For every hero who leaps into cold water, I know there is another waiting at the shore.
With a blanket, a cup of soup, a checkbook.
And donated pink yarn.
The Other Mom you ran into in the yogurt aisle
It was dawn, and I was alone. Alone until you were there, suddenly, at my shoulder.
You passed by me so close, I saw your shadow. I smelled your soap. You were simply walking between the pumps after paying inside, and I know you saw me flinch. A suburban, cocooned, white flinch.
I know you did.
You smiled and said, “Guess we’re the only fools out at this hour.”
“Looks like it,” I replied.
I took a bag of trash out of my car.
“Time to clean up? I need to do that, too,” you said, still smiling.
“I needed to do it about a month ago,” I confessed.
This is what it’s like, I thought. You felt a need to represent. To change perceptions. To keep me from flinching again.
We wished each other a happy new year.
And you drove away, in your shiny new black Lexus, leaving me there in my dirty white used Acura.
You. Yes, you. You with the boundless energy. Enough to run a business and an organization, and still coach your sons’ soccer team. Always smiling, always cajoling, the customers loved you, trusted you. Who wouldn’t?
You hired people on instinct, you said, not on experience, not on age.
What did you see in me at age 15? Energy, intelligence? Or did you see in me the shyness, the uncertainty, that would make me freeze in confusion when you rubbed up against me in the dark back stairway? Turning a tight corner into a do-si-do that always ended in a rough full frontal “hug” up against the damp wall, a move I had no vocabulary word for.
Are you thinking of me now as you watch the news?
I remember your name.
But somehow I doubt you remember anything about me but my body.
After School Employee
There’s a reason you only compete every four years.
Because it takes time to train, to learn and re-learn, to fall, get up, and try again. Many of you have been at this since you were children. Back when it was play, when it was just fun to make the shapes, to feel the wind, to dream the dream.
It’s taken most of you ten years or more to get where you are today.
Yesterday, I told a writer that wanting to be published today is like wanting to be in the Olympics.
She didn’t like hearing that. Because she just wants to fly, and doesn’t want to fall.
But you know what I know – you need the muscle-memory of plummeting to appreciate the soaring beauty of rising up.
I was 22 and always in a hurry. I drove a dented red car too fast through a Northern California neighborhood on a foggy afternoon. I was no angel, but I was innocent-looking, freckle-faced. No piercings or tattoos, nothing goth or punk about me. When you pulled me over, you looked nice enough. You said simply, “License and registration.”
You didn’t flinch when I opened the glove box. As you surveyed my ID the open window let in the chill of the coastal fog. I shivered in my thin t-shirt. I rubbed my hands together, then nestled them between my legs. In a split second, you screamed “Freeze!” and had your gun trained on my head.
To say that I froze was an understatement. All these years later this scene is locked in my mind like a still from a movie. A furious young cop in straight-armed academy position. “What did I do?!” I shrieked. “I didn’t do anything!” These words fell out of my mouth involuntarily. We’ve all heard them now. We hear them all the time. They are the instantaneous reaction of the innocent.
“Hands up!” You yelled. I lifted my cold hands.”A little lesson when you are dealing with an officer of the law,” you said as you lowered your weapon. “Never, ever reach under the seat.”
I shouldn’t have said anything in return. But I had a smart mouth and you were wrong.
“I didn’t reach under the fucking seat! I reached under my ass! My hands were cold!”
If I had not been who I was, this may have been the biggest mistake of my life. You looked at me oddly, took a deep breath, and delivered the real lesson with your awful reply: “Doesn’t matter what you did. It matters what it looked like.”
You wrote me the speeding ticket. I paid what seemed like a very high price at the time, but which I now know was nothing, absolutely nothing.
Woman Who Wonders If You Learned Your Lesson Too.
When you called me in the car and told me you’d already faxed the forms to the college, called the sports medicine specialist on campus, arranged for the boot measurement, and verified there was an appointment for my daughter the next day, you thought you’d lost me.
Hello? Hello? You said as if the call had been dropped.
I’m here, I said. I’m just so . . . stunned. And touched. And thankful.
That’s why we’re here, she replied.
And I thought to myself, that is what you don’t see on the hospital website. We are specialists in disease, orthopedics, and in cutting through red tape for scared moms whose kids are far from home.
P.S. I’m sorry she went out dancing in her cast last night. She swears you never said “no dancing.”
You are not my boyfriend.
But how I wish I had a boyfriend like you when I was young. Who carried you inside when you are sick. Who gave thoughtful presents. Who wrote tender love notes.
And you are not my son.
Smart. Conversant on any subject. A writer of thank yous. A bringer of hostess gifts.
But I mourn you now as a little bit of each — the boyfriend I never had. The son I never had.
There is a hole in my Christmas list. There is an empty seat at the table.
I tell my daughters, this is not about me. This is about you. What’s right for you. What I feel doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter, but it does hurt.
Mother of only girls
You asked if my oldest daughter was with me this summer. Or the middle one. Or the youngest one.
Your shoulders dropped two inches when I said no. That they were in other cities, working other jobs. Not here, babysitting, just when you needed one.
I said I was sorry, that I would tell them you said hello, and you rode away.
But afterwards, I couldn’t forget the droop in your posture. You looked hot, tired, overwhelmed.
And I wished I had said what I am thinking now: I’ll watch your kids for you.
Because I miss mine. And someday, you’ll miss yours too.
Mom on the porch
I know you must think, in the tundra days of winter, that you have the worst job in the world. I know your bosses must wonder, as traffic flies by you and doesn’t stop, that advertising doesn’t work.
But when I saw you, your yellow arm waving with a wide swath, saying hello to every passerby with a frosty exhale, I waved to you. And when you waved back, then bowed with your spiky ray hat, I smiled the whole rest of my commute.
I didn’t think: “Look there’s an idiot in a sun suit.” I thought, “There is a person who does a difficult job extremely well.”
I wanted to write to your boss and tell him so, but when I doubled back the next day, driving up and down a four-block stretch where I was sure you’d been, expecting to see a business called “Sun Jewelers” or “Sun Dry Cleaners”, I didn’t see any place remotely like that.
And I didn’t see you either.
Person Who Waved Back
The publishing business is rough. You pop champagne over a hefty advance, you vow to donate some of it to charity, and the next thing you know, you’re signing a stack of books in the mall and no one’s waiting in line except the assistant manager of the store and John Mc Cain wearing a hat and dark glasses (which incidentally, is about as good a look for him as the scrunchie was for you.)
Hillary, Hillary, Hillary. Sales are down. Your editor is in big twubble. You know what you need? You need to write some guest blog posts for Bookylicious and InMyStacks. Throw yourself some book signings with red white and blue cupcakes you pay for yourself. Have Chelsea make a video with you and some kittens and tweet that shit out.
If you’re really just an ordinary person, as you keep insisting . . .try acting like an ordinary author. And go sell your book, missy.
An Ordinary Author