The Boozy Floozy – A Memoir Essay

Her nickname was Bunny but, she was neither soft nor fuzzy. In fact, she was missing any of the traits one might associate with a meek woodland creature. Unless, of course, bunnies smoked Marlboro reds and drank like fish. In which case, then her nickname was spot-on. If bunnies screamed hateful things at little girls and attempted to beat teenage boys with two-by-fours, then sure…she was a bunny.

I privately named her Boozy Floozy or simply, “her.” Sometimes, I even referred to her as “It.” As in, Here It comes, better disappear before It attacks.

Bunny was really only called Bunny during the moments when Happy Hour was still happy, that fleeting bit of time when she and my father neared the end of their first drink and their faces bloomed with smiles, their eyes brightened and everyone became funny. Even Bunny. But happy hour could turn ugly fast.

She hated me. She told me so once with her hand wrapped around my neck while she pressed me against the wall. Bunny leaned in so close that our noses nearly touched. Her mouth was surrounded in tiny creases and fine blonde hairs. The mole above her lip moved as she breathed booze-scented hate into my face through gritted teeth. She was baiting me. Waiting for me to push back, talk back or cry. I refused to give her what she wanted. I was smarter than her. Mostly because I wasn’t drunk.

Bunny wore shiny polyester shirts and colored her short shagged hair an unnatural shade of dark brown that faded into a brassy dull yellow. She spoke with cigarettes dangling from her lip, squinting through the ribbon of white smoke that moved past her eyes. The effect of that habit, paired with her use of profanity and clipped movements, gave Bunny a masculine air.

My hatred for her was just as big, but I was smarter than she was. I was quiet about my revenge. Once, I stood at the refrigerator lazily searching the contents for food a kid might like to eat. How long did it usually take her to get annoyed by this act? When she jumped up from her chair and began to lunge across the kitchen, I held out a jar of her pickled eggs.

“Want an egg?” I asked, “I’m not sure I’d like them.”

She eyed me suspiciously then pulled on a dry smile. “Haven’t you ever had a pickled egg?”

“No. My mother doesn’t make them.”

She turned her back to me and placed the jar on the counter, and I enjoyed watching her reach in and pluck a slippery egg from the juice. I watched her raise the egg to her mouth as she turned to face me again. She took a hearty bite, removing the top half of the egg and while she chewed, I watched her mole move up and down.

“So, what are they pickled in?” I asked.

“Vinegar and garlic,” she answered as she swallowed, “You have to let them sit for a month. I just opened this jar.”

“I like vinegar.”

“Are you going to eat one or not?” she was becoming impatient with my indecision.

“No, thank you.”

There was no way I was going to eat one of those eggs after I peed in the jar.

Bunny had a violent streak. She once locked my brother out of the house when he didn’t come home by 11:00 and, when he went into the barn to sleep in his car, Bunny attacked him in the dark with a 2×4, aiming for his head. Bunny was dangerous and mean and anything might have set her off.

One day I locked her in the pantry after she ranted about something like, I’d let the cat inside or I’d dipped a celery stalk in the mayonnaise after refusing to eat the liver and onions she cooked for dinner. She mostly ranted because my presence infuriated her. She ranted because it was nearing the hour that she’d pour herself the day’s first drink. She ranted because I was my father’s daughter.

I don’t remember now what it was that she drank, I just know that her violence gave birth to my own. Her hate fed my hate. I feared her and I wanted her dead. Or I wanted to die.

I moved in with my father in November, 1981, just hours after I’d run away and hid in a drainage pipe than ran under the Northway. As the day grew cooler and the late-autumn sun grew faint, I was forced out of hiding. I sat in the same room with my mother and father, a rare occurrence, and informed my mother that I hated her. An hour later I was in the passenger seat of my father’s State Police car with all of my worldly belongings. I chose him in the hope of finding a place where I fit or to recapture that beautiful solitary innocence that I had enjoyed on our farm. It didn’t take long to realize that Bunny had stolen all hope.

Now, Bunny stalked into the pantry with her cigarette dangling from her lips and began shuffling the mushy canned vegetables that she’d force me to eat at dinner. Suddenly, the thought of her taking pleasure in making me eat something that was purposely inedible, enraged me. Her back was turned when I shut the door and turned the lock. Nearly in unison, the lock moved into place with a loud click and Bunny quickly turned. Through the glass and a veil of smoke, she glared at me with narrowed eyes. “You’d better open that fucking door,” she spat.

My response was stony silence. Now that I’d turned that lock, I was forced to commit to my bad choice. She’d kill me if I let her out.

The cigarette was back between the fingers of her right hand and she used it to punctuate the jabbing motions she made while she growled, “Open…the…fucking…door.” Her eyes fixed on mine like an animal assessing its prey. Her upper lip began to quiver, causing the ugly mole that lived there to dance. I knew that I risked her punching through the glass to get out. She was crazy enough to throw her fist through a window in order to get me and it was a chance I was willing take for the sake of my own hatred. Knowing my chances for survival were better if she couldn’t see me, I slowly backed out of the kitchen. I returned her fury-filled stare with my own wordless challenge. If she escaped before my father returned home, she would do something to harm me. Suddenly, I realized my gamble was foolish since sometimes, my father didn’t come home at all.

The heel of my right foot met the threshold of the kitchen doorway and slowly, I closed the door on her rage-filled stare. I’d vowed I wouldn’t show fear in her presence but, when the silence was broken by the sharp click of another door closing, I jumped. Her spell was broken. I whirled and ran through the woodshed into the yard. Without slowing, I ran into the tall grass of the field and didn’t look back. I didn’t want to know if she was watching me. For hours I wandered the woods behind my father’s new house, waiting for the sun to dip low enough in the sky to tell me that he might be home.

It seemed running had become my most effective method of escape. I ran, hoping to block it all out and outrun Bunny. I was still holding out hope for a magical doorway to appear and some beautiful, loving creature to invite me to the other side. On the day that I locked that evil woman in the pantry, my innocence was waning. In less than one year my life had irrevocably changed. I’d come to understand that the people who were my parents were not the people I thought they were.

If you could have peered into the house on Coon Hill Road, you might have seen her sitting alone. A girl with long brown hair, too thin and serious and always holding a book in her lap. She had lived most of her short life that way, trying to feed her insatiable curiosity with words. The things she knew weren’t taught to her by her family, but by the characters in the books she read. She was surviving. If she thought too hard about the number of years she had to endure before she’d be able to leave, she cried. She didn’t know where she would go.

Bradley Cooper, Foreign Languages and the Dirty Monkey

Okay, here’s the thing. I’ve watched that video clip of Bradley Cooper speaking French four times. I’m supposed to be writing yet each time I pause mid-sentence, searching for an elusive word, there he is. Bradley…my extra-marital freebie. I have to admit, until recently I only truly appreciated Bradley circa The Hangover. He was the ravishingly handsome bad boy, all unkempt but still beautiful. I’ve always like my boys that way – gorgeous, confident and well-dressed. Just like my husband was that day I met him eleven years ago. Last weekend, David and I watched Limitless and I marveled at how Bradley wore those English suits with such ease. Who doesn’t appreciate a handsome man in a perfectly tailored English suit? 

Esquire magazine June/July 2011

A few days later the movie was forgotten. Bradley the movie star slid into the background because, let’s face it he’s just a dude who’s in some movies that hired great stylists. Then the video clip appeared. Oh God, the video clip. I could dive in and take a swim in those liquid blue eyes. Is it weird that I’ve watched it four times in the past 48 hours? Is it? Go on…be honest.

Somewhere in my questioning, I was reminded of a monkey I once knew. Okay, I didn’t actually know the monkey. We never had a conversation or anything, but I still feel like we knew each other on a relatively intimate level. He lived in the pet store at the Aviation Mall where I recall standing with my mother, watching him perform behind the glass. I was 14 and still relatively innocent about all things involving sex. I was really only there to see the funny little monkey. He was eating a banana and jumping around his glass house. Boy, did we laugh. Then he scaled up to the highest level of his platform and proceeded to rub one out. Vigorously. 

Now, since people in Bloggy Land tend to take things so literally, I feel compelled to explain that I am not doing The Monkey while I watch Bradley speak French. It’s just that somehow my oddly-wired brain took me on a trip from French speaking Bradley Cooper to the masturbating monkey. I suddenly wanted to tell my husband about that masturbating monkey but I’m sure that he was already in bed, resting his gorgeous blue eyes. While I was pondering my mini-Bradley obsession and the masturbating monkey, David was sleeping just feet from his closet filled with perfectly tailored suits and impeccably shined Alden’s.

If he were awake, he’d patiently listen to my random recollection of that self-pleasuring monkey and probably wonder how, exactly, that memory surfaced while I was upstairs writing…and watching Bradley Cooper speak fluent French. Maybe today, I can coerce Dave into wearing a suit on the weekend. Perhaps he’ll forego a shave and speak a little Italian to me after we’ve tucked the kids in tonight. Did I tell you that his blue eyes still make me swoon? He smells good, he’s gorgeous, he makes me laugh and, after nearly ten years of marriage he has never done The Monkey in front of me. And that’s a good thing.

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This ain’t your home…

We bought that house together months before our wedding but it was never really mine. In his mind, he did all the work so he became the sole owner and he made that clear. I didn’t care. In the end, I just walked away from it all and threw everyone into a state of confusion. Who walks away like that unless there’s another man?

I do.

I tried to be like them and, in conforming, I began to drown. In the end, I went back to get my things. I left half of everything – half of the towels, half the dishes, half the sheets, I left the bed, I took the couch, and I left the house. It was never mine. I cleaned it. I cooked his dinner in it. I tried to be his wife in it. I wanted to die in it.

One night I went back to pick up my cat. His new girlfriend, the Bud Girl from Vegas, was allergic. The dog was off limits though, because she liked Jack. He’d left her picture at my sister’s house. Had he planted it there as if accidentally, so that I’d see his new girlfriend? She was cute. She wore her Bud Girl uniform proudly and stood beaming next to a hairy overweight and heavily bearded biker. I think his planted photo scheme bombed. I simultaneously thought it was funny, sad and desperate.

The night I picked up my cat, I stood in the living room and he moved closer to me, trying to pull me into an embrace that I didn’t want when the telephone began to ring. My telephone number, my telephone, my answering machine. “Hi, Baby it’s me…” my eyebrows rose as I spun back to look at his face. I stared at the person who had been accusing me of cheating for a month and a half. I glared at the person who threatened to change the locks on our house before we were divorced because his father told him to – the person who was just trying to pull me into an embrace. I moved to pick up my telephone and say hello. “Wait!” he pleaded, “Don’t.” My hand hovered over the cradled telephone as I weighed the importance of picking it up. What did she know about me? Did she know I hadn’t even moved out yet? That we weren’t divorced? Did she know that he was trying to sleep with me while I picked up the cat? Did I really care enough to tell her?

 No.

I took a step back and listened to the disembodied voice calling my husband ‘Baby’. I looked around the room that I hated and my eyes finally came to rest on him. He had no idea what to do. Was he waiting for me to confront him? Was he waiting for me to retaliate after the accusations that I’d cheated? Did he need me to explain again that sometimes people leave because they’re drowning? Should I scream that I’d slept in my car because of him? That my own family stepped away from me because of my alleged cheating?

 No.

I stepped away from the telephone and picked up the crate holding Rosie. He reached for me again as she hung up, trying to pull me closer but I resisted. “I’ll be here with the moving truck in two weeks.”

She moved in a month later. I moved to Greenwich and a house full of single girls.

Burning

I wrote this piece after a dream that I had a few weeks ago. I’m not quite sure what it is other than the movie that played through my sleeping brain. My brother is alive and well and our farmhouse never exprienced a fire of any kind. If anything, what I wrote is simply a metaphor for how I felt when we moved from our beloved farm and lived seperately from one another following the divorce of our parents.

Last night I dreamed of our farmhouse.

The white horse galloped past the fence, drawing my eyes beyond to the orange bloom of rising flames.

I began to move forward and watched fire lick the sky.

It raced through the field behind the house, coming to burn our memories.

In the yellow bedroom, my brother watched from the window.

Then, together, we soaked the house with water from a hose.

Tiny fires ignited at our feet.

We stepped back to watch our lives burn,

Defeated.

He turned and began to walk away.

Moving in opposite directions,

I watched as he was swallowed by the smoke.

We never said goodbye.

Things we leave behind…

Well, hello!  It’s my pleasure to be visiting here today, doing a guest post, for Kelli.  My name is Patty from…Another cookie, please!    Actually, I’m quite honored to be in her Manolo blog-shoes today even though they pinch a little.    She has smaller feet than I do.

What a lovely place!  Beautifully decorated, very cozy as blogs go, I must say. There’s even an inviting bottle of Merlot sitting here…with my name on it.  How thoughtful!

Excuse me while I go and find a glass….

Kelli’s been at Brimfield, lucky lady.  I so would love to go there and step back in time, looking at all the treasures people leave behind.

Just to give you an idea of the vast expanse of Brimfield, take a look at this aerial photograph.  Isn’t it amazing?   For both antique dealers and lovers, this largest outdoor show in New England, takes place three times each year, for six days in May, July, and September.

Imagine following behind Kelli’s glorious days in Massachusetts, watching her stop to look at antique mirrors which hold ghostly images of their former owners.  Locked deep inside each mirror are sad reflections, staring back at time so quickly passing them by.

                             

Walking through the maze of tents, Kelli gently touches a set of fine china that long ago graced family tables for holidays and other special occasions.  In the distance, she can hear the timeless laughter of warm family gatherings and visualizes everyone joining hands in prayer before the start of each meal.

The gleam of delicate glassware suddenly catches Kelli’s eye and she stops for a moment to lift a goblet.  Holding it up to the light, she thinks of occasions and celebratory toasts.  With a soft ping of her finger, the glass echoes back with a soulful, tender chime.


                             
Displayed everywhere are old rocking chairs where a young mother once sat, cuddling and nursing her baby while singing soft lullabies.   As the years passed, this same woman would slowly rock back and forth, gazing out a window as the seasons changed; so much older and nearing the end of her life with each creak of the chair.

                                

Photographs, paintings and exquisite etchings, Kelli’s favorite works of art, long to be admired, waiting to again grace the walls of a home as potential buyers glance.. then quickly walk away.

                                   

                               
                                            

What will any of us leave behind, apart from words or actions, that someone will cherish and pass on for generations to follow?  Possessions, our personal treasures, which held such meaning and joy in our lifetime, packed away in the corner of an attic or one day put on display at a place like Brimfield…to become trapped ghosts of our past. 

Until…someone like Kelli comes along…and sets them free, once again.

                                  

Green Eyed Monsters?

Aaah…jealousy. We all have it. We all feel it.

And now we’d like you to write about it. We’ll leave it open: you can write about something or someone you envy, or a time when your jealousy got you in trouble, or maybe how it makes you feel to be envious. Whatever you want.

In the past, I was made to understand that I was the family outsider – the one who never quite fit. My angles were all wrong. My thoughts and aspirations were too different. I walk in the land of dreams and they move with their feet firmly planted on the ground. Leaving them was a difficult but trying to squeeze myself into a place among them had become too exhausting. When I met David, we seamlessly merged together and, for first time, it was acceptable to simply be me.


Being away for ten years has provided some insights. The death of our older generation has brought revelations while watching the younger set enter adulthood has been interesting. I’ve come to realize that there is a side of my family that I barely know. We are virtual strangers but for passing news from my mother or sister or grandmother. For my entire life I’ve moved on their perimeter, never really feeling like anything more than a passing acquaintance.


Once, just last year, I was speaking with my grandmother on the telephone when she began talking about my younger cousin and me. She began a sentence with, “I know there’s some jealousy and competition between the two of you but…” I didn’t hear the rest of what she said. I was trying work out the jealousy and competition part. Did she have me confused with another granddaughter? The wheels were spinning.

 I barely know the girl…the last time we spent any real time together was when I was 12 and that was a lifetime ago.


She called me last year to inform me that my grandmother wasn’t doing well and that I should visit her before it’s too late. I bit my tongue during that somewhat admonishing telephone call from my younger cousin. Her tone suggested that I had no idea what was happening in my grandmother’s life. Was she attempting to assert her position of authority on the matter? Her call seemed to infer some familial failure and selfishness on my part. I wanted to tell her that I don’t have the luxury of dumping my three children off with someone while I jet off to Nashville for a visit. And I don’t have the luxury of buying plane tickets for a family of five to go say what might be a final goodbye. I wish I did.

I don’t know you.

You’ve never made an effort to know me.

Why would you call me out of the blue and suggest that I’d better visit before it’s too late?

As if I don’t already know…or care.

I wanted to tell her that I have no need to fly somewhere to prove my love and gain good standing. I don’t need to be anyone’s favorite. I don’t need to compete for love. I don’t need to be the family golden child. I began to wonder if what my grandmother had said about jealousy and competition was true. Had this existed for all of this time and I had no idea? Does it exist at all? Frankly there isn’t much else I could do to remove myself from their lives, short of dying. I never see them.


When I was 12, I ran away from my mother’s home. I told her I hated her when what I actually hated was that my parents had divorced just months earlier. I went to live with my father for the rest of that year and, when summer came, I visited my mother’s family with her. My uncles cornered me and the childless one informed me that they were all mad at me for what I did to my mother. He looked at me with disdain and told me that running away was selfish and mean…that I had no right to do something so horrible to my mother. It was my fault that she was so unhappy. He delivered his message and walked off to join the family.


I sat alone by the swimming pool after being told how horrible they all thought I was. I sat there and watched the younger children who still had their house and their family and their innocence and the love of everyone. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t part of that family. That day, I was pushed to the perimeter.


Yesterday, my sister and I talked about our immediate family and how my sister, my brother and I have always gotten the raw end of the deal. We’re the bastard children who missed out on relationships because of divorces and years-long family arguments. We didn’t inherit family heirlooms because, it seemed, all the others are somehow more entitled to those treasures because of who they are. We didn’t have parents that bought us cars and took us on yearly family vacations. Most of us don’t have family who lives down the road who want to pick our children up and watch them while we jet off to another state to visit someone for a few days.


I reminded my sister that although we didn’t inherit our grandmother’s clocks or china, we didn’t get to go to our Granbob’s funeral and we can’t fly down to Nashville to see our Granny, what we’ve inherited is far more substantial than material objects. I have no need to provide everyone with material proof of how much they loved us. We have our memories of time spent with them. Memories of summer days in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, New Orleans and Florida. Memories of waking at 4:00 a.m. to watch Diana marry her prince. Memories of riding a fake deer in my grandmother’s rock garden while she belly laughed and taught us about love and flowers. Memories of walking through the forest with her while she told us stories of her childhood.


I’ll just stay out here on the perimeter where I’ve always belonged. On the inside, the angles are much too sharp.

Long Pond

This piece was written in response to the photo prompt at The Red Dress Club: RemembRED.

Your assignment this week was to write a memoir piece inspired by this picture of a garden hose. In 700 or fewer words, show us where your memory takes you

 
I watched the spray from the hose rise in a twinkling arc over the tomato plants. Fat drops of water rolled from the end of the sprayer and splashed onto my bare feet. The water was shockingly cold in the heat of the morning sun. I looked down and watched the cold, almost painful drops land on my foot. A puddle formed around my toes and made the soil of his garden muddy. My feet were dirty, but he didn’t care. I dug my toes into the earth and absorbed its muddy warmth.

I reached over and plucked a ripe, red cherry tomato from the vine and popped it into my mouth then followed with another. When I’d arranged a tomato in each cheek, I called to him and flashed a beaming smile. He turned from tying a tomato plant to its stake and laughed at the sight of my bulging cheeks. His laugh was magical, spreading warmth and washing me with happiness.

“When are we going to go fishing?” My voice sounded muffled and hollow as my words pushed their way around the tomatoes filling my checks. I stood holding the hose in one hand, watering his tomato plants, and poked at my puffy cheeks with the index finger of my other hand. The skin on my cheeks began feeling like it was stretching, so I bit down on the tomatoes, breaking through the skin and washing my tongue with their sun-warmed sweet and sour interiors.

He never yelled at me and his hands never hurt. He shared his time and paid attention.

“You want to go fishing, huh?”

“Yup, and I’m gonna catch the biggest fish ever!”

He laughed, and then left the garden to enter the cellar. The dirt interior was like entering a cave. The ceiling was lined with fishing poles. He knew just where mine was located and pulled it down, along with his own. The tackle box and oars followed and were pushed into the bed of the truck. We always drove the short distance across the street and down the hill to the boat.

At the shoreline, I stood with the gear and watched him turn the boat over and unlock its chains. His moccasins squished into the damp weedy shoreline as he slid the boat into the water. “Come on,” he’d say, “Watch the mud.”

I gingerly stepped to the boat, walking along the clumps of grass and trying to avoid the blackened mud that sucked at my sneakers. The boat shimmied as I stepped onto the rear seat and made my way to the bow with my arms out in an attempt to balance. He’d pass the oars into the boat, then push off and climb in just before his feet met the water.

The water slapped against the side of the boat and the lily pads dragged at the bottom, trying to slow the momentum of his push. We’d pause there while he arranged the oars and I’d pull at the flowers growing from the lily pads, finally pulling one of the long slimy stems from the water and allowing my fingers to drag through the wake as he rowed me around Long Pond.

Those short summer weeks – always too short, were strung together by days full of nothing that were everything.

Our last day spent fishing together happened in 1998. I was no longer a little girl.

I watched his hands flip the boat and unlock its chains. His moccasins squished through the damp weedy grass of the shoreline. His progress had slowed over the years and, that day, his feet didn’t escape the water when he pushed the boat from the shoreline.

My throat tightened and my eyes burned with the threat of tears so I turned and plucked a flower from among the lily pads. I dragged my fingers through Long Pond and realized that I was beginning to say goodbye.