Charlotte

Charlotte was dark with large eyes and long legs. When she walked, she held her head up high. She was also fiercely jealous – becoming enraged whenever anyone came into close proximity to my father. When my parents went for walks and held hands, Charlotte would barge between them, causing their fingers to separate. She would proceed to press her body against my father’s leg, pushing him away from my mother.

Charlotte was a Nubian goat, the kind with long floppy ears. She was actually very pretty … for a goat. Her coat was made up of blacks, browns and whites. When my father brought Charlotte home to our little farm, my brother named her Charlotte after his favorite book Charlotte’s Web.  

But our Charlotte was nothing like the kind, demure spider E.B. White created. She was aggressive with a rather sadistic streak. Whenever my father would let Charlotte out of her pen, she would scan the lawn for me, lower her head and charge. More than once I had been obliviously playing, minding my own eight year old business, only to be whacked by Charlotte ramming her head into my body. (Thank goodness she was de-horned.) Another time she sniffed my hair before proceeding to grab a mouthful and pull it out by the roots. I was scared to death of her.

When not occupying herself with terrorizing me, Charlotte enjoyed showing off for my brother. It was as if she sensed testosterone was near and was suddenly overwhelmed with circus-like energy. Charlotte would run up the side of the barn and do a backwards flip, which resulted in much clapping and yelling from my brother. This would encourage her to do more tricks.

As much as Charlotte adored my father, her sentiment was not reciprocated. Her purpose was for breeding and not as a pet. This meant she was loaded into our Jeep and we drove her to a farm where she could have a “date” with a male goat. This did not go over well. Even though Charlotte was technically in heat, (meaning, she was fertile and should have been in the romantic mood) she did not approve of the male goats that were presented to her.

The male goats did their male goat thing: peeing on themselves. Snorting. Charging. These wooing tactics usually work like a charm for other female goats, but not our Charlotte. Her standards were higher. She wasn’t interested in any of the huffing, strutting, urinating bucks. For an hour we watched Charlotte dodge one frustrated male goat after another. Even I – who truly had no affection for Charlotte – felt bad for her.

In one last ditch effort, my father tried having a male goat visit Charlotte’s pen. Like a horrible blind date who just won’t leave, Charlotte had an obnoxious suitor in her pen for two days. This was also a disaster. Finally, the rejected buck was sent back to his farm and my father decided Charlotte needed to find another home as well. If she wasn’t breedable – he had no use for her.

Finding a home for a female goat who wasn’t interested in male goats, and could be aggressive, was difficult. But after several weeks, Charlotte was loaded back in the Jeep and we drove her to her new residence. I sat in the back seat, terrified she would rip more hair out of my head. The ride seemed endless. At last, we pulled into the driveway of Charlotte’s new home: a farm that used animal’s blood for medical research. Every day, someone would take a vial of Charlotte’s blood and use it to develop medicines.

I watched as one of the lab personnel attempted to drag Charlotte away from my father. She resisted – her long ears standing parallel to her head. Suddenly, she looked up at the man who was pulling her and all at once she relaxed. Without giving us another glance, Charlotte walked alongside the man, her head held high. She had replaced my father … or she was eyeing this new guy’s hair and planning her next scalping.

 

 

 

Inappropriate Family Photos

Several times a year my grandparents would pack up their RV (including their toy poodle with rust colored fur and chronic bad breath) and travel across the country. We’d learn of their whereabouts from postcards that would arrive periodically in our mailbox. Their destinations were an odd assortment of common tourist attractions and strange places off the beaten path: the Ozarks, Grand Canyon, Virginia Beach (we received a postcard declaring that Virginia is for lovers with my grandmother’s frilly handwriting, “That’s Us!” inside the heart).

Their travels were documented in a photo album that was displayed on the coffee table in their living room. My mother and I would languidly flip through the album when we visited. The photographs were fairly repetitive: my grandmother standing in front of some touristy sign or statute, clutching her purse and smiling as my grandfather snapped her picture. Or the two of them together, their smiles frozen as they waited for a kind stranger to figure out how to work their camera and take the picture.

My mother and I swallowed yawns as we leafed through the pages of this album. My grandparents seemed less interested in taking snapshots of their surroundings and more interested in pictures of themselves.

Especially when they visited the Poconos.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Poconos, it is an area in northeastern Pennsylvania that is known for its mountains and romantic getaways. During the 1970s – 1990s, resorts popped up like gophers catering to couples who were just dying to relax in heart shaped jacuzzis, circular beds and gigantic, seven foot champagne bubble baths. Competition between resorts was fierce. They battled to outdo one another for the most “alluring” room names: Paradise Stream, Cove Haven, Fantasy and Garden of Eden are just a few of the names given to some of these horrendously gaudy rooms.

While we never received a postcard from the Poconos, evidently my grandparents sojourned in one of these atrocious hotels, because they documented it in the photo album they left on the coffee table in their living room.

Nestled between the pictures of my grandmother wearing her floppy sunhat and standing outside of the Alamo, was a photograph of her wearing a blue negligee and kneeling on a white furry rug. Next to this photograph was my grandfather, donned in blue Speedo underwear, sprawled on the same furry rug and smiling mischievously at the camera.

Thankfully, the pictures stopped there. (And thankfully, they didn’t ask some stranger to pop into their hotel room – which was probably named The Love Nest – to take pictures of them together on the furry rug.)

My mother and I saw these Pocono pictures at the same time. My mother recoiled, as though she had seen something strange and hideous.

“Good heavens!” she said.

I let out a whooping holler of laughter as my mother snapped the photo album shut.

“I think we’ve seen everything we need to see.”

But there are certain things you can’t … un-see. My grandparents racy Pocono photographs are forever burned in my brain. Why they would choose to place those salacious photographs in the album is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they viewed them no differently than the other innocuous shots: saying cheese in front of the Liberty Bell, posing next to a palm tree in South Carolina, scantily clad and smiling seductively from a shag rug in a Pocono hotel room.

Or perhaps they snickered conspiratorially as they slipped the risque photographs in the plastic sleeves.

“Just wait until the kids and grandkids see these! And they think we’re just visiting places like Strubridge Village.”

 

 

A TV Evangelist and A Woodchuck

Everything was yellow: the exterior vinyl siding, the front door, the walls in every room, the furniture and even the shag rug on the living room floor. For a moment I suspected a humongous bottle of French’s Yellow Mustard had exploded, drenching the 1950s Cape with its contents. But no – it was simply the house of my most recent Hospice patient.

Her name was Connie and she was in her seventies. I knew her terminal disease was a slow going one, unlike some of the illnesses that stole the lives of our patients before we even had an opportunity to form a relationship with them. I also knew I could not – under any circumstance – visit Connie between the hours of eight and ten in the morning, and two and four in the afternoon. Those four hours were strictly off limits to any Hospice workers.

“What’s going on between eight and ten, and two and four?” I asked Connie’s Hospice nurse before my first visit.

She laughed and shook her head, “That’s when Steve is on.”

“Steve?”

“Steve Brock.”

“Who’s he?”

“Some TV evangelist.”

“No way! Really?”

“Really. She’s like, crazy about him. Everything stops when he comes on. Once she made me go home and I wasn’t even finished with my evaluation.”

As I followed Connie’s voice through the house, I found her sitting in a recliner chair that was positioned in front of a huge television. Her hair was a mess of white curls and she was wearing make-up. For a Hospice patient, she looked pretty spry. Her eyes narrowed when I entered the room.

“Which one are you?” she barked.

I sighed. Typically, social workers were the duds of the Hospice team. Unlike the nurses who brought comforting medicines, the volunteers who provided respite for the caregivers, or the aides who cleaned and cooked, the social workers were the “talkers” and, generally, our services were deemed unimportant and intrusive to most patients.

“I’m the social work intern.”

Now it was my turn to narrow my eyes. I had noticed the excessive number of picture frames scattered around the room, and they all seemed to contain pictures of the same man. Connie followed my gaze.

“Go ahead,” she said, her voice instantly warming.

I reached and took one of the frames, and then another. They were all Polaroid photographs, and it appeared the pictures were of … Connie’s television screen. Or a man on Connie’s television screen. I blinked. She had taken a Polaroid picture of a man on her TV screen and framed it. And not just one, but dozens.

“That’s Steve,” Connie explained.

“Steve Brock.”

“Yes! You know of him?” Connie sat up straighter in her chair.

“Yes, actually.”

I put the picture frames back in their place and pulled a chair next to Connie. Her eyes were closed, reminding me of a teenage girl swooning over the music of a rock band.

“Tell me about Steve.” I prompted.

Connie’s eyes fluttered open. “He’s so strong and handsome! And you should hear his voice. When he sings I get chills. That’s why I send him money every time he asks … and he writes back!”

Before I could respond, Connie reached into a basket that was half hidden under a folded blanket next to her recliner. She handed me a pile of papers.

“Read them,” she urged.

Carefully, I unfolded the first letter. It was a standard “thank-you-for-your-contribution” letter with Steve Brock’s signature stamped at the bottom. When I raised my eyes to Connie’s she was looking at me expectantly. To her, these were personal communications. She thought this TV evangelist had thanked her personally – many times – for her money.

“These are … lovely,” I stammered.

My freshly minted social work brain knew I was supposed to be doing something social worky. I should ask her about her husband! That’s it! Maybe there was some link between her deceased husband and this intense infatuation with a man on television. Or perhaps her father! What about him? What would make this dying woman latch onto – and give her money away to – some lounge singer sounding, dyed brown haired TV evangelist?

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie said, suddenly.

“Excuse me?”

Quickly, I shifted gears from the TV evangelist/dead spouse/father link to a pet woodchuck. I looked around the yellow room, expecting to see the rodent lumber in and sit by my feet.

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie repeated, somewhat exasperated, as though she were growing annoyed. “His name is Chucky.”

“I … I’ve never heard of having a woodchuck as a pet,” I stammered.

Connie raised an eyebrow. Clearly, she deemed me a moron.

“He doesn’t live in the house. He lives outside.”

“Oh!”

“Aren’t you going to ask me how I know Chucky is male?” Connie asked.

This visit was not going as planned. I hadn’t even approached the topic of her illness. I could envision my supervisor, shaking her head in disappointment. When would I learn?

“Um … how do you know Chucky is male?”

“I checked and saw Chucky didn’t have nipples.”

Whoa! What have we here? Connie was checking woodchucks for nipples, after giving her money away to a TV evangelist whom she believed was writing her personal thank you notes in return. Either her disease was affecting her brain or she had a history of mental illness – but her medical history didn’t state either. She was simply quirky.

I sat back in my chair and smiled. 

“Tell me about Chucky.”

And she did.

Eventually Connie was discharged from Hospice because her illness stopped progressing. She seemed indifferent to the news she wasn’t going to die within six months, and relieved Hospice would no longer be traipsing through her home several times a week. We left her exactly as we found her: swooning over her TV evangelist, with a pet woodchuck named Chucky.

For all I know, she is still sending Steve Brock her money, cherishing his letters, and checking woodchucks for their gender.

There Goes The Neighborhood

It took us awhile to figure out that something was a bit … off. Our house was lovely on the surface: a charming 1932 colonial with a white picket fence outlining the yard. Very Leave It To Beaver-ish. We loved our house. Our neighbor’s homes were equally sweet, with manicured lawns and picturesque front porches. Our neighbors were kind, hard working people and we all looked out for one another. We loved our neighbors.

And yet, the signs were becoming more frequent. More glaringly obvious. Eventually, we could no longer deny the fact: the neighborhood was changing.

At first we played cheerfully dumb.

“Will you look at this! Another empty pizza box was thrown on our front lawn!” I said to my husband, “but this time it had a skull cap next to it.”

Or

“Some of the neighborhood kids must be doing an art project! I just found an empty can of spray paint on the sidewalk!” I sang as I placed the spray paint can in our recycling bin.

But you can only look through rose colored glasses for so long. Soon, I started paying attention to our surroundings.

“Does your neighborhood park have its garbage cans chain linked to the trees?” I asked my friend who lives in Georgia.

“Um, NO,” she said.

“Huh. Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Soon the kids will be able to read the graffiti, so we won’t be going there anymore.”

“You have graffiti in your neighborhood park?”

Oh geez. Then there was the issue of our paper delivery. When the paper delivery guy decided to actually deliver the paper, that is. (Delivery was always a bit sketchy.) On days he felt like giving us our paper, he would arrive after nine in the morning, and we could hear the muffler of his car long before he pulled onto our street.

William was another problem. During the winter, our doorbell would inevitably ring on snowy days. I’d open the front door to find William standing on our steps brandishing a snow shovel over his shoulder. (Sometimes. Once or twice he asked to borrow our snow shovel so he could shovel our sidewalk.)

“For ten dollars I can shovel your sidewalk,” he said.

I peered over his shoulder.

“But my husband already shoveled the sidewalk.”

“I can do it again.”

William would proceed to tell me how he needed the ten dollars for gas so he could drive to work. Always a softie (or insanely naive) I would give William ten dollars to shovel our already clean sidewalk. My husband put a stop to William’s visits, however, when he rang our doorbell late one night and asked for an advance on the next snow shoveling job. It was May.

After awhile, picking up garbage from my front lawn became tiring. As did calling the police on a regular basis, only to be told they were “swamped.” When our daughter came home from second grade and called out,

“Hey Mommy! Where you at?”

We knew it was time to move.

Three months later we sold our charming, beloved 1932 colonial and moved into a nondescript ranch in a quiet suburban neighborhood. The only menace are the herds of deer who trample through my flower beds and give me bored stares when I run outside, waving my arms, in a pathetic attempt to shoo them away.  If I find garbage on my lawn, it’s the mail I have accidentally dropped when collecting it out of my mailbox. Life is quiet and simple, and as much as I miss our former neighbors and the charm of our colonial, I recognize this is where we should be.

I also realize that part of the allure of living in our former neighborhood was the plethora of entertaining stories I always had on hand. Whenever there was ever an awkward lull in a conversation, all I had to do was mention the time I hid behind our fence and blew bubbles that floated over the street and surprised cars and pedestrians. And there was always Dave, our white, elderly mailman who had gangsta rap blaring from his mail truck.

Stories about flower-eating deer don’t make people perk up and lean forward nearly as much as when I tell people about the time we were relaxing in our screened in porch, and someone drove by and threw a Boston Market chicken carcass out their window. Until deer learn to drive, the old neighborhood will always win.

Nice Try

“To invent,” said Thomas Edison, “you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Many people took those words to heart when perhaps they shouldn’t have. Below are a few examples.

In 1941, a Mrs. D. M. Ackerman of Hollywood, California designed a Vacuum Beauty Helmet. Also known as the Glamour Bonnet, the Vacuum Beauty Helmet was supposed to improve your complexion by sucking air out of the helmet, resulting in decreased atmospheric pressure and thus glowing skin. (And I assume: fainting ladies.) Shockingly, the Vacuum Beauty Helmet was not a success and was quickly declared a failure. 

"You can't WHAT? I can't hear you with the vacuum running!"

“You can’t WHAT? I can’t hear you with the vacuum running!”

By 1963, people were bone tired of answering their phones. Just think – this was way before caller ID and answering machines. Whoever was on the opposite end of that ringing phone was anybody’s guess. Thus the Phone Answering Robot was invented. How lovely! Or … not really.  Would you want this thing in your home?

No thanks. I'd rather just answer the phone myself.

No thanks. I’d rather answer the phone myself.

Not only was the Phone Answering Robot rather large and downright creepy, it didn’t talk. This left its tasks to nothing more than picking up the phone, and not so much answering the phone. Thus, no one was waiting in lines on Black Friday hoping to purchase the Phone Answering Robot (that really didn’t answer the phone). Everyone had to wait until the 1980s for answering machines to be readily available.

Another dud invention was the Cigarette Umbrella, for all of those cigarette smokers who like their cigarettes dry but didn’t mind getting wet themselves. Because otherwise, wouldn’t they just use a regular umbrella? That way, they would stay dry and so would their cigarette.

I may be soaking wet, but at least my cigarette is nice and dry!

I may be sopping wet, but at least my cigarette is nice and dry.

Perhaps that is the very reason why the Cigarette Umbrella didn’t fly off the shelves and regular umbrellas did.

The last sad invention is on a personal note.  My father had some strange inventions of his own. Or rather, just really bad ideas.

His first invention was a type of chimney cleaner. My parents had recently moved into their home and the only form of heating the house possessed was a wood stove. As my father stood in the living room, surveying the home’s primitive heating system, he realized that cleaning the stovepipe would be wise before its first use. However, that was when common sense stopped. Deep within the recess of my father’s brain a voice told him that hiring a professional chimney cleaning service was unnecessary. The only thing those men would do – he reasoned – would be to clean the stovepipe with a scrub brush. A scrub brush that is similar in shape and form to a … pine tree.

Off my father went, chainsaw in hand, into the patch of woods behind the house and returned with a small pine tree. He proceeded to climb onto the roof and lower the pine tree into the stovepipe. He intended on scrubbing the pipe with the pine tree, but there is a reason professional chimney cleaners don’t use trees to clean chimneys. (Bert in Mary Poppins danced on the London rooftops with a Chimney Brush – not a Blue Spruce.) Tree branches aren’t flexible. Trunks don’t bend.

When my mother returned home from grocery shopping, she found a pine tree suspended from the stovepipe in her ceiling. The tree was stuck. Ash and soot were everywhere. The white curtains she had hung on the living room windows were now a dull gray. My mother put down the grocery bags, summoned me and my brother, and packed us in the car where she proceeded to drive to her sister’s house in Rhode Island. She said it was the only action she could think of to save their marriage.

So I would like to add to Mr. Edison’s famous quote: To invent, you need a good imagination, a pile of junk, and some common sense.

All photographs are property of Google images

Eddie and Annie

It was a Thanksgiving unlike any other. Joining our family were two people from the soup kitchen where my mom volunteered.

My mother had decorated the table just as she would for any holiday: a linen tablecloth, her best dishes, lit candles and fancy napkins. Soft music played in the background. However, this year extended family did not surround the table. Instead, sitting at the table were Annie and Eddie.

Eddie wasn’t homeless, but I strongly doubted his home had running water. He wreaked of unwashed skin and filthy clothes. His fingernails were caked with dirt. Eddie had cerebral palsy and needed a cane to walk. His speech was slow and slurred, and often his words were so garbled they were unintelligible. Eddie was also fond of collecting items he found on the streets on his way to the soup kitchen. He would proudly display these trinkets. For example, when he visited our home, he wore a belt covered with bottle caps. People always knew when Eddie was approaching because they could hear his knickknacks jingling and jangling from afar.

Annie sat to Eddie’s right. Annie resided in a government subsidized motel. Even though Annie’s motel room had running water, she chose to douse herself with what smelled like gallons of inexpensive perfume – as though she were attempting to mask an unpleasant odor. Annie would also paint layers of makeup on her face, giving herself a clown-like appearance. Annie was also a scowler. If she enjoyed having Thanksgiving at our house, you would never have known.

The meal proceeded like any other, except for my trying to chew and swallow while holding my breath. At six years old, I knew Eddie was a kind man and I could tell he was absolutely thrilled to be having dinner in our home, but his body odor was overpowering. Annie’s perfume did nothing to mask Eddie’s smell. Instead, it made a rather nauseating combination.

Dinner conversation consisted of Eddie telling stories at painstakingly long lengths as he struggled to pronounce words. When he reached the the end of a story, Eddie would burst out laughing. My  parents, brother and I would exchange glances that read, “Did you understand that?” “No. I was hoping you did.” We would smile and laugh with Eddie, hoping he would never suspect our ignorance. Annie glowered and poked at her turkey.

After dessert it was time to bring Annie and Eddie back to their homes. I climbed into my parent’s Datsun, squished between Eddie and Annie in the backseat. The smell of Eddie’s unwashed clothes and body and Annie’s perfume was overwhelming, and I couldn’t wait for this Thanksgiving to end. I couldn’t understand why my mother would want Annie and Eddie at our Thanksgiving dinner. As far as I was concerned, the meal had been ruined by Eddie’s stench and dirty fingernails. Annie’s grumpiness hadn’t help much either.

Looking back, I now understand how my mom was able to see past Eddie’s unwashed body and soiled clothes. She saw a kind man who had no one to share Thanksgiving with, and if it weren’t for my mom, he would have spent Thanksgiving alone. For my mom, it was an honor to provide Eddie with a Thanksgiving meal and company.

As for Annie, my mom treated her unhappiness with love and warmth. My mom suspected Annie’s past was not an easy one, so she did not begrudge Annie’s lack of gratefulness. My mom didn’t need Annie to say the food was delicious or that she was thankful to be invited. Watching Annie (who was dressed in costume jewelry and her usual layers of makeup) eat meant more to my mom than any thanks Annie could have given.

We dropped Annie off at her motel room before driving deep into the woods to Eddie’s home. The night sky was brilliant, filled with stars brighter than any I had ever seen. Eddie’s house was at the end of a dirt road. It looked like something I would have seen drawn in a children’s Halloween book. There was no electricity and the front steps were leaning precariously to the side. They were also coated with ice. I sat in the car, watching Eddie slowly climb his front stairs poking the ice with his cane before cautiously taking a step. My father – who was following Eddie – paused to chip some of the ice off the steps before he and my mom made sure Eddie was safely inside.

When my parents returned, we immediately rolled down all of the windows to air out the car. Eddie’s smell and Annie’s perfume seemed to have permeated our noses and the vinyl seats.  We drove home silent and thoughtful – the brisk November air bathing our faces. While I couldn’t wait for that Thanksgiving to end, I still think about it thirty years later.

Your Memoir

If you were to write a memoir, what would it contain? First, let me define “memoir.” The Oxford Dictionary states that a memoir is, “a biography written from personal knowledge.” O“an essay on a learned subject.”

When I think of a memoir, I envision a thick book just filled with pages upon pages of life events written by someone notable. (Think Bill Clinton’s My Life or Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.) Since I haven’t turned forty yet, it seems premature to write a biographical memoir.

But an essay on a learned subject? Well! Now that is doable.

Yet, there are a multitude of learned subjects I would love to discuss in my memoir. I can’t help but feel limiting it to only one subject would be withholding crucial life lessons that could aid my readers. What if the below tidbits dramatically change your life? So, at risk of breaking all literary convention, I present you with The Underground Writer’s Memoir.

Baking powder and baking soda are two entirely different things. Ask my family. They learned this brutal truth several Sundays ago when I tried to make pancakes from scratch. The recipe called for baking powder. In my hasty, caffeine infused rush, I accidentally used baking soda. Twice. (Since I tossed the first batch after my husband and daughter said the pancakes tasted acidic … and resembled amoebas.)

Don’t be fooled by the song, “Send In The Clowns” by Judy Collins. You may think this is a peppy tune since the word “clown” is in the title. Trust me, it’s not peppy. There is no circus music, as one might expect. In fact, it just might be the most depressing song in the history of music. Whatever you do, DON’T put this song in the music queue for your child’s birthday. Unless you want to curl up into a ball and sob your eyes out, I recommend staying away from the song altogether.

Not everyone finds the surgery you had as fascinating as you do. When I was fourteen, my parents invited friends over for dinner. The man brought the video of his recent cataract surgery. He really thought we wanted to watch it. Out of kindness we did, but it was such an awkward moment: sitting in the living room, the taste of dessert still fresh on our tongues, as we watched this guy’s eyeball get stitched back together.

No one can prepare you for how insanely difficult it is to be a parent. I’m not referring to such incidents as your teenager having an attitude, or your eight your old who still refuses to eat anything green. I am talking about that deep, penetrating ache you feel when your child comes home from school and says they spent recess alone, again. Or that suffocating panic when the pediatrician calls with test results they find concerning. As Erma Bombeck so eloquently stated, “Having children is forever deciding to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

While these life lessons aren’t exactly groundbreaking or revelational, if they help a part of your day be a bit easier, then my memoir of lessons learned was an (unpublished) success .

A Metal Pole And The First Day of School

On the first day of kindergarten, I walked into a metal pole. This is completely understandable, given the fact I was gawking at the big kids streaming into the building. There I was, watching the big kids, when all of a sudden: SMACK. My five year old blond head rammed into one of the poles that supported the school entrance’s overhang.

I stumbled backwards, dropping my lunchbox. Whether it was from the pain of the welt forming on my forehead or the sheer humiliation, I began to cry. This was also completely understandable. I still cry easily. Frantically, I looked around for my older brother who had received strict instructions from my mom to keep an eye on me.

When Vincent heard my wailing I am certain he groaned. (Remember, I cried easily.) Through watery eyes I saw him leave his group of cool third grade friends and make his way to where I was standing. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember his sheer embarrassment. Couldn’t I even walk into the entrance without incident?

Vincent led me to the nurse – walking ahead in hopes that no one would realize I was his little sister. Cool Vinnie couldn’t possibly have a whiny, blubbering little sister who walks into poles? Well, let me tell you – he did.

Upon arriving to the nurses’ office, Vincent turned and fled, leaving me alone with the school nurse who seemed large and old. And grumpy. She handed me an ice pack and told me to sit on the brown vinyl chair next to her desk. I heard morning announcements on the PA system. I watched stronger, braver kids who didn’t walk into metal poles pass by the office.

I wanted the nurse to call my mom so I could go home. I needed my mom to kiss my forehead and make this all better. The ice pack wasn’t doing anything, except freezing my skin so it felt like it was being pinched. Where was my mom? She was supposed to rescue me from these situations.

Eventually the school nurse remembered I was there, removed the ice pack and sent me to my kindergarten classroom. Miraculously I remembered the way my brother had led me, and I retraced my steps to the school’s entrance. At the end of the hall I could see my kindergarten classroom – the door open – waiting. I hurried to the class, my Smurf lunchbox thumping against my leg.

I burst through the door to find children sitting primly at their desks.

“You’re late,” my teacher said.

It was then I realized my mom couldn’t rescue me from all situations. I was going to have to handle these life events on my own. I found my desk, sat down, and turned my eyes to the teacher. But only after I started crying first.

For A Good Time Call…

When my husband and I bought our first home, the phone company gave us a new telephone number. The number we were given was recycled – meaning, it had previously belonged to someone else.  That “someone else” happened to be a girl named LaShawn.

Within a few days of receiving our new telephone number, it became clear that being the recipients of LaShawn’s old number was going to be a problem. Our first inkling occurred around 3 in the morning, when the sound of our ringing phone jarred me from sleep. I frantically jumped out of bed, fearing someone was calling with an emergency.

“LaShawn baby,” the voice growled, “It’s Tyrone. Where you at?”

“LaShawn?” I repeated, feeling instant relief. Everyone was okay. “I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”

I was climbing back into bed when Tyrone called a second time. Tyrone was clearly disappointed when I answered, and he was even more disappointed when I explained that no, LaShawn was still not here, and I had no idea who she was – or where she lived.

Several nights later, we were sound asleep when the phone rang again. It was another man looking for LaShawn. When a third man called several nights after that, we started to suspect two things: first, LaShawn was popular with the gents. And second, she was giving out her old telephone number (which was now our new number) to men she didn’t want contacting her. I had a vision of LaShawn – young, slender and pretty – tearing off a slip of paper and writing down our telephone number for some creep who kept hounding her for a date. If these men hadn’t been calling our house at all hours of the night in their futile attempts to reach LaShawn, I may have found her idea clever.

At some point, it occurred to LaShawn that she could give our number to everyone, and not just the men hounding her for a late night rendezvous.  Soon, banks, medical offices, and even her family started to call. Our phone began to ring off the hook, with all sorts of people looking for LaShawn.

“LaShawn! It’s Aunt Tiana! Where you been hiding at girl?”

“Hi Aunt Tiana,” I said wearily, “But this isn’t LaShawn’s number anymore.”

“It ain’t?” Aunt Tiana said, “How can that be? She just gave me this number!”

“I know, I’m sorry. But this number used to be LaShawn’s. You see, my husband and I just moved into this house and the phone company gave us LaShawn’s old number.”

“Damn!” Aunt Tiana said, “Wait till I get my hands on that girl! Trying to give me her old number like that!”

“When you do,” I said, “Could you tell LaShawn that her doctor’s office called? And the results of her pap smear are in?”

“I sure will! Now, you take care! And enjoy your new house!”

“Thanks Aunt Tiana.”

Unfortunately, not all of the calls for LaShawn were as pleasant as Aunt Tiana. Our phone rang constantly throughout the day from creditors (let me be the first to tell you that LaShawn owed a lot of money, and didn’t seem too keen on paying these people back), social service departments, and former boyfriends.

I finally called our phone company in desperation and explained what was occurring. The representative was apologetic – and slightly intrigued – for the many intrusive calls we were receiving on behalf of LaShawn.  For an $80 fee, we could get a new telephone number. I asked if we could have a brand new number, one that had never belonged to anyone else. While that wasn’t possible, the representative explained, she could find a telephone number that had formerly been used for a computer modem. I took it.

Twenty minutes later, our new telephone number was active and our phone became strangely silent. When the phone did ring, it was someone actually calling for me, and not LaShawn. It felt like an older, popular sister had moved out of the house taking all of the drama with her.

Sometimes I think about LaShawn, and wonder if she’s made her Chase credit card payments, or if she and Aunt Tiana finally connected. I also really hope Aunt Tiana gave LaShawn the message about her pap smear results.

The Prostitute

I didn’t notice her enter the Hallmark store. I was up to my elbows in Mother’s Day cards, attempting to find one that didn’t have “mother” scrawled dramatically across the front in cursive letters. (I don’t know about you, but I have never, ever, called my mom ‘mother’ – but apparently Hallmark seems to think that is quite common.) It was then that I noticed the two teenage employees whispering and pointing to something behind me.

Turning, I saw a prostitute looking at cards. She was clad in thigh-high, high heeled boots, miniskirt, and a shirt that exposed her stomach. Basically, she resembled Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman before she cleans up. The prostitute then moved to where I was standing and, shamefully, I lowered my head and acted as though I was engrossed in what I was reading.

I tried to focus on finding a card for my mom, but I have to admit it was a challenge. The prostitute reeked of powdery perfume that was so strong I could practically taste it. The two employees were also doing a not-so-subtle job of watching her. Each time I  reached for a different card I couldn’t help but notice the two teenage employees who were whispering to one another and staring at the prostitute. When I finally found a card I liked, I approached the cash register only to stand behind the prostitute I had been trying so hard to ignore.

She was digging around in her denim purse before she carefully placed the money, a dollar at a time, on the counter. Avoiding eye contact with the prostitute, the one teenage employee who was operating the cash register took the money with her fingertips and quickly dropped it into the cash drawer, as though the money were contaminated.

The prostitute asked the two teenage employees if she could borrow a pen. The other teenage employee mechanically handed a pen over and stared, speechless, as the prostitute bent over her Mother’s Day card and wrote. As the prostitute filled out her card, the two employees nonchalantly looked down at what she was writing  before looking at one another and smirking.

“Thank you,” the prostitute said as she handed the pen back.

Without a word, the teenage employee took the pen and continued to stare as the the prostitute left the store.

The other teenage employee exhaled, as though she had been holding her breath.  “Did you see that?” she asked me.

“Yes.  She was pretty hard not to notice,” I answered as I put my card on the counter.

“Did you see what she wrote?” the teenage employee asked. Without waiting for an answer she said, “She wrote ‘Happy Mother’s Day Mommy’.  But get this: she spelled “mommy” m-o-m-e-e.  She didn’t know how to spell mommy!”

Both girls burst out laughing.

I paid for my card and left.  As I headed towards my car I saw the the prostitute walking down the road, clutching the Hallmark bag that contained the card she had so carefully chosen for her mom.

We rarely see these women in such common places as a Hallmark store or grocery market. And no wonder. Even I admit that I stole a few glances at her. And yet, we forget that they were once little girls who giggled and wore nightgowns and loved ice cream. We forget that these women were once little girls who dreamed of being a princess, or of growing up to be a movie star. But something terrible happened to them.

After her purchase, the prostitute was headed back to the streets; back to pimps, drugs, and abuse. This was not the Hollywood version of prostitution. I am sure she wished Richard Gere was waiting to rescue her from the horrors of her lifestyle.

I think it’s safe to say that it is only out of desperation that a woman (or worse yet: girl) becomes a prostitute. It’s not as if she woke up one morning and said, “Ya know, I think I am going to leave this perfectly good job and have sex with strange men for money despite the risk of disease and my personal safety.” The majority of prostitutes, if not all, fall into it as a desperate way to support a drug addiction or as a result of past sexual abuse. Usually both.

While her lifestyle was vastly different than mine, she still had a love for her “momee.” The prostitute and I were looking at the same cards, each thinking of our own moms.  The love she had for her mom was no less than the love I have for mine. Yet, I was not subjected to whispers, mocking and judgement when I purchased my Mother’s Day Card.

Later that day as I filled out the card for my mom, I couldn’t stop thinking of the prostitute. I wish I had made eye contact with her. I wish I had smiled and said hello. That would have made my mom prouder than anything I wrote in her card.

Special thanks to Heather Dellamore, editor extraordinaire,  for her thoughts and guidance while writing this.