In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


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Nanowrimo: Day 3

pixabay house

The U.S. Financial Crisis Commission determined the causes of The Great Recession of 2007 and afterward were as follows:

The U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reported its findings in January 2011. It concluded that “the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.”

Money thugs everywhere like cats breathlessly pouncing on a field full of mice. No regulation, no one watching or understanding what was going on or turning a blind eye, while the wolves salivated and prospered. The huge money grab ended in 2008 officially with the real estate market plummeting and foreclosures skyrocketing.

My 45 year old house was worth over a million dollars in 2006 and by 2008, was worth closer to $450,000.00. Nothing made sense in the seething overground of financial shenanigans and thievery. But at home, there was just us: the kids and me. Frank worked.


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Nonowrimo: Day 2


(Image: Penguin Books)

Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, three years after I was born. The Second Wave of Feminism she helped launch was already under way as my mind was also beginning to take shape. Without a word of hers ingested, I ate her intent, had it coursing through my veins like red blood cells. It produced the iron with which I withstood the world of feminine assault and violent backlash.
 
Women weren’t violent, but the disgust, outrage and horror of becoming aware what men thought of us, the powerlessness to become, to be seen and to be in-possessed razored some hearts, did violence to their peace and potential.

I never read Friedan, not at 12 or 15 or any age. While absorbing home life and culture, I hid. I read. I went away to more frightening places, like Mordor, the harrowing innards of Siddhartha, and the outer limits of my own consciousness. I recreated on a daily diet of pot with occasional leaps into the color zones inside acid, speed and barbiturates. Occasionally. I feared losing my grip more than craved the outer limits of sanity. 


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For No Apparent Reason

Like any other morning, I wake up to muffled door rattles or slams,

And the crystal plea of a squeezed bladder–release, sweet release.

The blinds drawn and the clock radio dead for a few years now, I reach

For my phone to check the time: the usual 6:38 a.m. flashes retinally.

Taking inventory, I listen for a high schooler soon to fly out the door,

Perhaps her older sister stirring in poor sleep or kicking the disruptive

Cat out the door to purr in someone else’s ears, perturbations unleashed

For those battling anxiety and depression: IBS, TBI, PMS and US politics.

 
Challenging gravity’s rest, I aright myself and further assess the day’s 

Bone placement as they all align, sink and press in allotted pegs, dips

And slots, and all measure properly without incident or undue notice.

My body has not joined in some stealth overnight rebellion for unpaid

Dues or sins of my youth just yet, and I take my first steps into morning.

Upright, leaning into space opening up to the bathroom door a mere six

Steps from my launch, I begin to feel it: the heaviness, not in step or 

Weight, but an anchor-dragging shadow that resists verticality from

Scalp to balls of the feet, slowing the advancing doorway  to a shuffle.
 

I know I’m already late, but the excursion’s effort, to pee and back, 

Begs my re-bedding just for a hair’s breadth of a moment, I bargain.

Soon, the phone or entry door will vibrate with his questioning call or 

Needy knuckles, reminding me that it’s time for his intravenous push 

And his diabetes blood check and his arm wrap for his shower and his 

Pill box re-filling as it is Monday: the array of multi-colored, go-gemlets 

Shaped like candy paper dots or pez ovals popped out of a clown mouth.

The anchor widens and grows tentacles, linking chain to arms and chest,

Pulling down shoulders and the corners of eyes and lips no breath can re-

Vive, no gratitude check can lighten and release like an emptied bladder.
 

I glance out the now-opened blinds at the orange clusters in threes and 

Fours, heavy with juice, hanging impossibly high at the thinnest branches

At the top, mightily fighting, irresistibly drawn downward while floating

The resistance between soaring, maintaining and falling: mass, space and

Time–all illusion, as is this overwhelming dread and angst that will dry,

Crumble and dust, blown into an afternoon breeze that kicks up after June

Grey dewy mornings drip, clear and stiffen to bolster tender leaves against

The love, need, hate, and anger over their circling heads tethered to a sun,    

The same star that guides ships, unanchored, daylight drifting or swiftly 

coursing waters tumultuous and calm to destinations charted yet unknown.

Another rudder-less morning steering me blindly, I have survived the first

Passage and make my way to the door, enjoying the last five, quiet seconds

Before the physical proof meets the prescient mood, while nothing is wrong. 

 

  


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She Like Me

  

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think interior decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves –  Anna Quindlen

Over jack fruit tacos, fresh chips and salsa and pumpkin bisque, she repeats the urgency to me. “At my age, I feel I should be on some path. I thought I had one, but now I don’t know what to do.”

She is 20. Her eyes glimmer the sea’s green under the sun.

“Maybe you’re already on your path,” I offer. “Searching and yearning is a path you return to periodically throughout your life, I suspect, judging from my own. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

She dips a chip, swivels and scoops the salsa to her mouth, chewing and thinking.

“No one gets how interesting it is that the same Aussie passes by the same spot outside the store each time I work.” 

She’s off on a new topic, obviously. 

“Or that the old dude with the baggy pants and dead cigar, who sits on the bench watching people go by is not creepy, just lonely. No one finds interesting the same things I do. No one even notices the same things I do. They just look at me blankly, like ‘I don’t get it.'”

Maybe she is not onto another topic after all, I think, and say to her, “You have the eyes and notice of a writer. Perhaps you should write.”

I smile inside at the thought–of her writing, of her at 20, and of her as my daughter. Her terrible beauty in striving splashes coolly recollected imagery over me of the shadow passion of a younger woman, far less stunning but more deeply driven. I too wanted to know my path back then, a college student looking for purpose and love and hating both, the need for either. I too was unable to see the road under my feet for my eyes focused farther down the way.

I mindlessly bring a chip to my lips and the crunching disrupts my musing. Watching her animated face, her lively expression full of open mouth laughter and wide eyed indignity at the passing observations, wishes and gripes she tosses out over half eaten tacos, I marvel at this bundle of gesticulations and well-spun tales of friends becoming strangers and strangers turned friends, this woman of my making with well-chosen words to help me see.

I see me and not me in her at 20. I only hope I was as engaging and fascinating a lunch date as she.

 


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Some Like it Rough

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Speaker 1 (Sitting at the end of the bar with an open palm propping up her chin, her long wavy auburn hair flanks her shoulder down the arm supporting her head and disappears under the bar. She appears to be in her late thirties with lean, defined arms and angular jawline. I cannot see her face): He says he wants to be a good man but just doesn’t know how. His anger overruns everything. He never got used to being denied, anyone telling him ‘no.’ It still strikes him like a punch to the gut. “No-POW!” As if his brain fires bullets to his fists on the command “No.” A reflex just like Pavlov’s dogs.

Speaker 2 (Facing Speaker 1 and sitting upright in her bar stool, her platinum shoulder length blonde sort of long bobbed hair framing her face in manufactured swooping S curves, maybe from a curling iron. Her make-up is drawn on tastefully, painted in long black lashes, heavy heather brown arc’d brows and smooth sandy color coated foundation. Her shoulders are set back, making her spine arch convex. She’s far too lithe to be a Marilyn Monroe knock-off, but she is a slender bosomy silhouette of her or perhaps early Madonna): Send him my way. I like an angry dude, full of piss and vinegar, strutting himself like God’s gift. I know how to handle those types.

Speaker 1 (Sitting up straight now, eye level with her bar companion, her thick hair drapes down her back stopping short of her waist): No, not like this guy. He isn’t just arrogant or confident, “strutting” like you say; he’s mean and borders on violent. He once grabbed my arm to make me stop walking away from him, and it felt threatening, more than firm, more like in the gripping with force range. We’re not even involved with each other romantically. I mean, what is that all about? I only know I was uneasy about it. Not so much scared as we were in a public place, but it did give me pause.

Speaker 2 (Shrugs, her head veering slightly to the left as her shoulders rise trying to meet the dangle of her earrings, something sparkling when the dim light hits them at an angle): I like it a little rough. Give him my number. 
 


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The Lover’s Monologue

  
I could have written all those fucking 7,8,9 or 100 ways to save your marriage articles. I tried everything I read for decades.

How many relationship “experts”, writers and doctors preach honesty and openness? How many times in 20 years have I opened my heart to her, told her my hopes and dreams, listened to hers, answered her most probing questions about what turned me on or off, what she needed in bed…I tried. It was so hard to be honest, despite her insisting. I didn’t want to hurt her. I knew my words would hurt her. The truth hurts.

What she didn’t tell me, probably didn’t know herself was that she couldn’t handle hearing what she wanted to know. Early in our marriage she would ask me about my fantasies, first like it was a game, like she was being cute about it. And when I refused to tell her, she got irritated and moody. 

But I was embarrassed and it was hard to talk about. It was extremely uncomfortable and felt a little dangerous, like exposing my weaknesses. After a while I think she was driven by this thing, this idea of something I was holding back from her, and demanded to know what I fantasized about–she wanted it in the name of honesty. While it was important to be honest, I also knew some things just needed to be kept to myself. I resisted hard.

But she was clearly disturbed about me keeping something from her, so I gave in. When I told her some of the things I got off on masturbating in my younger days…and occasionally afterward, she got quiet, then distant and then hurt. I watched it happen, the changes cross over her face like a quick moving time-lapsed eclipse. 

She wouldn’t talk about it for a long time. And when she did, she tearfully confessed she couldn’t do what I wanted. She didn’t like anything that might be painful and then it got so messy because I told her I didn’t actually want these things from her, which was the right thing to say but she took it wrong like I wanted it from someone else or didn’t think her capable; it broke down from there into silence and brooding anger. 

Just one of the many breakdowns and resentments that collect and heap up over time.

Be open and honest. Right. How much is too much honesty? Not enough? This is the person I chose to share everything with, who I counted on to build me up not tear me down for what I think or say. I always felt she was on my side and wanted what was best for me. I still do. But there is a slow but steady growing crack widening in us we can’t seem to repair. 

There were other misunderstandings that ended in injured feelings, both of us shut down and protective of our own. She casually mentioned one too many times that the company should give me more time off, more pay, more respect, just more of… what?  What SHE wanted? Was she defending me or looking out for her own interest? 

It’s degrading to be reminded you don’t make as much as you should or have as much as you deserve. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t work there. There’s a sense of how things operate, something she couldn’t know. And for someone so sensitive, it’s downright insensitive not to know how that burns. 

Now I sound like her with the mindreading. She should know…I should know…No, I should have told her how that humiliated me. Not angrily but calmly. But then…I’d been burned so many times by that whole honesty thing before.

My head just spins with this shit. No wonder so many of my college buddies weren’t too keen on getting married any time soon, preferring sex, partying and freedom. Funny, how I judged them then as shallow. Maybe they in their blind denial intuited the danger, all the pitfalls of relationships going long, going stale, expecting too much, tolerating too little…I just chalked them up to chickenshits. But maybe they were right.  

And yet I couldn’t imagine life without her. Too painful. The struggles you suffer and overcome, my dad described as the ups and downs of marriage: “it ain’t easy but it ain’t that hard either.” Yeah? Seems pretty damned difficult sometimes. It’s fucking hard! 

Then again, it’s harder to give up…until there’s nothing to give up, like knowing when you’re bested or outdone, checkmated. There’s no point in trying. Until then, you just keep figuring it out.


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Deny Me to the Moon

  
An exile of his own skin, he dances around himself

like a forgotten memory, webby-silk and opalesque.

Missing at the core he is, out and outwardly leaning,

seeking last letter spaces, the crossword’s final clue,

bluntly obvious solutions, words clearly spelled out,

none save himself a riddle, yet unanswered to mind.

Self-realized men confess, embrace inherited power,

weakness staring truths, scorched in skin worn open.

Banned men envision, only scoff-turned accusations,

toss blocked revelation, obstructing responsible claim

in twisted other-outerness, blaming all not one source

he who self-circles doubt, brandishing blind knife ego

’til none know his name, only echoes like tinnitis ears,

trace stirrings in songs, a residue of teflon-tinged taste

on tongues never spoken, refusal in face of god’s moon.