of another family’s children. Their mother, Meg, has breast cancer and loses her hair after chemotherapy treatments. My friend Michael mows their lawn and we play Wiffle ball with the girls. I make cheese sandwiches every day. A few years later Meg and Michael are dead.

Around 1975 my sister is dancing on the side of the tub while we are taking a bath. I tell her to stop or she will get hurt. She slips and knocks herself unconscious. She is drowning. My father does mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the small pink carpet. He saves her life. I cry myself to sleep that night.

Around 1982 we drive to Virginia to stay with my grandparents. My dad plays Kenny Rogers on the eight-track player all the way there. I sit in the front seat so my sister and I won’t fight. I know all the words to "The Gambler".

Around 1976 my parents give us a tape recorder for Christmas. It has been recording our voices while we open our presents. When we play it back later my mother is screaming because I have opened the only gift she gets that year—a dress she doesn’t really like.

Around 1987 I shoplift shampoo and a lipstick from the Five and Dime. I carry it out in the front pocket of my raincoat. The sun is shining.

Around 1983 my cousin tells me my grandfather is an alcoholic. We are playing hide-and-go-seek. Suddenly everything makes sense.

Around 1978 my grandmother sits next to me on the bed and gives me Saltines and a cherry pop. I have a high fever and I am delirious. Her cool hand on my forehead and soft murmurings make me feel safer than I have ever felt in my life.

(*homage to Terence Winch and Deborah Harding, and many others I'm sure)


kristen said...


this is really amazing writing here my friend.

looking forward to seeing you tuesday. xo

t.p. said...

Thanks for the homage. I wrote "I Am Dressed as a Gondolier" a long time ago, coming up with that particular structure and approach in the process. Ms. Harding, I guess, stumbled on the poem somewhere (it appeared in a 1975 chapbook, but it's never been in my later books) and wrote her take on my poem. But I don't think there have been any others. Good luck with your work, Terence Winch