Archive for October, 2009

Damned if you do…

October 29, 2009

The first thing I love about Hitchens is the fact that he looks exactly like Harry Potter actor Timothy Spall (and thus frequently transforms into a rat in my imagination.) The second thing is his childlike lack of self consciousness when it comes to his anti-religiousity. With this new piece for Slate, he has officially succeeded in both misrepresenting the majority of Christians in America as literalist/fundamentalist (backward, intolerant shrews) and now, since he has gone out to debate within the community at large, and found it much less monolithic and hostile than he imagined, in deciding that these believers–while polite–are veritable pansies for not being sufficiently backward, intolerant and/or shrewish!
He seems to be saying: ‘What kind of Christians are you, unprepared to condemn homosexuality, reading Biblical stories as ‘metaphor,’ unprepared to damn me to hell, where are the believers I wrote about!’
Well, Hitch, err, those wimpy attitudes and positions you cite happen to be characteristic of most Christians (outside of your imagination and maybe certain towns in Texas.) And there is nothing self-abnegating about them! For instance, there is no requirement to read the Old Testament literally. In fact, as historian Karen Armstrong has pointed out, literalism is a rather modern phenomenon. Treating the passages as metaphorical is actually the dominant, traditional method.
As for evolution, the biggest Christian sect in the world–Catholicism–has been teaching this as bona fide science in their grade school science classes for at least three generations. Trust me, I still have flashbacks of the dissected monkey corpse wheeled into our junior high class, plus I Wiki’ed it to be sure.
And as to deciding who goes to hell–great scourge though you may be (at least to the principle of measured restraint)–Christians are taught that they are not in a position to judge the behaviors of others and that they further have no knowledge of God’s verdicts. Suffice it to say, it would be heretical to render a verdict on the matter of you. Though we realize that this is what it is all about, after all.
I know what you’re thinking: “but they do judge! Just look at Salem and the Inquisition!” (which is definitely how thousands of years of religious history should be summed up.) That’s true, but harsh judgment (‘othering’ for you grad students out there) is an element of human nature, and not one particular to the religious either. Think it’s only sectarian? When was the last time you let a hipster see what was inside your iPod, or turned on Project Runway?
As for congregations being just a form of community which followers do not elevate to infallibility…well, um…duh? I know Catholics are kind of weird about this institutional stuff, but then that’s how we got Protestantism.
Ironically enough, it occurs to me that most (non extremist, non fundamentalist) religious sects leave their believers more room for doubt and questioning of God’s existence, than you do His inexistence.

To Hitch’s admirers, I ask you to consider whether this man wants to spoil the grounds for belief, or is merely spoiling for a fight (and the dollars that flow from sexy, reductionist polemics.) If you, as a consumer of infotainment, are desperate for something trite, I’d say save your money, go to the movies and watch Rambo shoot some bad brown folk. At least then you won’t be burdened with any tedious ‘triple entendres’…
He’s an interesting cat, but on this matter consumed in the fires, if not of hell, then of his own, overweening faith.

to the unsung pamperer

October 24, 2009

As more prestigious fingers scratch out sonnets to true love
and other would-be profundities
I tip my hat to the soldier
Concealed beneath the dungarees
Dear diaper

Oh pardon me, thou swollen lump of pulp
Lying there at your inglorious end
Slumping pale atop the bin
Cumuloid heart swelling with the fetid detritus
Yet another wonder
To leave splendid men unimpressed

As hungry they labor to rub a new shine
onto the will of knobs for burrows divine
Yet is it not the nature of hands to find breasts
The impulse of arrows to be crowned in flesh?

(Strange things by which to be impressed.)

But you were not so foregone
What part of fate
resulted in your polyacrylate
resealable tape?

What synapses were fired and how many paychecks expired
To build the factory that was your womb
How many tankers set sail to sea creatures impale
Through haunted lands to reach my hands
And over unfettered bowels prevail?

What disgraceful tautology
To disdain a marvel like you
For our sins of scatology

Dear E,

October 19, 2009

I’m sitting in Piazza del Popolo on the steps of the monument to the Four Perpetually Vomiting Lions (That Tourists Love To Sit On.) There is a brass band somewhere behind me, but it is too cold for me to get up and look—oh, here they come past. They are wearing black feathers in their forest colored caps and little tricolors hang from their instruments. The fearsome pulse of their percussion turns out to be beaten by a little woman with a fuzzy white pompom on a drum nearly as big as she.There is always a celebration afoot in Rome, or if not that, then a demonstration. Even squeezed together as they are in this city, Italians simply cannot bear to be away from each other for long.

It’s not a culture to which I am terribly well-suited. Most of the time I like to stay quiet, unraveling this or that mystery or reading celebrity news updates. Your father says I am ‘distracted’ lately. Why? Well, I spent a good few minutes yesterday thinking about the lone mosquito that I spied bobbing above the toilet seat in our little icebox of a bathroom. The temperature had taken a big plunge overnight and a howling surfeit of wind had risen in its wake. The little blue tiles on the floor sung with a cold that was near flame to my naked feet. Autunno took one step closer to inverno. And all I could think was that this was the last humble mosquito of the season. Ciaociao little vampire, even if I could fatten you up on my blood jungle sufficient to survive the winter, I would not, and you would not survive, because nature is too stubborn in her ways and those decisions have already been made. So ciaociao, on your way.

The seasons changing, and things being persistently what they are, made me think to myself: Is there any point to writing to you about my life?

It seems to me that every book has been written, and the timeless tales are timeless because, in spite of our advances, little changes in human nature. My own generation has strived tirelessly to push every boundary. Call us generation cynical. It’s wearying. In America, we have cartoon Jesuses engaging in everything up to bestiality met with a collective shrug. We don’t question the moral good so much as we do the good of morals. I can’t help but wonder if this eager iconoclast-y is good for us, or if it is merely a basic need to rebel, up against a world that has grown too tolerant and complicated for meaningful upheaval, at least in its liberal urban expressions. How sad the angry minds of our age. Their villains are so often innocuous. The real villains require university degrees of their adversaries, and TV makes us all too lazy for that.

So I have these moments, when all life seems like a mad race to nothing, or to frivolous change that might ward off the nothing for a bit. I’ve diligently eschewed all the existentialist philosophers, and especially their coffee shop lackeys, so I don’t really know why my mind trails in this direction. I suppose, what I wish the point to be, is for you to forgive me for the million imperfections that will surface in shoals and be hunted down and speared, finally digested into your resentments. We latch onto imperfections, all of us. I’ve listened as friends railed against whole institutions, ideologies, “races” even, because of one or two bad encounters in childhood. Or a narrow-minded parent. Or something equally singular and ordinary. Maybe I don’t want it to be that easy for you. And I want you to get that the world is more complicated than just me or you. I want you to be able to see the good in imperfect things. Or not to suffer under the burden of perfection. I want to inoculate you against the world. And if you are angry about the parts where I keep you from it, well maybe this will go a long way to explaining that. And so I continue:

This is how it was in our red brick universe: we little beasties scurried and scuttled and clung to the corners, in a mute ballet of scrubbed bathtubs and polished white sandals, ever struggling with our rain dances and our ablutions to keep the chaos She, our matriarch, could unleash upon us bound down, bubbling under ground.

In most households, there is a hierarchy, dispersed centers of authority. Mommy cleans the grease from the hair, daddy does the grounding, oldest sibling keeps vigilant against bumped knees and gypsies and bad boyfriends. Youngest sibling gets a Mohawk and writes poetry about how no one understands.

But for me there was only She. She was the atmosphere through which I swam. She was the earth trembling like pursed lips. She was calamity.

There were three of us children by three husbands, born years apart with birthdays in quick succession: my brother in the middle of March, me at the offing of April and my sister on the first of May, all marooned there in her shadow with my stepfather. However, when she would go really batshit, my stepfather would scoop up my sister and head to an undisclosed hotel chain to sleep peacefully and order pizza until the frenzy of fingernails and profanities had passed. Three days to a week usually. My older brother was mostly absent. So mostly consistently there was me. And Her. I had no fifty dollar a night refuge beyond the sounds of doors swinging shut and car engines starting up. And no, I don’t remember what that was like. Or if I do, only in flashes echoing off the walls of some deep well, faded and momentary by the time they reach me.

I do remember begging to go with them, my stepdad and his natural child. And that He told me no, because I was not legally his and she could ‘call the cops on him for kidnapping.’ A resourceful girl, I begged him to adopt me, not dissimilar to the way asylum seekers might beg a bureaucrat for citizenship. But if he had given me his name, the useful name, the child support checks would have dried up and, as She assured me ‘I only keep you around for the child support…and to clean the house.’

So that was clearly out of the question.

So there was only She for me. My older brother would wash up on the doorstep from time to time. Like Iblis he rebelled against the illogic of a higher order; like Iblis because he felt it violent upon him; like Iblis he became a demi-god. Cast out into the world, he wrought havoc. For instance, at the age of thirteen he was sent to Buckner’s Boys’ Ranch, which was exactly what it sounds like it was. In a compound of feral boys, many older than himself, he managed to hotwire a camp van and take it for a joyride in the Texas Hill Country. A ride which ended in a ditch not too far from my grandparent’s house. I can hear the hum of cicadas, see the blank sky looking down on my brother through the eyes of one of those vultures ever present in indolent circling, as he rolled around like ball lightning.

[I didn’t believe in ball lightning until my friend M told me not too long ago that it was real in Argentina. Now I imagine the countryside of Buenos Aires as a verdant greenhouse where sits a sober girl with earth and sunset hair, her clever smile peeking out from the folds of a gray and woolen disposition, and how she watches knowingly as the ball  lightning bumps the walls of her garden, scaring the speckled cats and leaving handsome exclamation marks written in scorches.]

And I can hear the facts of the case seeping down to me in grown up whispers while I played dumb, or at least inattentive.

My brother would protect me from her. One time she had me down on the ground, for forgetting to pack socks in my travel bag. I was going to my grandparents. I was maybe six, her talons in my shoulder as she shookshookshook me so my ripe little skull was bouncebouncing off the ground. And then whoosh she was off me and he was shoving her backback down the hall. She slapped him and he punched her. They were about the same size. She cried out, but I remember thinking she deserved it. I still think she deserved it, God forgive me.

He would try to convince me to run away with him. Once he put my Miss Piggy puppet beneath my covers, after I insisted that she would come in the room if I left and see me not there and then…I couldn’t even imagine what then.

Look, he said, she’ll see its hair and think you are asleep (its long blond hair could pass for mine). We’ll be far away by morning.

I refused to go and he slunk out the tall bedroom window into the embrace of that Magnolia tree. He was braver. I didn’t know what lay outside the garden, but whatever it was kept sending him back. And besides, I was not yet ready to punch her.

He went crazy eventually, your uncle, really crazy. Would call me in some far off city, when off his meds, to insist that he knew where I was and was coming to slit my throat.  Crazy isn’t what you think it is, E. Crazy on television is always so benign, so sympathetic. Or if it is menacing it is brilliant and comes up with clever one-liners and has some scheming, if mad, logic.

But television just takes reality, fades it down, polishes it, and fills it with abnormally pretty people. Sometimes I think television is the reason why so many of the brilliant people I know cling to absurdly simplified formulations and conclusions regarding an unapologetically complicated reality. As for me, I wondered as a kid why the people on the TV almost never had to stop and use the restroom. Really! I remember spending hours trying to think of cases where I’d seen a character on my grandma’s soaps stop another character’s lengthy monologue to say: “Hold that thought, I need to visit the little boy’s room,” or else one of the Dukes of Hazzard ask the other to pull over at the gas station because he needed to pee like a racehorse. My grandmother told me it was because it would take up a lot of time to show everything people really did on TV. But when it comes to real crazy, I think it is because it is too mundane for our craven minds. Crazy happens in cookie cutter houses. Severely crazy sleeps in front of doors that no one will ever open and bugs you for change at the bus stop. It happens in small families and only effects the people around it. It’s sometimes more irritating than destructive, often more self-destructive than outwardly violent, and no more likely to be brilliant than sane is.

Though oddly enough my brother was, or started off, brilliant. She had all of us kids tested for IQ blahblah and, as my father (who did adopt my brother but is no great fan of his) has pointed out to me: You were very high, but he…he was off the charts.

I have a feeling that only made things worse. All of these gifted and talented classes, just created more difference. But this is a story for another time.

Going back to picture day.

I remember coming home with the white envelope in my small fist.

11:19am

October 13, 2009

Out the window, the mid-day light seems to me to seep from the pure surface of the sky as from a weeping wound. It floods the park and penetrates the soil. But how deep beneath our feet do particles of light and thriving decay mingle in purplebrown impossibles? And how deep beneath my skin do those uva/uvb rays go? And which one is it again that corrodes the fuzzy, porous, nerve happy fabric over me, and why should that be its imperative? Is that the due for all that giving of life?

A freckle for some vitamin d? A potentially deadly mole in exchange for one rose’s photosynthesis?

I should wear sunscreen, though I’m unashamed of being old. I want more freckles and those deep lines that make me think of Burnet, Texas. Though maybe sans the crystalline hair helmet made famous by Ann Richards, among other grandmothers.

Anyway.

Learning to Smile, Pt 1

October 12, 2009

Dear E,
Autumn’s black storms, corvine fleets, sweep in on winds which blow the sunset from its horizontal perch. They’ve taken possession of all our midnights and some of our mornings. It’s strange to wake up and see only dark outside. Even when it is 6:15am and one’s expectations for light are minimal. Just a hush of light in the corner of the sky. But niente light. Your father just called to tell me to bring the laundry in because it’s about to start raining. He always does this. And rightly so. I will ignore the laundry, given the opportunity. As I pull the socks and towels and scarves from the rack, the rain begins hurtling down thick and cold. My heart thrums and thoughts of lightning, lightning, my irrational fear, lightning–isn’t it more likely lightning high up on this balcony, exposed? what is that mute gray sky not saying? (Because how often the unspoken thing is the more urgent, and this is no exception.)
There is lightning in the veins of that cloud, directly above. I nearly want to touch it, just to have it past.

I rush back inside, near frantic, ridiculous with anticipation of an impending strike, right up to the point where the gate clangs shut and my hand pulls back from its conductive surface. The rain comes after me, on through the grating, clings to my arm, rattles the front door. So aggressive and then gone moments later, the sun soars through the window and lands on the carpet. The silhouette of a seagull interrupts its preening.
You are such a big, healthy girl. You seem afraid of nothing. Though in church you cover your ears when the organ sounds. But you don’t cry, only when you are told no. And then only for a moment. And you are pretty. All blond curls and ivory skin. Eyes beating brightly as a bluebird’s heart. Tano, the dark-haired boy with the spidery father and effusive mother (he lives on the first floor in the building adjacent to ours, born just a week ahead of you) is already in love with you. And you’ve only known each other for a couple of months (which, admittedly, is a decent percent of your whole lives to this point.) Anyway, such has the pack of vigilante grandmas who seem to pop from their doors whenever you are carried past, such have they determined: 
Do you hear how he calls out “Edda, Edda” whenever anyone passes by?
Asks the little wizened one in the courtyard who is forever watering the plants with a cigarette dangling from her lips.
I do.
He is inamorata. Smiles the one with a snowy white bob.
In their minds, life in the building near the park is going on forever in the vehicles of you and Tano: small, predictable, lovely. I am jealous of their fantasies.
The truth is, when you two play together, you commandeer his tricycle and ignore him. Well, I think to myself, better one of those types of girls than the kind who gets walked on.
I was a different type of girl, Edda. I grew up ugly, in Texas. Our neighbors were not unfriendly, but they did not chit chat with our parents. In defense of the former, ours was probably the only house for blocks to which the cops had to be summoned regularly, in the dead of night. Usually at the neighbor’s behest. It was likely this ritual which would have rendered smalltalk at neighborhood bbqs (to which we were not invited) awkward.  But I was a kid. And spared the plainness of our isolation by the fact of not knowing any different.

Back then, I can tell you, society did not have a lot of patience for ugly girls. What you hear fat, old men sniff about Angela Merkel’s dour face or Hillary’s pantsuits today, know it was much worse back then, or would have been, had there been Merkels and Clintons so commonly prominent.

For the ugly boy, there were ample opportunities for salvation, particularly once he reached high school: Football, lead guitar, a sketch pad, a mop of unnaturally colored hair and a nose ring. All of these things worked well to mask wandering colonies of hairy moles; or sparsely whiskered turtle chins; or enthusiastic swarms of acne. But for girls, picking up a sketchpad or sticking a safety pin through something just sealed the loser deal.
There may have been many reasons for this dichotomy: the fact that men mostly ran stuff still, as I mentioned, and so everyone had it in the back of their minds that the larval scribblings of the outcast boy might someday translate into lyrical success in a punk band or as one of those authors that writes books no one can follow, and so they must be great. Or there is the fact that girls are just more generous, or imaginative, or realistic, and their fantasy boys can thus come in all sorts of (fixable) shapes and sizes. The variance for what women are able to find attractive has been demonstrated in a recent study as being much greater than it is for men. That fits nicely into what I could tell growing up; namely that, for boys, there was only one acceptable flavor of girl: pretty.
On that note, in a different study published not too long ago, women and men were to rate themselves on looks, and then choose other partners based on their ratings. The women, it seemed, had realistic senses of self and of the type of partners they could attract. Meaning, Jill Somebody knew other people thought she was a six and not a ten, and so would pick Bob and John sixes as mates. Bob and John however, rated themselves higher than Jill, and chose partners rated much higher than they. The higher ranking women, it should be noted, did not choose the Bob and John sixes back.

Now, to be fair to the men, television has been doing its damndest for some time to persuade men (or more likely women, since men are writing a lot of this drivel) that young, skinny, blond women are improbably drawn to find everyone from Drew Carey to Woody Allen sexy. (And not in their rich, powerful real life forms, but in their imaginary, yet overweight/irritatingly neurotic, but otherwise normal forms). (Incidentally, my friend Jessy has renamed the average sit-com “Fat Guy, Skinny Wife” and written a whole, wonderful theme song for it. You should ask her about that.)
Suffice it to say though, that in reality Barbie is looking for Ken. Ken is looking for Barbie. And all other dudes think they need a Barbie too. That leaves the ugly girl in no-man’s land, literally, at least until Bob and John wise up.
But none of this was news to me— I was a skimpy five years on the planet when I was first made to understand the value of aesthetics. We stood on the thick, beige carpet in the hallway bathroom. This bathroom serviced my room, as well as my younger sister’s and my older brother’s (during any of his pass-throughs between rehab, juvie, or some state institution with a misleadingly pleasant name.) The cabinets and trim of the bathroom were a scrubbed, seven am blue. There was wallpaper with a delicate floral pattern. And my mother in one of her armada of flowery, cotton dresses. Her long black hair (which she would insist angrily was dark brown) was combed and pulled neatly back, exposing high apple cheeks with an appropriate dusting of blush, a perky, sun-freckled nose, and a fine round chin.
We stood together before the mirror, gazing in.
That summer I had fallen down some stairs while visiting a cousin’s house. Our own house did not have stairs. It was a red brick house with a paved porch. A grand magnolia tree dominated the front yard. It’s limbs were short and stout, but the density of its foliage made it impossible to climb. Once a year, huge, beige flowers would erupt among its greasy, ovular leaves, and then decay in a cluster of brown lesions after only a matter of days. For the remainder of the year, this tree would stay slumped behind its swarthy, blank exterior. To my child’s logic, it was a useless, reclusive beast.
Through the yard ran a narrow, cobblestone walkway. Halfway between the porch and the curb, after the monkey grass but before the aforementioned magnolia tree, it encircled a miniature rose bush. This creature blossomed with greater patience, if less regularity than its larger neighbor.

It was a well groomed home, trimmed and combed, sitting in an upper-middle class neighborhood. My mother would stresss the ‘upper’ part.
And there we stood, within a within.

Keep your chin up. She commanded. Now part your lips a little. Open your eyes wider. NO, do not show that rat hole in your teeth, keep your lips over it. It’s going to be years until you get your adult tooth, so you need to learn to do this!
My gaze fixed, I froze, and watched as she demonstrated this smile: in an instant her face, wrung free of frustration, melted into what struck me as a sort of vaguely dopey surprise, which, terrifyingly enough dissolved just as quickly back again. This was her smile. Practiced, passive, antiseptic. And like a valuable life lesson, or an antique engagement ring, she meant to pass it on to me.
Tilt your head to the left. No, just a little. You don’t want to look like your neck is broken.
They had rescued the front tooth from the carpet and rushed me to a dentist. My mother was hysterical, on and on about the thought of my childhood spent hideously misshapen, of that black, tooth-shaped abyss singing out vile from how many family portraits?! At her insistence ,the dentist tried to replant the tooth in its seepy hole. I was already old enough to hate the dentist. This painful pushing did not help. And for nothing. The tooth dried up on the inside, turned gray on the outside, and had to be surgically removed. I bit the dentist’s finger when the syringe went in. He yelled at me. It wasn’t my fault. But no one cared.

There, that’s it. I want you to make this smile exactly when they take your picture tomorrow. Those pictures cost a lot of money, so don’t screw it up.
This same, stoned smile adorned the high school portrait which hung in the hallway. It was one of these traditional photos, hazy around the edges, as if to imply that its subject was so magnificent that he or she made the atoms around her, reality itself, tremble just a little in awe. She wore a foamy white gown and her hair swept up in a style which could not have survived the move against aerosal hairsprays. 

People told me I looked like Elizabeth Taylor, she would say of that portrait. I think you looked like Annette Funicello, I once responded, a bit older, hoping to flatter her. She’d rolled her eyes.

She had been exceedingly pretty. Though for me that made little difference to anything.
I don’t know where my mother was born. She was adopted at a Catholic orphanage somewhere in South Texas. Apparently, the orphanage burned to the ground. That’s what she told us anyway. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had gone back there for answers and then burned the place down in her mind when she got them. She was forever burning skyward toward some ‘other’ life, better than Yoakum, where she grew up (‘bumfuck Egypt’ she called it). A little town of 5,000, known mostly for tomatoes and leather. Something better than the adopted kid of a feed store owner and a housewife. Better than those hateful chickens she was obliged to slaughter, who were so stupid they’d run around headless even after you’d decapitated them, necks like palace fountains shooting crimson at the clouds, such that you had to tie them upside to flap around and soak the ground in order not to have to chase them down. The chickens were mean, stupid animals and hated her besides, she always claimed.
She was confident of being better than that. She wasn’t some reject of a wetback. Sure, she was short and round and dark, of unknown origins, in a region which happened to be thirty to forty percent latino, but she sure wasn’t a ‘spic.
In her fashioning, in fact, she was the product of an illicit affair between a brilliant doctor (there had to be a PhD involved) and a beautiful, if promiscuous, domestic.
For my part, I simply assumed her parents–my grandparents–were some combination of poor and crazy. Given her circumstances and her disposition. Her coloring and that of my brother, along with the ethnic breakdown of the region, did anything but rule out one or more of our relatives being Hispanic. But it was all academic to me. Like her prettiness, all things of no consequence when life is what it is, and that ‘is’ is forcing itself on us violently, whether big city pauper or bumfuck prince.
Anyway, she was chasing better and every detail of her life was to fall in line or be scorched from existence.

She was graduated second highest in her class, and had nothing but unkind words for the girl who’d cheated her of first place. She’d been a cheerleader. A popular girl (according to her, but she was pretty, so there’s probably some truth to it). And the year after graduation she’d gotten herself knocked up by what passed for a rich boy from the big city (meaning an upper middle class boy from a larger town in the same poor region of a poor state, Texas, the fifth poorest state in the whole country.)
School portraits’ day arrived the morning after my lesson.

Dear E, Part 1

October 3, 2009

Dear E,

We won’t be able to stay in this apartment forever. I don’t even know how the three of us have managed so happily in two rooms for these last couple of years. The balcony is big enough that we could build another room. We’ve discussed that. But then we discuss a lot of things that we will not do. Sometimes I wonder if, when you are all grown up, you will come back to see where you spent your inaugural years. If someone in the family will still own this flat and let you in. If you’ll then marvel at how your solitary mother and ursine father and their rambunctious toddler could have been crammed away in such a tiny area, cluttered with your father’s collections of cds, books, soviet era collectors appliances, fruit. There was always a lot of fruit, you’ll know.

And if the bedroom wall painted in those cool geometric colors or the creamy wood floors will still be intact. Your grandparent’s house has stone floors. It was one of my first fears leaving you with your grandmother. A thousand little fear gremlins have lit a fire in my mind since you were born. And they dance around every unlikelihood.

I often laugh off this anxiety about you with friends: How the woman who shared a kitchen with twenty five people in college, in a house that seemed fully prepared to fall down—a woman who would fly off to the thumb of Saudi Arabia (which is how I locate Qatar to the people who’ve never heard of the place, which is most people), now becomes electrified at the first sign of undue warmth on the smooth dome of your brow.

As I’m typing this, my left index finger is going numb again. I’m blaming that on nerve damage from holding you on my left side all of the time. You weigh about 200lbs now, or so my back claims. My neck sounds like a rock grinder when I turn it to the right. But this is my fault. Or maybe it’s Sister Doreen’s fault. In first grade, she forced me to write with my right hand only. If I’d gotten good with both hands maybe I could be switching you from side to side. Maybe my atheist friends are correct. And we can blame the church for everything.

Anyway, you should know that we were undeniably happy. So much that, sitting here, writing this, I think if I could stop and keep us all here like this, I just might. I’ve never felt that way about any time or place before in my life. And many of these eras and locations have made me very happy indeed, so that means something. Though with the first fifteen years you didn’t have a lot of competition.

But time is fickle, as you’ve probably figured out by now. It slows down and speeds up: hurries you through the happy moments and lingers ghoulish on your boredoms and despairs. There will be car trips. And when you have to go to the bathroom far from any rest stop, you will know the true nature of time.

If you walk many times down Via Cimone, as I have, on my way to Piazza Sempione to catch the 60 Express (Express except if there’s traffic, there should be an asterisk), you will quickly figure out how time finagles its way into your very consciousness. When my friend Joseph was visiting, he made me stop and take pictures of him on this street. “It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!” he howled. I remembered how I had had the same feeling on my first trips down the street.

When the road was all maidenhead

Flung its violet petals over the Roman battlements

Lured me in with Mary Alabaster in repose

In her alcove

The provocation of her soul

In fabric fortresses wove

Over the nuns in the morning

Top layer of skin freshly scrubbed

From their faces shining benign.

How they smiled down at my wriggling girl with their forceful kindness, while I climbed into their eyes, sniffed around for some regret over these unencumbered uteruses, swelling sanguine and expelling their layers to no higher purpose. But I sensed nothing by Mary’s song, and felt a little jealous.

Everything, the sunset colored villas, the crumpled ash of a face on the copisteria owner, (who I think hates me, I don’t know why) hunched outside his shop smoking, all combined to some idyllic, and those Mormon boys who hand out pamphlets to disinterested Catholics, so friendly but you suspect that no religion can obliterate the mentality of a teen-aged boys. And boys remain teen aged well into their twenties…

Will this trip remain behind the curtain of early forgetfulness?

If you walk down the street a number of times, as I have, you will find its wares carry the same gaggle of ghosts as every other. This street will cloud over with memories of other streets. What makes this street better or worse. Finally, the street will be enslaved to its role as a mediator in your destination. Eventually, you’ll move on, the street itself will become a ghost.