Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday, 2/29/12

Leap Day comes once every four years and Kendra accepts it as extra. On this one day nothing is lost because everything is a gift. It's an outlier day on the calendar, a day in which she takes everything as freely given.

Kendra wishes she could view every day in this light: a gift of time. Pure. But it's difficult to maintain that high level of optimism on a daily basis. She'd have to drop a few IQ points. Once every four years will have to do.

Kendra sits at the kitchen table and stirs soy milk into her coffee. It's four in the morning and everyone in the neighborhood is asleep. This is her second Leap Day as a parent, the first in which her kids are old enough to get it.

Isn't this how kids see every day? A gift of time from the vast universe, no end in sight. She probably said something like this herself before having kids of her own. Now she understands that this is nothing but bumper sticker bullshit. No one gives kids any credit. They're not blind. They have bad days.

She used to cry when she was a kid at the thought of growing up. She thought she'd never have whole empty days again, never have a minute to herself. It turns out she was more or less correct, but it's not as bad being grown up as she thought it would be. That's what her mother told her at the time, and her mother was right. "It happens gradually," she said. "You get used to it."

"Never!" Kendra thought back then. But it's true. You do.

Kendra vows to really listen today. She's working a half day seeing patients, and then the rest of the day at home. The house is a mess, but so be it. She will not clean on Leap Day. Or maybe that's exactly what she should do. The kids will be in school, Joe's gone this week to a meeting in Denver. She'll pour all of her energy into cleaning the house. It'll be like a workout. She'll do it with ankle weights.

This is how a life passes, she thinks, staring at her reflection in the big, black kitchen window. Leap Day to Leap Day, forever cleaning the house, forever trying to get out of it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday, 2/27/12

It almost got to the point where she was afraid to run, every little twinge magnified and amplified forboding weeks of layoff or worse. You just never knew. Sometimes the little aches simply went away, sometimes they turned ugly. No telling. She was afraid to do the thing she loved for fear of losing the thing she loved. This was a psychologically dangerous game.

Other people's bodies recovered easily, or they didn't. No big deal. Others seemed more tolerant of bodily imperfection. She honestly doesn't understand this. She'd never have great abs or a high, tight ass. These things were out of the question and she accepted that. No one with six naturally born children could expect toned abdominals. Why was she so competitive? Six kids, high toned abs? What was she thinking? Why did she care?

As it was, she'd taken to swimming while all of her running overuse injuries healed. Her four older kids swam on various swimteams. The younger two were more into team sports. Soccer, baseball, lots of standing around. She'd let her guard down with those last two. Soft.

She'd picked up enough at all of those swim meets to put together a decent set of strokes. She could do them all: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, even butterfly. She senses that swimming may have been her real calling, not running. She has a swimmer's body, the kind of body that can go the way of the spider if you're not careful. Long and lean with a bit of a middle. Anything extra goes right to the middle.

She bought five or six books and figured out how to change her running stride. She switched from a heel striker to a forefoot striker, as is all the rage, and her injuries disappeared. It was difficult to change 45 years of bone and muscle structure, but she did it. She has hamstrings now. The hamstrings are new.

There's no beating time. It will all go soft in the end. At some level she realizes this, but she's vigilant. Her children's bodies are perfect, every one of them. They're all vegetarian, intense yet quiet people, not an extrovert in the bunch, though those last two may turn on her. They might go over to the other side. She's worried they could grow up to be Republicans. What with the Little League and the Pop Warner it's becoming increasingly likely.

This will ruin Thanksgiving for the rest of time, she thinks. Ten years from now if she wants everyone home for the holiday she'll have to cook a real turkey. Jesus. At least they all might go for a run together afterwards. At least they'll all be in decent shape. At least she'll have that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday, 2/24/12

Mollie has finally settled. She's older now, approaching 50 at alarming speed, 50 being something of a barrier. Her mother died at 50, no warning, nothing to be done. Her heart gave out, simple as that.

After several successful years on the racing circuit, where her height and those thighs finally payed off, and several more coaching, speaking and giving 2- and 4-day clinics all over the country, after almost 30 years of living out of a Winnebago, Mollie has bought a house. This is it, she thinks. This is the place I will die.

She bought a little house on the river six months ago. The old couple who had lived there for 65 years finally succumbed. They couldn't keep the place up, moved across town to a nursing home. Mollie visits from time to time, talks about the house. The man can sometimes follow what she's saying, give advice. The woman is too far gone. She thinks Mollie is her daughter's friend and always looks happy to see her. Mollie doesn't think they get many visitors. Which strikes her as odd. Isn't that why people stay in one place so long? So lots of people will visit them in the nursing homes, fill the church for their funerals? It doesn't pay to outlive your friends.

Mollie's mother's funeral was packed to the gills. The family alone filled a quarter of St. Anne's, then all of her friends, her five children's friends. Her husband's patients and workmates. The crowd had spilled out to the street.

Mollie has done a lot to the house. Besides riding her bike every day for long hours, force of habit she guesses, most of her time and energy go into the house. She's starting from scratch, but she's not afraid to learn. She learned that Winnebago engine inside and out. The guys at the hardware store know her name. They don't talk down to her mainly because she's so tall. Clearly she's capable.

The first thing she did was take down the high picket fence fronting the road. That alone brought in more light than she knew what to do with. She whitewashed walls and cleaned the windows, added a little porch out back to sit and look at the river. It's a tiny house, all she's going to need.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Monday 2/22/12

The road is slick with slushy, spotily salted snow. Despite the hype, even the Subaru is having trouble. Why didn't she just stay home? The world of chemistry would survive a day without her. Doesn't Ken tell her that all the time?

Except she doesn't believe him. Not for a second. Her students will fuck everything up. They'll trudge across campus through the snow, hungover from Thursday night, to check on the tubes in the centrifuge machine that runs all night, and then let them defrost on the lab bench. They'll mess with her laser settings. They have no respect, no notion of how hard she works to keep it all going.

She tightens her fists on the steering wheel and navigates the hill. The car is dead quiet on the road. How did this happen? Life was so much easier before she agreed to get married, move out to the suburbs. When she lived across the street from campus, she could stay in the lab all night if she wanted, no one else the wiser.

What if she were six months pregnant, as Ken so wishes her to be? She wouldn't be out driving in this, that's for sure. The thought of staying home, of turning back, of missing all that will happen in the lab today, is impossible. Unthinkable, really. She's not six months pregnant.

But what if she were? Sometimes she tries to imagine it: giving birth, raising a child. If Ken was so keen on having kids, why did he marry her? He's probably thinking the same thing.

Her phone buzzes and chirps in her pocket. She puts him on speakerphone, secretly loving that he's checking up on her.

"Sarah, hey, did you make it?"

"I'm on Chucky's hill. It's really slow going."

"Okay, I won't keep you on the phone. I love you. Call me when you get there."

"Will do. Love you, too."

And she does. Against all odds, she'll call him when she gets there. He takes care of her, and she let's him. It's a new behavior. This visiting writing professor who turned out to be Ken actually swept her off her feet. No one at the time could believe it. The whole chemistry department walks on eggshells around her, and this guy waltzes in and marries her? Unbelievable.

She can't believe it herself.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday, 2/21/12

"Okay, pick up your pencils."

Why had she gotten high for this? She doesn't want to go to law school, clearly. She's taking the test for her mother, she thinks. Her mother is a high power attorney who thinks her daughter "has what it takes." Why she thinks that, Maybelle will never know.

May had gotten high for all of the LSAT prep classes. It was the only way to make them bearable. Taught by a jockish blond law student who obviously didn't give a shit about any of them, the class was held at night in the English building. So much different by night. The fluorescent lights gave her headaches when she wasn't stoned.

Her friend Dennis had told her to take the test high. He spoke with such authority, being Number One in the business school. "If you studied high, man, then you need to get into the same frame of mind. You need that instant access."

She wishes there were Twinkies available. The only time she really eats is when she's high. And then she runs a remorseful ten or even twenty miles the next day, whether she has classes or not. You can't let that shit get ahead of you. Freshman fifteen is for losers. May lost fifteen pounds in college. Depending on how you look at it, she probably didn't have fifteen pounds to lose.

Her pencil feels bendy in her hand. She thinks of her two roommates, also high, laying out on the quad right now in rolled down boxers and tye-dyed running bras. What she wouldn't give to be out there.

May looks at the test, concentrates. She answers a few questions and finds her groove.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday, 2/17

She wakes, as she does every morning even at the height of summer, in total darkness. No matter what time she goes to bed, she can't sleep past four unless she takes something, which she is loathe to do. No pills. The pills will kill you in the end. She prides herself on this, though she shares it with no one. She's seventy three years old and swallows no pills. This is how she defines herself. To herself.

She takes a brief survey of her body before resigning to the day. Left knee a little twingy, too bent up in the sheets. She slept on her sore shoulder and now it hurts. Her hands are drawn up into claws. It will take a warm shower to unclench them. She won't admit to arthritis or anything else. She hasn't had a pap smear since the Johnson administration, just after her last child was born.

Bert beside her sleeps on, ambien dreams and benedryl haze. He has no problem taking pills. To her its like admitting weakness. He's had his success in life. He's finished with all of that. She's still working. She feels her triumph is yet to come.

When she goes to the doctors' offices she readily accepts the prescriptions and fills them. Pain pills, sleeping pills, heart pills. But the moment she gets home she does not hesitate; she flushes them. It's the first thing she does when she gets in the door. She will not let these doctors control her body. She's gluten free! She'll live forever!

Today is Thursday, a running morning. She likes to get out before dawn on her running mornings: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. The 3 day schedule is her only concession to age. It keeps the tendinitis and the plantar fasciitis at bay. She doesn't necessarily want anyone outside of the neighborhood early-morning regulars to see her run. They are her tribe, the early morning people. Introverts mostly on strict "good morning" terms only. These are arguably the most important people in her daily life and she doesn't even know their names, wouldn't recognize them in regular clothes in daylight.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thursday, 2/16

Stuart is trying to wean himself off the blogs. He has a list of sixty regulars he checks every day. And that sixty generally leads to at least sixty more. Sidebar distractions, friends, relatives and co-hobbyists with his original group.

Stuart doesn't know these people, the bloggers. He came across them by accident when he started his own little blog three years ago. Stuart's thing is birding. Or it used to be before his thing (increasingly) became keeping up with sixty or more blogs every day.

Stuart lives in coastal Texas on the Gulf of Mexico, a birder's paradise. He moved here six years ago after his wife left him. Born and bred in Minneapolis, he needed something different. Warm winters and gulf waters seemed at the time to fit the bill. Now he's not so sure.

Despite everything, Stuart is drop-dead handsome. Women come easily to him, which turned out to be a problem for his wife. He loved his wife, still does, but she could never quite believe that. Or perhaps she couldn't make it matter to her. Geek love. He never cheated on her, wouldn't know how to begin. He's a nerd's nerd with moviestar good looks. His wife was geeky and humorless as well. Minus the looks. "Watcha doing with her?" all the gorgeous women used to whisper to him. In restaurants, the mall, Christ even in church. His wife must have wondered this too. She couldn't take the pressure. Borderline Aspergers, she was. She didn't have too much trouble making the break.

Stuart lacks charisma, but his heart nonetheless was broken. Stuart has a good heart. This is becoming the bane of his existence. It doesn't go with his face.

He started blogging a couple of years after he started birding, a natural extension of his morning walk. He takes exquisite photographs of migrating species seldom seen in most part's of the birders' universe and posts them on is site. "Birds Here" he calls it. He was surprised by the attention the photographs received, not quite comprehending the serendipity of his current location and new hobby. He certainly hadn't moved here for the birds. Hadn't even considered it.

None of his blogging "friends" know what Stuart looks like. He posts no photographs of himself. He gets enough attention as it is on his birdwalks. Women with binoculars meander in droves along his more frequent routes. He has taken to alternating trails and times to throw them off, but they're still out there. Have they nothing better to do?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thursday 2/15

Anne bends into the coop to check for eggs. The days are getting shorter and the girls are not laying as much. Her own days are getting shorter too. Time. That free expanse, her friend for so many years, is turning on her now. It's time to get started, she thinks. Her life is rolling by, all prep work and nothing to show for herself.

The last of the kids left a couple of years ago. It took months to resign herself to all of that. Time passes. The rooster bellies up to the edge of the run, stomps his feet and throws his head in the air. He crows. He's loud. He's in full possession of his life. No question about what he has to do today.

Everywhere she looks she sees mountains and low hills turning yellow and orange and red. Every year she paints this, but she's never gotten it right. She signs good morning to the beauty all around her. Her hands speak more freely than her voice. She sometimes wishes that she were born deaf. Less would be expected of her. This she knows well enough. She's been interpreting for deaf kids since high school, back when everyone thought it was either weird or cool.

She's thin and the air has a snap. She draws her sweater around her middle and watches the chickens. She hears her husband Bill come out onto the front porch with his coffee and a thick book. He's a reader, a photographer, the kindest man she has ever known. He doesn't share her angst. He's made of his life what he wanted. No complications there.

Anne walks to him slowly, her back to the mountains, her sweater pockets full of eggs. He smiles, eyes huge behind his reading glasses, and hands her her tea. The book, she now sees, is The Brothers Karamazov. Bill is in a Russian phase. His friend Millicent at the university where he teaches photography allows him to sit in on her classes. Her taste is eclectic. Russians this year, Romantics last year. Bill will read anything. He reads the coffee can every morning.

This is the house Bill grew up in. Or at least the spot where is childhood house used to be. Not much more than a shack when they moved in 30 years ago, the house has improved. Anne did all of that. Bill would have been perfectly happy in the shack, kids and all. Bill doesn't need much, but he does seem to need her. Photographs of her at every stage of adult life fill the rooms. Beautiful photographs, but a constant reminder of time passing. Time moving on.