Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why I unfriended you on Facebook

because I am a coward

and I couldn't tell you in real life how I felt or what I was thinking and it was so easy to click Unfriend.

It was a spur of the moment decision, not planned ahead of time or calculated, just a momentary surge of outrage and sadness and disappointment in you, in the country, in humanity

in myself too, for thinking that clicking a button on a social media site would make me feel better.

The truth is it made me feel worse.

Because I want to get along and go along and not make a big deal out of everything, not make waves or stir up drama. Because I want to be a nice person, a good hostess, a caring friend.

Because you are my family, my friend, my neighbor and I already knew that you had different opinions from me so why should knowing your opinion, today, matter?

But it made me angry when you showed yourself to be ignoranthatefulracistbigotedmisogynistic and I know you or thought I did and anyway, don't we have to draw the line somewhere? At the denigration of Muslims and Mexicans and people of color and anyone who is not white, or the mockery of gay marriage or the joking about sexually assaulting women and girls?

Except who cares about social media anyway?

I mean, ten years ago we lived just fine without it and who would even know if you thought it was funny to compare the First Lady to an animal or had an irrational fear of a transgender person using a public restroom or were cool with flying the confederate flag?

But I do know. And now that I know, I can't unknow.

Why do we see the world so differently? Why are we so broken and hurting and terrified and angry and quick to judge others and constantly outraged

and human?

Can we have the courage of our convictions? Can we bridge the gaps between us? Can we forgive?

Is it even possible to be friends?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Memories of Christmases Past

~Christmas in 1979? Maybe 1980? The American hostages had been held in Iran for a long time and we were told to pray for their safety and I did, even though I had no understanding of why they were taken hostage or even where Iran was, but that Christmas Eve there was a story on the news about how people should go outside and light a candle for the hostages' safe return, and my family dutifully tromped out of the house holding candles.

We stood there in the cold and watched people gathering outside their houses, the flames of their candles flickering in the darkness.

~The first Christmas with my husband and we didn't have much money for presents and he bought me a book from a used bookstore about the history of football and I made a joke about it. I had no interest in football and the book seemed kind of shabby for a gift.

Years later he told me how hurt he was, that he'd just wanted to share his interest with me, and now I wish I could go back in time and shake some sense and kindness into my snotty twenty-four year old self.

~A few months after my father died, my mother was an overwhelmed mom with three little kids who still believed in Santa. In the morning we were opening presents and my mother was running around getting a dinner ready to host our relatives and I noticed her stocking was empty and it hit me, at age seven, that it was a pretty crappy thing for Santa to have overlooked my mother.

Outraged, I asked her about it and she said that it was okay, she didn't need any presents, but then she started talking about how she had no black olives to set out for our guests and how upset she was and what was she going to do without a can of black olives?? She went over to her stocking and would you believe it? There was a can of black olives inside!! She was so happy and I was so happy for her and I believed in Santa for another year.

~My husband and I moved to a new state and hardly knew anyone and one day after mass at church where we knew no one, I was holding my newborn baby girl and a man pulled me aside and asked me if my husband and I would be the Holy Family at the service on Christmas Eve and I said yes even though I had no idea what that entailed, and then I forgot to tell my husband about it until we were driving to Christmas Eve mass. The church was packed and my husband, who was not Catholic, and I and our baby were taken into a back room and dressed in costumes and given our lines to speak.

I could see my husband glaring at me, mortified, holding his wooden staff and wearing his Joseph costume as he said his lines about there being no room at the inn. We walked down the aisle of the crowded church together, a holy family in the midst of strangers, holding our baby, up to the altar, where the priest took our baby and held her over his head and said, "This is why we are here today."

~The last Christmas my father was alive, and I was six years old and we were visiting my aunt who lived close by. Christmas Eve, up way past my bedtime and almost sick with anticipation of the next day and Santa coming. When the party was over, we walked home in the dark and my father said, Look! He picked me up and pointed at the black sky, the misty night, the sparks of stars.

Listen, he said. Do you hear it? The bells. The bells on Santa's sleigh.

I looked. I listened. I saw the lights flashing. And I swear heard the bells, clear as any sound in the world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Terror in the Driveway: A Horror Story by Jody Casella

Last week was kind of stressful.

My husband's car died when he was on the interstate and he had to get it--and himself--towed home. The next day the furnace started making a weird clanking sound and when I called a technician out to look at it, he immediately shut the gas off and told me he couldn't in good conscience walk out of the house without condemning the furnace.

Oh, he said, your air conditioning unit is leaking and your water heater is just about rusted through.

What else can break? my husband asked me that night.

Shhhh!! I said. You NEVER EVER ask that question out loud to the Universe.

A whole troop of furnace/air-conditioner/water-heater guys came the next day and the dog had a mini nervous breakdown and the temperature in the house went lower and lower until it settled at a crisp 52 degrees.

But I had a fire going in the fireplace and blankets wrapped around me and a warm dog shaking on my lap. The troop of men finished their work and I gasped at the sight of the price tag and jacked up the newly installed heat and repeated the mantra of my wise friend Deb: Any problem that can be solved by money isn't a problem. Any problem that can be solved by money isn't a problem until I felt better.

In the morning it was 5 degrees outside, but we were toasty inside and my husband left the house for work and returned quickly to say that the doors of our daughter's truck had frozen shut. He knew I was taking her to a doctor's appointment later and he'd forced the driver's side door open but now he couldn't get it closed. So he'd started the truck and told me to keep it warming up in the driveway.

Off he went to work (taking my car) and I looked out the window at the truck idling in the frigid driveway. After a while, I decided to go out and try to close the door myself.

I bundled up and got into the truck and closed the door.

I turned off the truck and tried to open the door and I couldn't. I sat there for a few seconds and tried again. It wouldn't budge. I tried the passenger door. That wouldn't budge either. I turned the truck back on and let the hot air blow in my face. I climbed into the backseat and tried both back doors.

They were also frozen.

Sweating in my bundled up clothes, I climbed back into the front seat. I tried to open the door again. I jiggled the handle. I locked and unlocked it. I kicked the door. I took off my hat and loosened my coat, full blown hot flashing.

I realized I didn't have my phone with me.

How long could I sit out there? Stuck. In a truck. In a frigid driveway? before anyone saw me? Would my daughter, when she woke up for her doctor's appointment, think to look for me out here? Would the thought even cross her mind that her ding dong mother was trapped in the truck in the driveway?

I wondered if I should drive somewhere. Around the block in an attempt to warm up the frozen doors? To my husband's office? If I beeped the horn, would anyone hear me?

This was funny. Silly. I looked out the icy window and tried not to panic. It's not like I was going to die out here. I had heat. I had a vehicle for crying out loud. I could go somewhere. Not that I would be able to get out when I got there but...

Because I am a writer I started spinning out possible story arcs. The truck runs out of gas and the woman, kicking and screaming, loses hope, her fists bruised from pounding on the icy windows, her cries unheard. Flash to a scene indoors, a girl sleeping in her warm bed. Flash to the empty houses in the neighborhood. Flash back to the woman trapped in the truck, one hand sliding down the glass, a single tear, frozen on her cheek--

Suddenly I saw my neighbor walking down her front walk on the way to put something in the trash bin. I banged on the window and she looked over and waved.

I banged on the window again. She could get me help! Use her phone to call my husband! I was saved!

I yelled to her. Would she be able to hear me through the closed window? She came closer, smiling, her head tilted quizzically, not quite catching what I was saying. Maybe I could... open the window? Not sure why I hadn't thought of that, but I pushed the button and Boo Yah, the window rolled down.

"I'm locked in!" I said breathlessly. "The doors are all frozen shut! Can you call--"

My neighbor tried the door, opening it so easily that I nearly toppled out of the truck.

Oh! We both said. And then we laughed. I caught her up on what had just happened and she shook her head, thinking probably, Jody, you ding dong, but too nice to say it.

We said our goodbyes and I went into my toasty house where my daughter was still sleeping.

All told, probably only like five minutes had gone by.

The end.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Searching for Duckies in the Ball Pool

Every year my husband and I volunteer to help out at a community center holiday party for underprivileged kids.

We show up early on a Saturday morning and help organize the gifts, which always ends up being an overly complicated endeavor, lining up gift bags on tables and checking off similar sounding names. And then we go into another room and help set up the games and goodie trays and craft tables and take our places at our assigned station for the party.

This year we were in charge of the Fishpond Game.

Basically, this game is an inflatable kiddie pool filled with plastic balls. To play you dip your hands under the plastic balls and fish out the hidden plastic duck toys. The end.

It's supposed to be for the very littlest of the little kids, something to occupy the toddlers while their older siblings make glitter crafts or play mini golf or tattoo themselves with holiday-themed tattoos.

My husband and I sat across from each other on the floor and were immediately stressed out playing the Fishpond Game.

I was worried about the germy germ aspect of all of those plastic balls. The runny noses and drooling and dropped wet cookie chunks splattering. My husband was anxious about the kids who were clearly taller than the height restriction sign, but yet kept trying to jump into the ball pool. And then there were all of the kids who thought it was fun to throw the balls, so that within minutes of the holiday party starting, plastic balls were bouncing and rolling all over the room.

A toddler toddled up, a little boy, maybe age two or three and very serious-looking. He refused to climb into the ball pool. He was hesitant about even putting his hands in, not that I blamed him, what with all the germy germs. I showed him one of the toy duckies, and he was curious, but kinda meh about it, not that I blamed him there either.

All of the other kids were having a blast. My husband and I pointed out the plastic ducks and wiped runny noses and tied little sneakers. We gave up enforcing the height rule and let the older kids flop and roll in the ball pool. We praised a helpful kid who brought back a thrown ball and soon we had a bunch of helpful kids running around the room chasing and collecting.

Another volunteer came by with a camera and asked all the kids around the ball pool to smile. The serious little boy just looked up at her blandly.

Come on, she said. Gimme a smile. And she reached down to touch his face.

I started thinking about this children's picture book author I heard speak at a writers' conference a few years ago. He said that most people have this very nostalgic view of childhood. They remember it as all glowy and happy and carefree, and they forget the reality. How so much of your little life is out of your own control and at the mercy of adults.

You're sitting on the floor playing a game and having a grand old time, and BOOM, some large person comes into the room and swoops you up and carries you off to bed.

You're constantly being monitored and told what to do and what not to do. What to eat. What clothes to wear.

And that's just the kids with the good, loving parents.

What about the children with parents who aren't all that good or loving, the author reminded us. The children who are neglected or abused. Imagine how unpredictable and scary and dark the world is for children like that.

The photographer volunteer wandered off to take pictures of the kids at the glitter table. The party went on. The holiday music blared and the balls bounced around the room. The cookie crumbs and drooly doughnut chunks kept dropping into the ball pool. The older kids flopped and buried each other. They darted off and got tattoos on their cheeks and made glitter pictures and then darted back to show my husband and me what they made.

During a rare quiet moment of an unoccupied ball pool, the serious little boy climbed in and sat down. He dug his hands under the plastic balls and found a couple of toy duckies. After a while, he leaned back, sliding his small body under.

Are you a giant duckie? I asked him.

He didn't say anything, but he smiled up at the ceiling.

Santa Ho-Ho-Ho-ed into the room, and it was time for presents and everyone trooped off to go get them. The little boy climbed out of the ball pool and toddled off to catch up with his older siblings.

If there is a word for the opposite of nostalgia, I am that word.

But I understand why we do it, paint our childhoods under a glowy haze. Why we want children to smile. Why we imagine them playing happily, their parents swooping them off to bed each night with gentleness and love.