Blanket Fort

When I was young, under the age of twelve, I watched an episode of some ghoulish television show in my grandparents’ living room. As a result, I have been slightly, irrationally afraid of the upstairs of my grandparents’ home ever since.

Before my mom and dad had a vacation place of their own in northern Michigan, we stayed with my grandparents whenever we went “up north” as it is called in Michigan. “Up north” is anyplace north of Bay City/Saginaw. And this is true for any person that lives south of Bay City/Saginaw, even if that place is along the Ohio border. This is the truth for all Michiganders.

Anyway, I remember being sandwiched on their couch, with its scratchy orange plaid cushions, between my mom and dad.  The television show was something about unexplained phenomenon. The episode we were watching was about aliens and how they had supposedly landed somewhere in the American desert. In one shot, one of the alien reenactment actors turned, faced the camera, and my young mind was melded. Holy whoa. There was an alien.

And then bam!

It was my bed time.

My mom ushered me upstairs to bed, into the huge (and it really is enormous) bedroom that housed two twin beds and lots of room for my mind to wander.  She tucked me in, as always, and I knew that she and my dad would be making their way up in short order.

It was that night that I first “saw” the alien. I would have sworn on John Winthrop’s Bible that I did. I “saw” it walk right in front of my bedroom door out of the room that my mom and dad used. It “floated” down the stairs and in another instant, it was back and it was staring. at. me.

Needless to say, I was freaked out. I don’t remember screaming… No one came upstairs, and if I had screamed, the brigade of Scotts in the house would have come to my aid. But I did do what any kid in his or her right mind does. I pulled my blanket over my head. If I couldn’t see the alien, it couldn’t see me.

I have been slightly, irrationally afraid of the upstairs portion of my grandparents’ home ever since.

Last Monday, my grandma was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She suffers from osteoporosis and arthritis and flare ups are not uncommon.

I was in contact with my parents, who were with my grandparents that day, all day.  My grandmother waited for help in the emergency room for six hours. In reality, I know that hospitals are not perfect. Hell, I worked in a surgical center while I was in graduate school. And after she finally saw a doctor, a battery of tests was performed, and no one got any real rest, she was transferred (again by ambulance) to a larger hospital thirty-six miles away.

On Wednesday, I was told that she might be suffering from congestive heart failure.

I only have one grandmother.

One.

I used to have two, but when I was thirteen, my great-grandmother, this remaining grandmother’s mother, died at the age of 91.

I never knew my mom’s mother.

I wanted to collapse in my bathroom and huddle against the sink and cry. I wanted to fling myself onto my bed and cry into my pillow. I wanted to rage, and scream, and throw anything at everything.

My husband and I made the decision to go see my grandparents the coming weekend, which is now this past weekend.

My grandparents have three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Their grandchildren include me and my two older cousins. I don’t particularly like either one of them and am not close to them by both circumstance, and now that I’m an adult and choose my own family, by design.

I am the only one that visited. I don’t know if the other two called, and I don’t actually care.

When I am in the presence of my grandparents, I feel every one of my childhood memories of them. I remember family vacations with the five of us: me, my parents, and my grandparents. I remember running down Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes with my grandpa. I remember going dress shopping with my grandma and my mom because I was starting a new job and I “needed” to look the part.  I remember my trip out west with them when I was eight. I remember how fast my grandpa climbed the hill at Meadowbrook Music Festival after they saw me obtain my master’s degree, just so he could be the first one to hug me.

I recall every good thing that has ever happened with them.

Our visit was a good one. It was full of laughs and it was truly enjoyable. The best part was learning that my grandmother is in fact not suffering from congestive heart failure.

Today, as my husband and I drove out of my parents’ driveway, and journeyed onward “down state”, I wanted to cry when I looked down the street and saw my grandparents’ home. The home I’ve known as theirs since 1988.

I put on my sunglasses even though it wasn’t sunny and slumped down in my seat. My husband could see me cry; he has seen me cry multiple times at everything from toilet paper commercials to marching bands in parades, but this cry… This cry was mine and it needed to be silent.

I looked down the street, and I saw the window that I was convinced allowed the alien into the house. I am thirty-one years old and all I wanted to do was be that kid again, hiding from the aliens. I wanted a blanket fort. Because under blanket forts, things like aging grandparents and health scares don’t happen. My grandparents are both in their late eighties and I know, with the type of knowledge that I would give anything to return, that they will not see my children at the age I am now.

I am grateful, beyond any measure of human gratitude, that they got to see me grow up. They saw me graduate from high school, and college, and graduate school. They saw me buy a house. They saw me get married, and if I am luckier than I have any right to even think I deserve, they might see me have a child. I said that they are aging, they’re not on death’s door.

I am angry at those that didn’t bother to call my grandfather to check on him while his wife was in the hospital and they were scared. I am angry at my cousins for not coming to see our grandparents, although in reality, they have been only mine for decades.  I am angry that people supposedly close to me never asked how my grandmother was.

And I am allowed that anger. Because my love for my grandmother and my grandfather outweigh all of it.

I know without a doubt that they know it too.

In our way, we have a blanket fort. We have a bond that can’t be bought and it most certainly can’t be explained. You see, I might have only one set of grandparents, but they only have one granddaughter as well.

I eventually took my sunglasses off and looked out and ahead at the stretch of road ahead and thought of the next time I’d see them. There will be a next time, and it will come soon, no matter how busy my school year gets. Maybe I will ask if they too have ever been slight, irrationally, fearful of their own upstairs.

 

 

 

 

 

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Always Fall 

The school year doesn’t exactly “end” for most teachers. While it is true that we might not have students directly in front of us, our minds are in our classrooms, planning new teaching methods, and creating or revising activities. The feeling of “I should be…”, when doing anything else,  is as real in July as in January. 

Even now, during the last days of my summer, as I take some time for myself, I feel a twinge because I have a fall prep to-do list. It’s waiting for me, taunting me from the location I’ve stashed it. 

I had (have) a summer class this year for the first time in a couple of years. It was (is) going well. Even with the challenges of an abbreviated semester and the online learning supplement that doesn’t work, the class stayed (is going) on track. I can’t make a firm declaration in the past tense. We still have two class sessions left. 

Even though I taught this summer, it is the end of August that signals back to school. 

I’m looking forward to getting back on my own campus, with my familiar faces, my department, and my friends. The students I’ll see will all be new and most of them eager to begin their collegiate experiences. 

I fight the urge to buy things I don’t need. My desk and all of my school totes are well stocked. Upon last count, I had over one hundred dry erase markers. But when I see them, with their little caps whispering “buy me”, the struggle is all too real. 

I need nothing, just to do the prep work I thought about in theory back in May, June, and July. In reality, it isn’t a ton of work. And I’m a bit nerdy over my own plans. Like a comic that laughs at her own jokes. 

The school year never ends but I anticipate seeing it again. “You sly dog…give me a hug!”

I know I will soon have copious amounts of work, most of it to be done at home, the number in my inbox will soar from five to over fifty,  and I will always feel behind.

In late October through mid-November, I will want a case of dark chocolate. By the second week of December, an i.v. drip please.

Some people I know do not understand this concept. I once received a careless crack about my summer job being my “real life.” 

Teaching isn’t real? 

Writing isn’t real?

Yes, I went into it for fame, fortune, and the infinite free time it affords.

(Page C.T.– they have a patient coming up.)

When you see a teacher over the course of these next weeks, the last of August, please show that person a smile, a nod, or just that knowing look. Our real lives beckon.

We spend our “off” time learning, planning, researching, and practicing the crafts we teach. 

We are always getting ready for class. 

So be nice to us. It’s fall in our homes, and our lives, too.

Holding Hands

I was a junior in college when I heard the line “hard work hands hold the best.” I was in Prof. Ed Hoeppner’s poetry workshop, and as much as I can remember about the course, I can’t remember the name of the poet that wrote that brilliant line. I can describe her though, so I guess that’s something. I even think she was wearing a dark blue shirt when she read it in class. 

All of the men I have ever loved, my husband, my father, and my grandfather, have had hard work hands. 

But most importantly:

My husband– his hands envelop mine and make my already tiny fingers look like baby carrot sized versions of themselves. He holds my hand with a protective grip but not a possessive one. I am supported not restricted. His hands lift me up when I can’t reach, open things that my hands refuse to, and they give me assistance when I insist I don’t need it.

His hands have held mine as I’ve cried. When we thought I was in the process of getting an MS diagnosis. When my beloved, and only living, grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. When a dear friend passed away too soon.

His hands gripped mine when my diagnosis was false. When my grandfather went into remission. When I silently prayed for my friend as I watched a reminder of her just last month. 

His hands high fived mine when I got the job I wanted at the university I love. They clapped for me after I read my writing out loud and in public for the first time. 

His hands are strong because they are brave. His hands are not a cliche. My husband’s hands have seen war in the most literal sense of the word.  

They are the hands I have built, am building, a life with. The hands I reach for and the ones I trust. 

Writer Sarah Key says, “some people read Palma to tell your future, but I read hands to tell your past. Each scar marks a story worth telling. Each callused palm, each cracked knuckle is a missed punch or years in a factory.” And while this is eloquent, a young poet says it simply. Hard wok hands hold the best.

I look at one of my favorite wedding pictures and think of the poem that one of my best friends read at my wedding. “I Carry Your Heart” by E.E. Cummings. 

This poem. Its relevance to our story. And hands. 

What do I carry things with?

My own hard work hands.

My own poetic heart. 

Photo by Jen Taylor Photigraphy

Being Mona Lisa

I might be the only person crazy, brazen, or just plain dumb enough to call the Mona Lisa “creepy.” I’m unnerved by her ability to look at me no matter if I’m to her left or her right. No one’s field of vision needs to be that large. Tunnel vision baby!

So when I saw today’s photo prompt for the August writers’ challenge to do a page a day, I froze. The picture moves just like Mona Lisa   does. The perspective shifts in four directions, and it bothered me. It reminded me of the creepy painting.

I hate the feeling of being watched by a hidden human. I read an article once that said we are, on the average drive home from work, recorded by no fewer than six (!) cameras.

Sometimes I look for them. I’m tempted to wave or smile at the ones I see. But I don’t. I keep listening to my audiobook or sing on off key as ever.


As one that takes photos often, this strikes me as a little strange. I wonder how many images I appear in a day and how it compares to the number of photos I take.

I blame the whole thing on da Vinci. If he’d never painted that infernal portait, I bet we wouldn’t even have “traffic cams”, and I wouldn’t feel watched—all.the.time.

I feel a tinge of guilt for even thinking that. Blaming some “big brother” parts of our world on daVinci, on his Mona Lisa. The poor girl with a big forehead, Illuminatiesque “knowing” smile (smirk if you ask me), and her lack of eyebrows.

Creepy.

The guilt shifts when I realize that I often smile for no discernable reasons other than my own thoughts. I also have a crooked hairline when wearing a pony tail. And, part of my left eyebrow was burned when I was seventeen, leaving me an abbreviated left brow.

Creepy.

And our names:

Mona Lisa

Melissa

Only one letter keeps the score in her favor. They even sound similar.

I have a plan. Later, I will take a selfie and prop it up, looking to see if my gaze shifts too. I’m no daVinci, but it’ll work.

I wonder if I could get the humans behind my “on average six cameras” to take it. Isn’t their job studying my image anyway?

Artists study Mona Lisa’s image.

Invisible humans study mine.

Creepy.

 

I Know a Woman Named Molly Whitman

I am fascinated by hot air balloons. The colors, the size, their slow ascend into an evening sky. The view that allows a living person the closest thing to an angel eye view of the spectacular creation that is the world. No drama, no political debate, nothing. Just the calm, quiet peace of air and height.

I am also terrified of heights. I haven’t been on a rollercoaster since the summer of 2004 and that was a feat.

I’m also not big on feeling physically insecure, meaning that I have open air on both sides. This is why I like to sit either by a wall or next to at least one person, but I prefer a middle seat. It is also why I hate motorcycling, because add in a high rate of speed to a lack of sides and you have given me all of the necessary ingredients for a full-fledged freak out. Pedal bikes I can handle because I control the speed.

I realize that this sounds insane. A woman so afraid of heights that she has backed down the stairs leading up to the Gemini at Cedar Point, and who enjoys tight enclosed spaces, actually wants to get into a hot air balloon? Ask me if I like planes. I dare you. It’s probable that you know that answer. I do not.

I’ve asked my husband about hot air ballooning with me, and I have asked him more than once. The answer doesn’t change. No—he doesn’t trust a basket.

There is a hot air balloon festival in Metamora, Michigan every fall. I have never attended and I have wanted to for years. Maybe this year nothing will conflict!

Thinking about hot air balloons makes me wonder about the things that fascinate us. For me, my fascinations are closely related to my fears. Heights equal fear which equals a fascination with hot air balloons. Water equals fear which equals a love for, desire to conserve, and hot tempered rage at the destruction of, oceans and marine life. I cannot swim, yet I want to whale watch.

Could it be an innate desire to conquer something within myself? My inner Merida saying “I can do this!”

I wonder who else has fears and fascinations that contradict. Whitman says, “do I contradict myself, very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

One of my favorite bands, Flogging Molly, says in their song “Float”, “ah but don’t, no don’t sink the boat, that you built, you built to keep afloat.”

My boat is my own healthy level of fear and need for self-preservation; however, as Whitman says, I’m allowed to contradict myself. And who doesn’t have a bucket list of contradictions?

If I combine Whitman and Flogging Molly, I get this (Molly Whitman): “I contradict myself, and I have a boat that keeps me afloat, I am large, like a hot air balloon, I contain multitudes, even if I am alone in my basket.”

And at the end, I am left wondering if I could climb into the basket, even if I found myself alone. I also wonder… what was Walt Whitman’s hot air balloon?