Monday, September 23, 2013

The Guillotine Man

It was Halloween nineteen seventy-something, and all the students inside a small Kansas elementary school crowded into the gymnasium with its high upper windows condensed in sweat. Kindergartners gathered in the front, first graders behind, second and third filled up the middle, and fourth stood all the way in the back. Teachers lined up against the bleachers, coffee mugs clutched perilously in their ink stained fingers. I had been corraled in the mid-to-front section so that put me somewhere around second grade. The costume I wore was a Tweety Bird smock that tied behind my neck, and a very uncomfortable plastic mask that squished the nose on my face. It was itchy and suffocating and it didn't even look like Tweety—not with its big cutout eyes and lopsided mouth that I kept sticking my tongue through.

We'd been waiting all day for the Halloween parade and show. Some kids had their mothers come in to help apply makeup in the crowded bathroom with tiny toilets and low mirrors. I'd watched them smear makeup with fussy, shaking hands, expertly changing children into witches and clowns. My mother was up on Main Street near the railroad tracks, working because she and Dad had gotten divorced a few years ago. She ran the town's library, happily. A book was always in her hand. She frequently listened to the radio and ate lunch at her little checkout desk. Sometimes she went across the dusty street to Kuhn's Grocery to buy moldy food and piss-warm pop. She loved it. Something told me even if my mother could leave her job to come help me apply makeup, she wouldn't.

The lights went down a bit, but not after we'd all lowered to Indian style on the parquet floor. I shifted my mask; kept shifting until I could no longer take it. We'd already watched movies in our classrooms. Old Disney flicks about ghosts and funny looking vampires who crept under your window at night with rattling bones and clinking chains. Someone rolled a large contraption into the room and a man in a magician's cape appeared. His hair was slicked back; he had a funny look in his eye.

"Are you kids ready for something scaaaary?"

It was universal never to show enthusiasm to an adult. A staggered reply crossed through the room. "Uh-huh."

"I said, are you kids ready for something SCAAAAARY?"


Good enough, the magician shrugged and asked no more questions.

Removing the mask from my face, I gathered sweat with the back of my hand and sat up. There, now I could see better—but not too great. This was pre-glasses, after all. Clear vision, for me, has been an act of pointless gradual imperfection. I blinked and in a blurry haze watched the man pull two metal rings from his cape. He made them come together, separate, and come together again. A kid in the front row yelled, "I see the seams!" The trick was ruined. The magician laughed it off.

"You're too smart for school, kid. But you won't believe my next trick."

Flowers flew from the tip of a black cane. Balls spewed forth from the endless cavern of his smirking mouth. Flames leapt from his nimble fingertips. A long strand of colored chiffon scarves—the same kind my grandmother wore—slipped expertly from inside his satin sleeve. Someone next to me yawned; I turned to see their monster makeup crackling.

It was so hot in the gym. We were hours away from a veritable sugary orgasm and here were stuck together in an aluminum prison with pore clogging oil-based makeup and plasticine masks. Didn't the adults know how torturous this was? That children, in such close confines, could collapse mentally? Not only that, but lice most likely existed somewhere in the crowd. With such masses of life, rubbing shoulders—nose-picking, twitching, finger sucking life—it was sure to jump and colonize in mere seconds.

"Okay, okay. You kids are hard to please. But I got something really special. Something that'll knock your socks off."

When the magician moved, I peered to see the large contraption that had been wheeled out at the start of the show. It was painted black and had a set of curtains, slightly parted. With a swoop of the hand, the curtains revealed a guillotine with a glistening blade hovering near the top. The blade hung suspended by rope. Or probably, God.

The crowd oohed and awed. It really did. Now this was something. Not loops or scarves. This was death and fear and blood. This was magic.

"Do you children trust me?" the magician asked. "Do you believe in magic?"

No one moved. Not even a lice infested blade of hair. No one dared move their eyeballs away from the razor sharp blade. It was mesmerizing.

"I need a volunteer," I heard the magician say through the heated hum of my blood-rushed eardrums.

Again, no one moved. Until, yes, someone rose near the back. A fool. A damned fool! A fourth grader in all his eternal stupidity had jumped to his feet and yelled, "I'll volunteer! I ain't scared of nuthin'!"

I could see a small grin spread across the magician's face. We all turned to see the fool move from his row and make his way across the gymnasium. There was real fear in the room. Palpable fear that could be sliced and spread on toast. No one could believe the recklessness in which another child could spend their entire existence just to showcase bravery. It was suicide. Murder. Someone better call his mom.

The fool approached the guillotine, with perhaps less bravado then when he'd first lept to his feet.

"Put your head in here. That's right. It fits in the groove. Are you comfortable? I need you to remain perfectly still."

The collective sound of children swallowing in unison filled the room like a million bullfrogs under a full moon. Why weren't the teachers stepping in? This man was crazy. The boy was crazy. And we were too young to witness death. Sure it was okay on tv, but not here. Not in our school, a few hours before Halloween night.

The fool was on his knees, head trapped in the guillotine like a cow in a yoke. His eyes shifted restlessly. His small adams apple bobbed. His hands were trapped too—there would no escape. He couldn't even punch the guy if he wanted to. I'd heard once that chickens still ran around after having their heads chopped off. I wondered if it was true, and what impulses remained inside us during that small, frightening moment of death where truth and denial had their way with each other.

"When I count to three, the blade will come down. Are you ready? You can change your mind if you want to. Just say the word."

For a moment, the fool looked to change his mind. His joking stopped. His hands ceased their comical flailing at their regiments. It seemed he'd given escape a good, clean thought before his eyes squinted hard into a final bluff. "Nah. I ain't changin' my mind."

"Alright then. I'll start counting."

I could feel my heart plaster into stone and my breath cease like the wind in the eye of a hurricane. This was unreal. I was terrified of the blade and the sound it would make when it came down. That terrible wedging sound of split flesh—flesh too young to be sacrificed for magic. I pulled the Tweety Bird mask back over my face and squeezed my eyes shut.

"One, two, three!"

The blade hit hard and the room gasped and cheered. I could swear something rolled to the floor. In the dark confines of my imagination I pictured a head spinning its way to my feet, stopping just short of my big toe, and the eyes of the fool staring blankly up at me.

I opened my eyes just in time to see the shackles coming loose. The boy's cheeks were ruddy with embarrassment and there seemed to be relief in the way he ambled to his feet. The magician grabbed his hand and gave him a hearty shake before sending him back to the fourth grade section—ironically, a broken Tootsie Roll Pop for a prize.

"Anyone else?"

The room rigorously shook its head, grateful for the ability to do so. And before he could find another victim—er, volunteer—the bell rang and it was time to go home.

Still quivering, I gathered myself enough to stand. All the boys bragged about how they hadn't really been scared and would have volunteered as well, only they didn't want their mothers to get mad over them ripping their costumes. I wondered if it was true. Would they really volunteer? Were they as they as brave as they claimed to be?

The guillotine man never came back. From then on our school opted for more Disney movies and in-classroom parties with orange punch and frosted cookies. I was glad. I wasn't ready for beheadings yet, I hadn't even had a pimple or felt the first strains of a crush.

Sometimes I wonder where the fool is now, and if he hesitates every morning before he shaves.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Sound of Anti-Silence

Yesterday Liam had ear tubes put in and his adenoids taken out. I fought it having to be done for years, but last year the little guy had ear infection after ear infection and allergies up the yahoo, so there really wasn't any choice. The funny thing was that in the summer he was amazingly healthy. I absolutely dreaded the start of school knowing it meant him catching someone's cold and then an ear infection and then the school nurse leaving me a note that his hearing is off and can I please get him checked again? A few weeks ago I spent $100 on his allergies with an extensive plan from the doctor to keep away any ear problems in the most non-invasive way possible. But no-go, I got the dreaded letter again from school: Liam needs his ears checked. CODE: Liam needs ear tubes. Sometimes you just have to accept that what you want, and what you fear, are standing in the way of progress. Not just yours, but other people's.

I didn't sleep at all the night before surgery. It's not that I was worried about the procedure, or Liam, I just have always hated the thought of anesthesia, and yeah, no mother likes the idea of her child being cut into. It just sucks. Really sucks. So, after not sleeping, I dredged myself out of bed and made my coffee, fed my million pets, read my horoscope, and then got Liam up. Lucky guy got to wear his jammies and bring his best stuffed pal Maxwell from Scribblenaughts, and off we went. Oh, I did have to get a very sleepy Julia ready for school, but she was such a good girl about the whole thing and even made the bed.

The ambulatory unit is very quiet at 7:20 in the morning. You can hear the air units in the ceilings shift and talk to each other in rushing air patterns. The front desk clerk takes Liam's information and tells us to sit down. Well, I sat down. Liam played spy behind the chairs, ducking low so he could watch the other parents who were also in for their child's 'ear piercing.' Trying not to think about the story Stephen King tells about his ear problems and the family doctor who used to lance his ear drums with a needle, I stare at a collection of germy magazines and decide to read the paperback of East of Eden I've had for a decade and never had the discipline to start before. We get called into a little room where a coffee-sipping woman asks for everything except what size my underwear is, and then dredges $500 out of me for an extra out-of-nowhere co-pay my insurance company likes to throw at me so that I look stupid in front of people. Then more sitting, waiting, staring at magazines.

Liam gets called in and he becomes a patient in a green backless gown. He doesn't look scared; he's not crying. I put up a front, start telling him the Bill Cosby tonsillectomy skit where Bill wakes up and tries to swallow and his throat goes BOOM. "But you're not going to have that, Liam. You might have a little pain—" I try not to blink when I say little, "you're just having these things removed that are clogging up your nose, and then ear tubes so you can hear better and not get sick all the time." He's not even listening. My kid is having a great time—I can't even get him to sit still. He's giggling, rolling around on the gurney, making jokes. When they wheel him away the nurses all laugh because he goes, "WEEEEEEeeeeeeee."

I wait. I cry. Yes, I cry because someone's putting a mask on my kid and he's going to be knocked out and when he wakes up his ears will have been cut into and some part of his body removed, like an alien abduction, only this is real and I ordered it to be done. This is all my fault. I'm the alien.

After I get to chapter three of East of Eden, the doctor calls me into a little side room to tell me all went well, and how I am to care for Liam for the next few days. Put drops in his ears, give him Tylenol, no dipping the head below bathwater, etc, etc.

Forty minutes after that I finally get to see my kid, who's still sleeping on the gurney. His skin is pale like it's been dipped in wax and he looks limp like tulip petals on a hot day. I notice his summer tan is gone and the cluster of freckles on his nose are really starting to stick out now. The nurse lets me sit next to him while he wakes up. This is not the same kid who joked around and went WEEeeeeeee on the way to the OR. When he opens his eyes he looks at me like, what in the hell happened to me? And I'm like, What? Did something happen? Oh, the guilt.

Later they wheel him out in a wheelchair and I pull up in my old minivan with the back tire that constantly goes flat these days, and I lift him up and slide him into the back seat. Kind of bump his head on the car's doorframe because he's getting so tall. On the way home he says he has to throw up, so I dump everything out of the plastic bag the hospital gave me to keep his things in, and hand it to him before he starts hurling everywhere. I suck. I suck so much. 

At home he's still quiet and not himself. I try not to fuss too much, but at one point when I ask him again if he feels okay, he says, "I'M FINE, Mama!" and I go watch TV so he can recover in peace. Slowly he comes back to himself. He even eats. I ask if he can hear better now and he says yes, but that's all he'll say.

I guess that's all I need to hear.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Homework Shmomework

Sitting here thinking about my child's math homework, most notably the note a teacher wrote asking I make sure my kid does the backside of her math sheets nightly. Yeah. So, when did it become my job to make my kid do her homework? My mother never helped me with mine. I either did it, or I didn't. Mom had a million TV shows to watch which she'd circled on the free weekly TV guide in our local newspaper. She had every night planned out from Masterpiece Theater to Love Boat. I knew that. Don't f#ck with Mom's shows. Real simple.

Okay, so I actually do help my kids with their homework every night. But I don't feel like I have to. I just want to. I want them to do well. It makes me happy to see them getting good grades. Learning is awesome, but it's hard and a little help can go a long way. But never, ever have I entertained the thought that it's my actual job to make them do their work. Hell, I'm already a cup and saucer behind on the dishes, and a Fruit-of-the-Loom underpant away from finishing the laundry, then it's bedtime, and then it all starts again tomorrow. Homework ain't my duty. It's my kids'.

What's your thoughts on this, comrades?

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gravity and FaceTime

Last night I was sitting with the kids while they played Minecraft on the laptop. At least I thought they were playing Minecraft. When I looked down I saw they had Facetime open and there was this really old lady with saggy face and sunken eyes in the viewer. Poor lady, I thought. She looks so tired. Then I was like, HOLY SHIT that's me!!!! I shut that program down in lightning speed. Now all day I've been pondering expensive face creams, Avon and Mary Kay and anything I can get my hands on.

But then I read this and laughed until I cried.

And then read this. It's all making me feel so much better.

However, I will NEVER do a face chat with anyone for any reason. Don't even ask me. Well, I might for a million dollars or some enormous amount like that, but otherwise, no.

Btw, the same thing happened with my driver's license photo last spring. Got that puppy in the mail and  realized I could never buy liquor or go to any bars again.

So, tell me, have you ever been through the hell of FaceTime? Did you survive?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A really serious post about stuff (not really)

I always dread the end of summer because the children go back to school. There's just something so tragic about the whole deal. One day we're happy and free, wading in butterfly laced grass, and the next they're gone and the house is stone quiet. I cried quietly to myself at the end of July, journaled and prepared for the coming of school. When it did arrive, I faced it with the outlook that you can't change time, but at least you have the Polaroid. The kids started school and I was alone in a house with no Minecraft or Spongebob. And you know what? I FREAKING LOVED IT! This is the best thing EVER. I earned this. Yes, I do miss the kids and wish we could go to the park and all that lovely stuff, but otherwise I'm having the time of my life. I listen to music all day, eat whenever and whatever I want, no one talks back, whines or messes up the house. THIS IS AWESOME.

Ahem, but I do love those little offspring of mine. But I guess it's true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or is it abscess? HAR< HAR>

Here's a few pics of me from yesterday. See? I'm having fun. Or something. 

Just for clarification, I AM wearing a top in that second picture. I'm not having THAT much fun!

And so that concludes another cheesy blog entry. I hope you enjoyed it. I turned off comments earlier because I don't have enough time to answer and visit blogs. Been writing and editing A LOT. But I'm going to turn it on again—just know blogging is low on my priority list right now. But I wish you all well. Peace.

Happy Blechdays!

photo credit: arbyreed Mucus Containment System via photopin (license) Have you had it yet? You'd know if you'd had. I don&#...