Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Congratulations Kyura and Inno Part 3: Almost Ready to Say I Do

I was amused. That was not the reaction he was going for, but there it was: amusement. The pastor stood at the front of the church admonishing the bride and groom. "What time did I say to be at the church?" "And what time is it now? All heads turned to look at the clock. "He has got to be kidding," I thought. But he wasn't. Stern and lecturing, he went on. And I was so, so very amused. The wedding had started ten minutes late. Ten minutes! This was Nigeria. In any other context, probably even any other wedding, ten minutes late would be early. But Kyura and Innocent are polite, good natured people and were so happy just to be there at the altar, they let him lecture, nodded some conciliatory yes, sir's and waited patiently for him to finish so they could get on with the wedding.

It wasn't really Kyura's fault we'd arrived late anyway; we'd set off from the assistant pastor's guest house in due time, but friends and family needed more pictures, and then a series of transit vans bringing guests from town had blocked the way from the pastors' yards to the church yard, so we couldn't get to the church.

Day 3: The morning had begun like any wedding morning. The bride woke early and the requisite flock descended on her with all the plumes of fancy necessary to transform her and themselves into momentary oddities of perfection: the hair stylist, the make-up artist, the maid of honor, the photographer, and all the helper-friends. We burst into the serene morning and bustled about the room and yard helping, getting out of the way, getting in the way, getting beautiful, getting excited. The hairdresser started her work first, finger-rolling Kyura's long extensions and pinning them into tight pin curls.

Hairdresser finger-curling and twisting the hair for pinning
Adding the finishing touches

The make-up artist wasn't far behind, and once the hair was finished, the make-up could begin. No electricity, so Kyura sat near the window for the best light. Contouring is very in in Nigeria right now, so even though Kyura's not much of a heavy make-up wearer generally, for her wedding, she was getting the full contouring treatment. Her Maid of Honor was getting the same make-up treatment outside. For someone who doesn't do contouring make-up or watch YouTube instructional videos on it, this was quite a scene to behold. Sometimes their faces were green, sometimes yellow. Frequently, there were harsh lines and strange spots. But as the artists worked their magic and their spongy blenders, faces reappeared from the wavy lines and strange colors; slightly altered faces, but still pretty. The room didn't have a mirror. The make-up artist had brought a small one of her own for Kyura, and someone had fetched a large mirror shard from the house for others. Someone turned to me, "Are you going to put on make-up, too?" "I already did mine." Like I said, I don't contour, and it was unlikely anyone here was going to know the right combinations of colors, or even have the right colors, for my face. I was satisfied with my usual powder, eyebrow pencil and mascara.

Contouring the bride's cheeks

Maid of Honor getting her makeup done outside

All of this doing-up took several hours. In the meantime, the photographer and videographer slid in and out of the commotion, capturing moments for posterity and designing beautiful settings to showcase important elements of the day. I trailed the photographer and tried to make myself useful, carrying things for her, holding things, and for a bit, using all my weight to pull a plastic-twine clothesline taut so she could get photos of the wedding dress hanging in the breeze without the dress's train dangling in the dirt of the dusty courtyard.

Photographer setting up a shot with the dress and bouquet

The church does not allow women to enter without their heads covered. Kyura, of course, had her veil. The guests would all have elaborate hair wraps. Kyura had someone collect a red-orange shawl from her old closet at her parents' house for me. One of her other friends wrapped it tight around my head for me, despite others' arguing that the church wouldn't turn me away if my head were bare. I had no desire to offend anyone or play my oyibo card like that. The Maid of Honor had a special hair piece with a little mini veil of its own. The silver tones in the white lace went perfectly with the silver beading on her long pink dress.

The Maid of Honor looks in the mirror while her hairpiece is adjusted

All of us friends, aside from the Maid of Honor, wore outfits out of the same matching fabrics as is the custom in Nigeria. The tailor made mine in advance, a fun 1960s-style tent dress that was nice and cool. Even while we were getting the bride and ourselves ready, the tailor was back at the house finishing dresses for wedding guests, whirling away on the treadle machine in a room next to the one that had been Kyura's up until last night.

Soon, we were all ready.

The bride.

Kyura ready for her wedding

And her friends.

(I particularly love this photo because the brilliant photographer turned the camera at such an angle that I don't look like a giant freak.  Notice the window in the background; imagine if the picture were turned so that the window frame were level...)
It was time to go to the church!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Congratulations Kyura and Inno Part 2: Good-bye Home

There comes a point in most people's lives when their home becomes their parent's home. Growing up, it is collective, my home, meaning mine and my parents and my siblings and whoever else lives there with us, it's ours. But at some point, that group doesn't include you anymore, and your home is no longer yours; your home is some other place where you stay without all those other folks. For myself, and I think for a lot of us in the U.S. who first leave home for college, that transition happens sort of gradually. You have a dorm or maybe even an apartment where you stay at school, but home is still your home. Maybe you have still have a room there, or at least most of your stuff accumulated during your first 18 years, possibly even still being added to with new accumulations that you just don't really need in your dorm. Eventually, you go, move to another place, take a few more things. At some point, your parents turn your room into a guest room, or an excessively gigantic sewing room bursting with fabric, patterns and sewing machines. You start confusing your friends by calling that place, where you used to have a space, and wherever you stay now "home," meaning it equally for both. And someday, you find yourself saying to your sisters, "are you going to Mommy and Daddy's today?" and you realize you're quite dispossessed of your home and you aren't even really sure how it happened. For Kyura, however, that transition was a big bright line that she could mark almost down to the minute.

Day 2: Good-bye Home

Good Friday had been a strange mix of lackadaisy and bustle during the day. Kyura's family's home in Jos was as full of people as the house in the village had been, perhaps even more so.

Friends bustling and chillin

All the female friends were posted up in the room Kyura and her sister had shared growing up. Lounging on the beds; taking tea from trays, sipping sweet gulps of Milo and chewing soft white bread; taking turns disappearing to bathe with buckets of water scooped from the large plastic cans stored in the corner of the large bathroom, plastic cans restocked throughout the day with fresh water drawn by two young men hauling rubber bag-full after rubber-bag full of cool refreshment from the well in the side yard; helping Kyura style her hair, iron her dress---when the power was compliant enough to course through the padded copper wires and into the iron---, and prepare for the day.

Drawing water

The rest of the house was alive with it's own activity. Kitchen staff prepared a constant stream of food for family and guests. The seamstress for the wedding whirled away on a treadle machine in the next room, producing and altering dress after matching orange and yellow dress in an array of styles. 

Like any other bride the day before her wedding, Kyura needed to get her nails done. And like so many other brides, she'd been talked into fake nails that were so very un-Kyura but manageable enough to last through the wedding. We trooped along with her, to the side porch where the manicurist pulled up a stool to do her work in the natural light of the sun. The tube of Chinese nail glue the manicurist bought turned out to be empty, so she ran out to a small shop and quickly returned with a new, and better stocked, package. Relatives came out to the porch to say hello as they passed through the house, aunties and young cousins. A few of us sat on chairs brought out from the sitting room or leaned against the porch rail, chatting while the manicurist did her craft and the boys in the yard hauled up water. Kyura fielded phone call after phone, mini-crisis after mini-crisis: calls from friends looking for places to stay for the wedding, the printers not having the programs ready for Inno to collect, the reception decorators not seeing the transferred funds in their bank accounts due to the Easter banking holidays. Kyura handled it all calmly from her porch throne.

Later in the afternoon, the groom's family would be coming to ask for Kyura. Inno's uncles would apply to Kyura's uncles for their niece to leave her home and come to theirs. If there was a set time for this, I have no idea when it was, but being Nigeria, if there was a set time for this, it's unlikely the uncles came anytime near that time. The sitting room filled with family elders from both sides, arranged on the thick sofas and chairs in a large circle. Kyura's sister brought out snacks and beverages and served each person. home, no longer her home.


Outside, male elders with jingly metal bands fastened around their ankles sang and danced in a circle. Others joined, from the house? from the town? There were so many people everywhere I wasn't sure where most had come from. I joined, we danced until the group suddenly fell quiet.  Discussions began. I snuck in the back with the seamstress, hiding rather conspicuously on a tall bar stool behind a pushed-aside dining table, watching, not really understanding much more than that this was important and solemn and emotional. Kyura was called in and kneeled before her parents. Before long, she was being led out of the house, shrouded in a veil, another

Procession (to the car) to the church
procession of singing and dancing, another car ride away from home to a new place. Away from

At the request of the groom's family, Kyura's family had given her over to the custody of the church until the wedding morning. She, her maid of honor and her eldest aunt would stay at the church, in the care of the best man and the groom's family, until the morn. We followed on foot. The church where the wedding was to take place was separated from Kyura's parents' house only by a lane, and a very large cement wall on the edge of that lane. For tonight, Kyura had no home; her parent's house was no longer hers, and her husband's house was not yet hers. For tonight, she was to make do in the guest house of the assistant pastor. And make do it would certainly be.

The assistant pastor's guest house, or perhaps it was to be a servant's house, was a small one-room cement building out back of his home on the church property. It had an en-suite restroom divided from the room by a curtain. Kyura's wedding dress was hung from the curtain rod, tulle and beads pressing against the protective coating of the clear garment bag, saving the pure white dress from the dust of the walls. There was no furniture, just two old mattresses, one on the floor and one against the wall, the one against the wall in far worse condition. Kyura's aunt took one look at it and sent someone for a mat from the family home. A mosquito net hung matted in a twisted ball and low above the laid-out mattress. Agreement was quickly made not to let the net free for fear of what might fall, or crawl, out of it. Another runner was dispatched to the home for bug spray. The room had a single window next to the door. An electric fan was courried from the house. There was one outlet. Even when the power was on, it didn't work.

Best man trying to make the fan work

The best man arrived with a screwdriver, removed the outlet and attempted to wire the fan's plug directly to the wall. It still didn't work; probably a blessing that these wires were lifeless! A solution was concocted in the form of multiple power strips and strings of wire run in a line over from the assistant pastor's house, a plastic bag wrapped around the part where bare wires were twisted together on the ground outside. It worked, at least when there was electricity in general. A battery lantern was fetched from the house.

The groom's family brought dinner. Rice and some sort of soup or stew, tea. Dishes were fetched from the house. We sat on plastic lawn chairs that had been brought in. Kyura and the maid of honor sat tepidly on the floor mattress. We chatted and laughed and amused ourselves with the ridiculousness of this place as a bride-to-be suite. We laughed at the Nigerianess of everything about the room and the on-and-off electricity and the broken outlet and the creepy mosquito net and the scary mattress against the wall and the huge number of friends and family helping with everything and the perfect-despite-it-all haze that surrounded every piece of the events leading up to the big day. And we bid goodnight to Kyura, her aunt, and the maid of honor, to sleep as best they good, as we retired to our own lodgings until the morn. Sheets and blankets were fetched from Kyura's parents' house.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Congratulations Kyura and Inno Part 1: A Proper Village Send-Off

Back in April, I went to my friend Kyura's wedding. We hadn't seen each other since attending a conference together in Uganda in 2010, so when she invited me to her wedding, I just had to go, even though it meant postponing an already long-overdue visit back to Zambia. But I have found that attending friends' weddings is really important to me. Even if I hardly get to see them during the festivities, just showing up often means so much. This one was extra special because I actually got to spend a ton of time with the bride.

The wedding festivities took place over four days, beginning with a send-off ceremony and celebration for the bride, culminating with the wedding itself, and ending with a special thanksgiving for all their blessings.

Day 1: The Send-Off

I arrived in the village with one of Kyura's friends, shuttled there by a trusted driver who was willing to take us hours down the road from Kaduna and off the paved highways to the family's village. Looking around, I could see how much wealthier Nigeria is than Zambia. I'd never been in a Nigerian village before. There were powerlines running through the sky, nevermind that they probably were lifeless more often than live; metal roofs on every house I could see; everyone had shoes, even the children; and the roads, though dirt, were in decent condition. The family house was large and cement, with elegant columns lining the porch, like a plantation home, or a country estate for old British landed gentry. Of course, either of those would have been lacking the corridors full of stored water in 50-gallon drums and 20-liter gerry cans, the rumbling of the generator whirling electricity to cell phone chargers and lightbulbs, and the plastic patio chairs on which village women sat pouring local maize drink into empty plastic bottles. Nonetheless, I was impressed.

Kyura and her friends were inside. The house was full of people, many of them bustling, preparing food and drink and clothes. Others, like myself, lost in the action, sitting on plush sofas in the dim parlor, chatting tentatively to strangers who would be good friends in a few days, eating lunch? dinner? a snack? something anyway, from plastic plates on our laps. A giant bowl of cooked cucumber and tomato salad(?) makes for an interesting whatever that insert-appropriate-eating-session-here was. I eventually found my way to the real action, where Kyura's closest friends, and the day's chiefmate, were helping her get ready for the send-off celebration. This would be the day for her family's village to officially say good-bye to her, to send her from her home to the home of her husband. It was like a giant wedding reception for just the bride. There was even a cake cutting.

Kyura wore a long green skirt decorated with lace and beads, an intricately beaded ivory top and a head wrap bordering between yellow and ivory dotted with green rhinestones. A group of elder village women arrived at the family house dancing and singing, yellow wrappers with orange stripes and white shirts a unifying dress code, corn-husk-and-seed rattles tied around their ankles provided percussion to accompany their voices as they stepped forward and back, holding long sticks in as they sang. They led the procession from the family house to the school grounds where the send off would be. As they danced, Kyura rode behind in a car, saving her long dress and new shoes from the mud of the morning's rains.

Dancing at the Send-Off

The school grounds were decorated with canopies and bunting in white, seafoam and evergreen. Guests of honor---family, friends, local dignitaries---sat under the canopies. Rows of villagers lined the edges of the school yard. Kyura's close friends who were accompanying her sat under a white canopy, surrounding the satin covered sofa where she and her chiefmate sat. An MC in the center of the yard led the celebration: dancing and prayers, one group then another, dignitaries, father's family, mother's family, friends of the bride, the groom's family, etc. Each was called up in their turn to dance with the bride-to-be, to shower her in cash, everything from 10 naira notes to 1000s, none of which the bride deigned to pick up. There was a special cadre of pre-teen girls for that. Dressed in black and white, they would swoop into the dancing masses and scoop the bills into cardboard box lids, taking their full lids to a special side place where they'd empty them into bigger boxes and return to the dancing for refills.

Prayers are offered for the bride

Village leaders, politicians, religious leaders and family members came forward to say a few words. I couldn't understand all the words as much of it was in the local language and some in Hausa, but the happy and joyful sentiments were obvious no matter the language. Kyura's parents told her how very proud they were of their dutiful daughter. She wasn't the only one crying.

Dinner under the canopies

While the dancing continued, plates of jollof rice, chicken, moin moin, salad, and I-don't-even-know-what-else-cuz-it-all-has-meat were passed around to those under the canopies. As the festivities wound down, brightly-colored styrofoam take-away containers of food were passed out to the villagers. Notebooks, buckets, plastic basins, and other keepsakes we would refer to here as swag were passed out to attendees on behalf of the bride's family, the groom's family, friends of the bride, aunties, etc. Guests were also giving presents, bringing them to the white canopy with the satin couch, wrapped packages in all kinds of shiny paper, and even a bright pink potty-chair---can't beat planning ahead.

As the celebration at the school grounds ended, the festivities continued back at the family house for those who weren't exhausted. The rest of us, including the bride and most of us friends, hit the hay, or foam rather, for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we would travel into Jos.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Homemade Gifts Keep on Giving

Usually when I post about sewing, I post about my own projects. But today's a little different; this is one of Munchkinhead's amazing creations.

Munchkinhead is queen of pattern-less wonders, so I was extra surprised when my birthday box contained a blouse sewn by her from a retro pattern. Mommy helped, but Munchkinhead's careful attention to detail was evident in many places where I could tell Mommy or I would have been like "forget that step; that's too much work!" It's a sheer cream chiffon with butterflies, hummingbirds and flowers.

Seam binding on the hole for the head to go through.

The side seams are French-seamed so the delicate fabric won't unravel. The collar and arm-hole seams are completely covered by seam binding in a perfectly matching color. The collar ties lie flat and straight with no pulls or tucks, their exact evenness giving me my best possible chance at tying a half-way decent bow. And all the stitching lines, even the hem, are straight and even. Mommy used to have me practice sewing straight lines by running lined paper through a threadless sewing machine; I wasn't any good at it then and I'm only slightly better now. Munchkinhead's lines look like someone's called "ten-hut!" and they're ready to march.

It's one of my favorite blouses now.  I wear it almost every week, and every time I do, I get a new compliment from someone.  "Thank you, my sister made it for me."  And then I call or text Munchkinhead to tell her, especially when that compliment is from someone famous.

Me in my fabulous Munchkinhead blouse.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Angelfood Cake with Rose Glaze

Growing up in Wisconsin, it was customary for schoolchildren to bring treats to class on their birthdays. I always assumed this was true for everyone, after all, it happened on all the tv shows on Nick at Night, too. After living on the coasts, however, I've learned that in fact this was one of those holdovers from a more innocent age that middle America was able to keep while big-city coastal folks gave into fear mongering about razor blades and allergies. I get the sense even middle America has sadly gone that way now, too. But not me. I still take treats for my birthday. Granted it's to work rather than school, and as my coworkers are adults who are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves whether my food will purposely or inadvertently kill them.

This year for my birthday, I decided to try one of my old favorites from growing up, with a new twist of my own. Mommy used to make me the most wonderful confetti angel-food cakes. Spongy and spring-like, I remember how the mix from the box would foam as she put the beaters into the bowl. This came right before my favorite part, licking the beaters.

My top criteria for any recipe is not needing to run to the store. Luckily, I seemed to have all the ingredients I needed. The recipe called for egg whites not by egg, but by cup. After I separated enough egg whites, I saw why. 8 eggs. Eight!

Egg yolks ready for the fridge. There were a lot of custards in my future

I usually do all my mixing by hand with my sturdy nsima stick from Ba Joyce's grandfather, but it was clear I was not going to successfully beat egg whites with a thick slap of wood. I tried using my egg whisk, but that was also insufficient. So, I pulled out my pretty pink handmixer from Mommy and went to town on those egg whites.---But not too much to town because that would cause them to collapse.---I think I did ok; the cake came out fluffy. I didn't have a tube pan, so I used my bundt pan. Getting the cake out was a little difficult, but not too bad. So by this point, so far so good. I have a warm and fairly whole fluffy angel food cake. Then I got a little too creative.

Foamed egg whites

I decided to try not just a rose glaze, but also a rose butter cream frosting. I found basic recipes for glaze and butter cream frosting and added rose water and red food coloring to both. The butter cream frosting would not cream. I don't know if it was the store-brand butter or adding the rose water to early or something else, but it would not cream. The butter stayed globbed up, globs of butter rolled in sugar, which is still yummy.---My specialty is tasty mush disasters.---I sliced the cake in half horizontally and spread a layer of the sweet gobby goo, putting the top of the cake back on to create a gigantic sugary sandwich. "Angel food cake with rose butter filling." It's all about the presentation, right, verbal included?

And then I kept going. The rose glaze turned out like it ought to have. Win! Except I did something a tad foolish. I put the cake on my cake carrying platter and drizzled the cake with the glaze. Sounds perfectly fine and dandy, except this was the night before I was taking the cake to work. The glaze had .all. .night. to soak into the cake, and boy did it ever. The next morning, when I opened my cake carrier to set up a little come-and-get-it-station in our break room, whole sections of the cake were bright pink and the bottom of the cake was rimmed in pink syrup. Mmmmm.

Birthday cake! Angel food cake with rose butter filling and a rose glaze (the night before all the glaze soaked in).

Actually, it was quite delicious, just best in small portions. All the better for work, more to go around!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Suzy Homemaker Signing On

The world sucks right now.  Or rather, aspects of the world that suck are suddenly on our own doorsteps instead of far-off places where we can pretend they either aren’t real or don’t affect of, neither of which is really true.  So here we are, with one crises after another clamoring for our attention everywhere we turn.  Every social media site, every newspaper, and---it seems like---every conversation.  People have been pining for ‘the good ol’ days’ and hate and war are certainly parts of the those ‘good’ ol’ days.

I prefer the other parts, propriety, dignity, homemade meals and hand-stitched clothes.  Things that were old fashioned even when I was growing up but very much a part of my childhood.  In adulthood they are the things to which I cling for comfort.  And, on here at least, will be the sand for my ostrich-head.  Out there, outside the walls, beyond the swaying crinkled sheer curtain, there is no place for ostriches.  Out there requires strength.  Here there will be only beauty.  ---and a few of my definitely not beautiful but-oh-so-tasty piles of delicious mush dinners.

Monday, April 24, 2017

I’m not an Academic, I only Play one on the Weekends

Some things I just can’t process.  I may think I need to step back, or re-experience it, or talk it out.  But in the end, some things I just cannot process.  This conference was one of those things.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the past ten years. ---This is what law school does, prepares you to sit in overly air-conditioned rooms, staring at poorly designed slides on giant screens, collecting all sorts of branded bits and bobbles.  It’s practically baked into the profession by regulatory authorities that require you to stay re-educated by trading several hours of your time each year for bad wi-fi and stale bagels.---But this conference was different for me.  This was the first time I was attending an “academic” conference.  No continuing legal education credit on offer here.  No mix of practitioners in with the academics.  This was a wholly different animal; and to make matters worse, it was multi-disciplinary.

There were a lot of big words I couldn’t follow.  Words I knew the meanings of on their own; were they to be on a vocabulary quiz, I could match the definitions to them.  But strung together in long sentences with little words in between, I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything.  But even the bits I could understand left me feeling like the sentence ended with a semi-colon.  A complete thought, yes.  But, so?

The conference was called Race+IP.  People talked about race.  People talked about IP.  Some people even talked about both.  Some things seemed obvious, some over-simplified, some as though they were searching for racism, and others as though they were racializing a much broader oppression.  A lot of things seemed like there was no there there.  And I was lost.

‘The music industry is terrible to black folks.’  The examples given: that Pharrell lost to the Marvin Gaye estate, that Lil Wayne was owed $10 million by Cash Money, that Clyde Stubblefield’s creative products were owned by James Brown.  Somehow irrelevant that all the advantage-takers in those scenarios are also black.  And brushed away as a side note that the the music industry is terrible to anyone not already in power, that it entrenches the existing power structure and fights long and hard to further entrench, re-entrench, forever entrench that structure.  It is true that the power structure includes few blacks.  But racializing the inequities of the system leaves out all the others who cannot benefit, all the others who may want to fight.  Shrinking the size of an army does not help win the war.

Then there was this session about how Cadillac is a black brand.  (I did not know this, but it might explain why at least once a month a 50-year black man asks if Chester is for sale.)  GM was apparently upset about the association between the Caddy and black entertainers in the 50s and 60s.  Really, brand owners were racist?  How shocking.  This is nothing new, nor anything old.   But what does this have to do with IP, other than that brands are IP?  I didn’t get it.  I must have zoned out and missed something.

Add on top of the confusion a bad head cold, an atmosphere of self-aggrandizement with West coast-style Liberal assumptions, and horrible weather, and well, this wasn’t the best first-time experience of this sort of thing.  Perhaps I’ll leave these conferences to the real academics.  I think I prefer being a lawyer.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


WP_20170414_115Africa is raw.  Tangible, raw life.  Every box, every line we draw in the West is washed away in a cloud of red dust.  Africa is freedom.  Freedom of the truest sort where life is burrowed so deeply into the very essence of the world that one becomes the expanse of the deep blue sky, breathes the heavy deep rustling of the large mango tree leaves, is powered by the strength of the ancient volcanic rocks that dot the landscape like hoards of mythical sleeping beasts, and wears that deep red dirt that creeps into every nook and cranny of every being and everything.  Distinctions between seeming opposites, such as indoor and outdoor, disappear altogether.  Everything comes from the earth in ways in which one cannot help but be acutely aware.  Water pulled from the earth, dinner roaming the earth, the sun being the best and most reliable light of all.  The earth is yours and you are the earth’s.  And everyone moves together in it, all a part of it.  What appears to be narrow two-lane roads become four or five or six lanes as pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, three-wheel scooters, cars and lumbering lorries surge together, sweeping between and past and among each other.  People cut through when they have a chance and make way when others need room in a gracefully understanding manner one would never see in places where people feel entitled to whatever bit of road they’re on as though it belongs to them and only them simple because they are there.  Life has not had the living sanitized out of it.  Numbness cannot survive.  Alertness, awareness, oneness with everything around you is a must.  But such exertion is not exhausting; it is invigorating.  It is living.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Don't Do Drugs

“Don’t do drugs.” A high-schooler behind me said it to her friend when the commotion started.  “Don’t do drugs.”  A mom said it to her young child as they climbed off the bus with the first exodus of people.  “Don’t do drugs.”  A man said it to whoever happened to be within ear shot as we all moved down the sidewalk to board the approaching bus.  “Don’t do drugs.”  I think I heard that phrase uttered more tonight than in the entire 1980s combined.

I was sitting on the bus minding my own business, reading about verb usage in United Nations Conferences of the Parties decisions as I am apt to do these days during my commute, when a voice yelled out, “Don’t touch me!”

Not the most unusual thing for a rather crowded bus at rush hour.  My passing thought was probably something along the lines of “it’s good she’s standing up for herself.”  But the yelling continued.  “Stop touching me!  Don’t touch me!”  Over and over.  By this point, everyone on the bus was looking, and it was clear no one was touching her.  The woman was sitting in the sideways seats at the front of the bus yelling into the bus in general.

But that changed.  She turned to the man on the seat adjacent to hers and started yelling directly at him.  "Don't touch me!"  He tried calmly saying he wasn’t touching her, a few times.  She kept yelling and started getting up in his face.  Then he got agitated.  “Stop touching me!”  “Stop spitting on me!”  “Don’t touch me!”  “I’m not touching you; don’t spit on me.”

And then the threats.  From her, all from her.  She’d spewed a few into the air before, before she turned on this man, but now they were clearly all directed at him.  They  both stood up.  I don’t know who stood up first, but she started swinging.  He put his hands up, trying to block her punches.  Some guys from the back of the bus yelled, “Don’t hit that woman."  "You can’t hit no woman.”  The man was trying to duck, but there was nowhere to go on the crowded bus.  The bus driver tried to get them both of the bus.  The man backed out, the lady still swinging at him, while he voiced the inequity of his having to leave the bus.

The woman sat down briefly.  Then she jumped up and raged down the aisle towards a young lady who was standing near the back door, looking at her phone, not paying no mind to any of the ruckus.  The lady saw the woman coming and froze in shock.  A man in a construction safety vest jumped up immediately in between the two, blocking the woman’s arms from coming down on the surprised lady.

The man in the safety vest backed the woman up a bit, but she started to send jabs into his gut and swing for his shoulders.  A third gentleman jumped up and tried to pin the woman’s flailing arms.  She fell to the bus floor, both guys going down with her.  They wrestled her off the bus as passengers off-loaded themselves by the back door.

Soon, half the bus was empty, the bus driver was outside with the woman, the two men who’d gotten her off the bus and the man she’d first attacked.  The other passengers mulled around on the sidewalk at the back of the bus, waiting for the next bus.

Those of us on the bus waited a bit.  The driver came back on, but he didn’t sit down.  He pulled a bright green safety vest out from behind his chair, put it on and calmly stepped back off the bus.  The woman was still yelling outside.  Someone hollered that another bus had arrived.  The rest of us streamed off the bus to trade our immobilized one for one that might actually get us to our destinations.
And then we saw why the driver hadn’t come back in, why he got his safety vest, why we weren’t going anywhere.  The woman had thrown herself under the front of the bus, directly in front of the right tire.  She was lying there, in the road, a limb flung on the muddy curb, yelling about how WMATA (the transit agency) better give her something.  The bus driver just stood nearby, nonchalant, waiting patiently.

The rest of us moseyed on down to the arriving bus.  “She spit on me and my daughter,” the man who was first attacked.  “I’m just trying to get to work,” the guy who helped get her off the bus.  “How she gonna hold everyone up like that?” a lady dragging a stroller up the steps of the bus.  “Don’t do drugs,” somebody, to someone, to everyone.
Just another commute home in DC.

Monday, January 23, 2017


I thought going to the service would make things better, ease the cold dull pain inside.  Instead, it tore open a wide giant gash and poured the burning salt of reality into the wound.  My cheeks burn as that salt oozes from my body in tears.  My soul burns as that salt drips into a stalactite dagger of anger that I didn’t know I could have, that I become all the angrier for having.  For someone whose entire life was full of love and giving and perseverance, these are the wrong emotions to have, the wrong emotions to be left with, sadness and anger.  But they are here, and they are real.  And I do not know how to make them go away without distraction and time.

When are memories not enough?  When are they ever enough?  The best memories exist to be re-lived, and when they cannot be recreated, they must be retold.  I want to tell stories; I want to hear stories.  But how, and where, and who?  I do not know in what way to begin.

The stories I remember, the ones I could tell, I cannot tell them well.  They would quickly turn into inside jokes, and she would not like that.  She was all about inclusion, always about making sure no one was left out.  She passed that trait on to her children.  And, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.  I am going to miss her so much, but I am very glad the best parts of her live on in them and in everyone whose lives she touched.

She gave us the gift of her light, and more importantly, she showed us how to share our own.  Mine’s hiding under a bushel of anger and sadness right now.  She wouldn’t like that, but she’d understand.  And she’d probably tell me to light that bushel on fire and let the glow burn even brighter.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hide and Don't Seek

I missed my legs.  I have them; they’re attached to me.  But, I was feeling like I hadn’t seen them in a while and I missed them.  It’s winterseason of warm and woolly.  I’ve been wearing knit tights, long skirtssometimes ankle-lengthand NineWest wedge boots that don’t set off the metal detectors at work.  I missed my stilettos.  And my legs.  The clip clip that punctuates the air and the lines that punctuate the space.

So, I put on nude stockings and my strappy black & white stilettosand I quickly remember why I’d stopped.

Except, I’m not sure I knew that’s why I stopped when I stopped.  But now, now I’m sure.  After the first starethe stare I tried to move behind but the staring eyes were attached to a rotating neck and a twistable torso.  After the first car horn and rolling down window I quickly turned away from as though my back cannot hear beep-beep.  After the first attempt at a “hey there” met with a curt “hello.”  I knew.  I hated this.

This, this drives me into piles of woollies and clunky wedge boots, even as I give myself other excuses: it’s cold outside; it’s cold inside; I don’t want to take my shoes off to go into work; my favorite coworker is amused when I look ridiculous.  Plenty of excuses, legitimate reasons perhaps, but excuses all the same.  The truth is, I’m hiding.  Hiding my body from the world just as I did when I was 13.  Except then, I hid it because people didn’t like it; now I hide it because they do.

Big t-shirts, 18-sizes too big if they’ve could’ve been.  Drowning.  “Hey, goldenrail, what’s flatter, you or a board?”  A sinking log.  The Heckle brothers living up to their family name.  I just wanted to get home, to walk down the sidewalk without yells from across the street.  I just want to get home, to walk down the sidewalk without yells from across the street.  Why is this always too much to ask?

Always too much, unless I’m hiding.

I nearly started to cry, realizing how much of my life I’ve spent hiding.  I hate it.

And tomorrow, I will hide.

Monday, January 16, 2017

But I don't wanna say goodbye

It’s 1am.  I should be asleep.  But I’m not. My mind is busy, playing through memories.  Playing through memories that I don’t want to be old or forgotten, unable to be duplicated, unable to be replicated, replayed, relived.

As I’ve gotten older, I feel like death has become less real to me.  It should be the other way around, where death is more real than when I was child in a world where magic existed.  I think it’s because the people leaving are people I don’t see daily, or even regularly.  It’s easy to forget they’re not there, wherever they usually are, until you see someone or hear a voice or a laugh, and for a split second, you think it’s someone you know and love and care about.  And then you remember.  You remember it cannot be them, they are gone.  Or maybe it actually is them, in those moments, a fleeting, twinkling, dancing, laughing moment to say hello, to say “remember me?”, to say “remember me.”

I almost had one of those moments today.  On my plane.  A voice, a voice I almost knew.  But the news was still too raw to be caught in a foolish forgetful hope.  Yet that timber, that tone, while uttering some other words I didn’t hear, still said, “remember me.”  And now I lie here, awake in the dark, obeying the command, remembering.

It is that shining gleam in her eyes when her daughter was crowned Junior Miss that makes the tears flow hardest.  She was so very, very proud.  Always proud of her children, their achievements, her own children and those of us she’d welcomed in with open arms and southern hospitality.
It is her insistence, against her eleven-year old daughter’s attempts to assert “friend-girl” as a thing and three teenagers’ clear awkwardness, that it was so wonderful for her son to have his girlfriends over for dinner that brings choked-up giggles spilling from my throat, morphing into sobs and back to giggles again.  Sobs.  Giggles. Sobs.  Sobs.
It is knowing she’s cheering loudest and hardest from the stands, waving a pompom and hooting and hollering as we snap our horns down that makes me feel a warm giant hug though surrounded by thin air alone in my cold apartment. 
It is that broad, joyful smile that makes the corners of my mouth turn up to smile back even as my lip quivers and my heart crinkles into the deepest frown. 
It is plates of eggs and bacon, folding chairs on lawns, red pew cushions, and a big blue easy chair that unleash a booming, echoing, “so, what’s going on with you?” bouncing around inside my head, waiting for an answer. 
And it is realisticness compounded with a firm resolve that reminds me that within my memories of this wonderful woman lies a superhero’s capethose who believe can do anything.  Even while acknowledging the mountains that need to be climbed along the way, the hurdles that need to be jumped, and the rivers that need to be crossed.  “Well, there may be a big mountain and eight lions on this path, but I think there’s a real possibility he can do this if he just...”  That was so often her attitude; it may be tough, but there's a way.  And of course, she always had plenty of input on what that way was, too.

It doesn’t matter that the station agent gave us a schedule and we’ve been standing on the platform watching the train come in; I’m still mad it arrived.  Mad it didn’t delay more.  Mad it was even on its way already.  It’s always too soon when people you love go, but sometimes, it really is too soon.

So. I’ll let the memories play, until life goes on enough to bring one of those twinkling moments.  And then, I will obey.  I will remember her.