Tag Archives: Home

Take It With You: Exploring Transition

hartwellScenario: You’re moving from the bell-towered historical building, Hartwell, which is haunted, and is named after the first president of the university you attended for six years and now teach at, to a shiny new building acronymed LAB, a term meant for scientists, but stands for Liberal Arts Building. You are an adjunct instructor of English and sometimes teach composition, and sometimes teach creative writing, and always become attached to students.

Do you pack your computer?

It’s not really yours, though you type this blog post from it as a farewell to the building you’ve become irrationally attached to, as you become irrationally attached to everything–a house you outgrew in just five years, the Steve Madden boots that trudged you through grad school, failed nuances of siblings and friend and exes (that can never quite achieve what reality did), or a coffee mug at a diner. Some people think you are crazy. You’ll pack it, a Dell, though you worry it might not boot up when you plug it in again. You spend the entire blog post wondering if there are instructions somewhere on how to pack a computer. Some items are scary to pack– you remember from when you moved last fall–like the antique lamp your mother gave you. You make a note to look, again, for the bronze lamp you fear you left behind.

Do you sneak something with you?

You’re not talking about something that’s specifically yours or specifically not yours, but that belongs to the building: a window pane, a brick, a light fixture (no: they were all replaced during a renovation in the 1990s, and are fluorescent and tick constantly and when you type for longer than ten minutes, because typing hardly registers any motion–your brain moves more than your body, the light turns off and it’s not the ghost, and you have to wave frantically to have light again).  You were instructed to pack the phone.  You pack the phone, and when you unplug it, wonder if anyone will call. You wish you could keep your key. You’ll pick up a small rock from the garden outside the building on your way out.

Do you cry?

No. Because that would be irrational, and you’ve considered turning over a new leaf, taking on the role of quiet neighbor and silent sister and wondering who you’ve become.  Last night, you read an article on your news feed, which is so full you feel like you could live for days on just water (you can’t even remember which publication the article was from), but it mentions the five regrets people have on their deathbeds, and one regret of the dying was that they wish they’d stood up more, spoken out more, and lived their lives the way they wanted without regard to money or other people’s emotions (what’s wrong with stirring emotions?), and you know you are on a good track because you have stacks of student loans and degrees and are a part-time faculty member at a school you are irrationally attached to, and you have or will upset more than a few people in the next few days.  You swear you just now heard a knock at the door to the office, and when you back up, you hit a huge empty box that you have been told is a good size for your computer, and when you manage to crane your neck to see who’s there, there is no one at the door.

Do you remember?

Bringing your nieces in for a tour of the building, telling them ghost stories about how there once was a pool, and people still sometimes heard splashing, and how a man had died in the cistern, and how the previous Collegiate Building had burned, and how the first Principal, back when it was a “normal school,” had a heart attack at the age of 35 in his office, and how ghosts were everywhere.  You had been their favorite aunt, scaring the wits out of them, and when the heavy wooden door closed just behind the three of you on your way down the stairwell, they shrieked, and you did too.

Remember your mother, who has just retired, at the café downstairs, having lunch with her at the tables, sitting with her on the benches outside the building while she smoked, how she fed your boys chocolate milk and bagels and huge cookies whenever you brought them in for a visit.

The time you hid under a desk one cubicle over because you mis-heard the PA announcement: “Active shooter in room 31” and thought you were on the brink of your death, grateful your son was at daycare and your husband at work, but the shooter, actually, was on Route 31, where you lived at the time, and the man with the gun was not in Hartwell–not just a room or floor away–but had been your neighbor, and your house stood small and proud in the news pictures while you were in Hartwell, safely away, and your family, too, and you laughed because you’d called your parents in what you thought were your last moments, under the desk, sitting next to this very computer, but then it became more horrific when you realized the man with the gun had been just houses down from your son when he slept last night.

Do you leave?

You’re tired from this tour you’ve taken and have one last thing to pack, though you’re still not sure it’s yours to pack, though you know you will need a computer in the LAB, and if you don’t, will it stay behind with all of your files? Then you stop for a minute because the sun shines through the window, and too much more comes to you, like how you and your husband spent hours reading in the Writers Forum office when you had been just friends and then the classes you’d taken with professors you now call friends, but you go too far back, and so everything turns into something else, and before you know it, time is nothing.

 

 

 

Advertisements

What to Say When There is Nothing

Kiddie Pool 01

Kiddie Pool 01 (Photo credit: katherine lynn)

Yesterday, the WHAM13 news alert popped up on my cell phone while my sons splashed in the kiddie pool in my mother’s backyard.

That night, my two little boys would spend the night with my mother so I could clean our house for a real estate showing.  I had just yelled at my four-year-old, Johnny, for splashing the water too hard, speckling my phone with droplets.  He and his little brother, Sammy, had been playing a game they play often, whether in a pool or not–one lies down, hurt, and the other saves him.

The news alert: Toddler Dies After Drowning in Daycare Swimming Pool.  I clicked the link.

Now, I cannot sleep.

The first thing I did after reading the text, was tell my father that the home-daycare was in Sweden Village–the small tract that my sister jokingly referred to as “Snob Hill” when I was a teenager, a name I hated–some of my best friends lived there.  We knew the owners of the daycare in our community, their family a part of our lives in small ways.  I thought my father might cry.

The second thing I did after reading the text, was call one of my best friends whose son attends daycare where this tragedy occurred, a brave move since I had no idea what to say or ask when she answered the phone.  He had not been at the daycare yesterday.

The third thing I did was sob with her on the phone for the pain.  We all want to understand the unthinkable so we might draw a circle around ourselves, some thin line to signify that we couldn’t be the family tragedy had struck, but there was no line.  I almost enrolled my two-year-old in that daycare.  And we’ve all been in charge of another’s child at some time.

The fourth thing I did was help my mother bail the water out of the plastic pool while Johnny and Sammy stood, wrapped in towels, giggling, eating Flavor Ice in the sun.

My mother had said, “Let me do it.  You don’t want to do this.”

I said, “No, I want to.  I have all this anxious energy.  Let me use it for something.”  I took the small pink tub that Park Ridge Hospital had sent home with me after the birth of my first son almost five years ago, a tub they now use to rinse the grass of their feet before they get in the pool, and scooped the water up, then heaved it out.  I tried with ferocity to grab more water than the tub could hold, to empty the alligator-printed pool in one movement, but every time the water splashed out of the tub, it still only looked like the small amount of water I could manage.  When the water was low enough for my mother and I to dump out, we tipped the pool over and soaked the lawn.  Nothing had changed.

The fifth thing I did was watch the news.  The boys put on their dry clothes and rode their bikes in my mother’s driveway.  We park my mother’s  little red Honda at the end to keep the boys from entering street traffic: two cars per hour.  Sometimes, John scoots his Lightning McQueen bike out past the red car, and I scream frantically at him:  “Get on this side of the car!”  He looks at me, bewildered, from beneath his helmet, as if he had the phrase, he might say, “Get a grip.”

I did many things then, but I only remember uttering parts of phrases, still crying a little.  Still wondering what things a mother does after entering this tragedy.  How could I be sure it hadn’t been me?  How didn’t I lose myself in her grief?  I stopped my imagination, so many times, from going to that moment, the horrible moment that will replay in the poor family’s life for years.

After I left John and Sam with my parents, I drove past the house that held the daycare, though I knew the only thing anyone in this tragedy needed right then was privacy.  I wanted to hug them all, to ask where God was, but I said little prayers in my head, and though I know few, I made something up in my mind that sounded good enough, and what could ever be good enough for these families anymore?

At home, I cleaned with bleach and Lysol.  I went on Facebook to look up photos of the child after they released his name, and sobbed to see the two-year-old’s smooth chubby face, his blond hair, the private moments eating popcorn from a Spiderman tub in front of the flat screen with his four-year-old brother, who would wake every morning to remember that someone was missing.  I cleaned more.

I called my parents to tell them what news I had learned.  I considered going to my childhood home so I could pick up my sons and hug them, bring them home with me and tuck them tight in their beds.

My parents told me not to let my mind “go there.”  But when I told my father that the toddler had a four-year-old brother, he said, “Oh God.”

My mother said, “Jesum.”

When my husband got home from work, I told him everything I knew about everything in the world that day, which was mostly the tragedy.  No one could give any answers to the questions I didn’t know to ask.

At 3:30 a.m., I went in my sons’ empty bedrooms on the way to the bathroom and, terrified, thanked God for them both.


How to Leave a Home

When your husband shows you the house, recently re-listed on Zillow, complain that he’s been cheating on your home again.  And worse, on the Internet.  You thought you’d agreed to stay here, to stay home, in this sweet corn-yellow colonial, but instead, you find yourself clicking through the photographs, imagining your children at play in the fenced backyard, their growth ticks on the moldings (original to the house!),  watching rainstorms from the screened porch.  You have arranged your furniture in the living room.

You go to the open house with your husband and both sets of parents.  Your mother gushes as though you don’t own a beautifully remodeled kitchen in your house with tall cream-colored cabinets, rich hand-scraped floors, a farmhouse sink, the kind of kitchen your colonial always dreamed of.  You and your husband spent hours deciding on details and he, weeks making it come to life.  It is as full as it could be.  It needs no second-helpings.

The dining room in the Open House is yellow like the outside of your home.  The sun glints off the walls just right, the hardwood floors are original, too.  Outside there are sidewalks that are fast-paced to your job at the university, to your sons’ schools, to the canal.  You spent days researching the yards around the house, the Quaker Maid factory, the train tracks.  You can imagine both sons’ eyes lighting up at the whistle.  Or the Halloween doorbell.  Or summer’s Skippy truck.  These are the sounds of your childhood village, and in many ways, at the open house, you are home.

You return to the home you own, stinking of betrayal.  When your sons run to you and cry, “Mommy!” the sound of their feet on the hardwood aches in your stomach.  Your husband is smiling because he has made a decision he believes in.  His mind reels with numbers and plans and a new kitchen remodel!  He is giddy with housework.  You are grief-stricken.

Run upstairs and look out the bathroom window at the west-facing pines that have a strange place in your heart though you’ve never even touched them.  Perhaps because, as a child, your parents had a row of pine trees in their backyard, a canopy of gnats and dust and, in the late summer, pine needles you’d sift through your fingers, alone.

Nearly fall down the stairs in a hurry, and say, “We’re not moving.”

Change is not easy for you.

Before you decide to list your home, you do a quick search of the address in the village’s old newspaper, just to see.  See what?  You don’t know, you never know what you’re looking for, only what it is when you find it.  There were no violent murders in this house.  There were no crazy shenanigans (a word you love) of any kind.  Just a professor and his wife who held social meetings in the 1950s, their daughter who grew up to own the house.  This house is a home kept for family.

The offer you make is contingent on the sale of your current home.

You hardly see the flaws in the home you own anymore; it becomes like an ex-boyfriend you want back.  Your husband snaps you to reality.  “Here’s what we have to do,” he says.  And then lists: paint the hallway and the mudroom (that you actually call “the dirty room”); paint the stairs; fix the bathroom fixtures; move your books (gasp!); move the dining room table…  you are lost already, and he’s not finished.

The hallway is the first large project you feel invested in, though nearly every room in your home has been remodeled since you moved in.  While you paint the stenciled hallway a neutral tone, you think of the Thomas Hardy poem you explicated freshman year at your parents’ kitchen table–the last full paper you ever wrote with a pencil on lines.  Every stroke of paint feels like an eraser.  You paint faster because you are tired.

Your father lived in many houses growing up, your mother lived in many states, and you, you lived in one house.  In one village.  You wish the same for your boys, that they can pinpoint home, that they know its insides and outs like their own guts.

On Christmas, you went into your parents’ basement and found an old canning jar in the crawl space.  You had just finished a story about the Quaker Maid factory at the end of Spring Street in the 1940s.  You wonder if that’s where the jar came from, and before you finish the thought, you make it truth.  From now on, that’s where the jar came from, it traveled from the factory you wrote about to your parents’ cellar.  “How have I not seen this before?” you asked your mother.

You took it home and put it on top of your refrigerator and bouquet-ed your mother’s old monogrammed silverware  inside.

The other day, you packed the canning jar and the silverware in an MBS box marked “kitchen.”  You will take it with you.

And now, painting the treads of the stairs is a burden.  Three-quarters of your pictures have come down from the walls.  This Friday, the realtor will take the pictures of your house.  Friday, it will go on the market, like some fresh piece of meat.  You resist the urge of nostalgia, how your sons’ cries came down the hallways in their early days.  How the sun shone in the large windows behind their highchairs at dinner.  How much you will miss the place you made.  You examine the lines of your palm to see if there is a veer in your lifeline, if leaving a home could be it.

Though, somehow, by convincing your son how wonderful the move will be for him, you recognize those words are meant for you, too.  Be sure to tell the realtor to pass on that the frogs call beautifully in the summer nights, that the early fall air is full with cricket chirps in the afternoon, that the home calls out with love.

 


How Children, and Fiction, Grow.

Auerbach covered the Lindbergh Kidnapping as a...

Auerbach covered the Lindbergh Kidnapping as a reporter/photographer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I’m writing right now is my worst fear: a story, born from fact, of a woman who loses her son in the Erie Canal, drowned by a really large puppy.  This actually happened, though the particulars are fictionalized.

Stalled, and re-started, and re-stalled on this story, I figured what I need is
actually more emotion because I tend to avoid emotional avalanche in my fiction.

I’ve read conflicting accounts of the story from national newspapers, local newspapers, anecdotal histories, and then corroborated with Ancestry.com, obituaries, and yes, sometimes I feel like a stalker.  I mull through histories that aren’t mine, like shopping at an estate sale, buying photographs with unnamed faces and features that aren’t mine, so I last night, before I fell asleep, I imagined it to be mine.

I listened to the late-summer bugs and scared myself with thoughts about how vulnerable my children were.  My oldest son’s fingers were twitching with sleep, his mouth slightly open, and he was sweating in the humid air, refusing before bedtime to remove his Disney comforter for some sort of security.

Lately, before bed, he’s been asking about monsters and ghosts and something called the “silly silly gumbo” from a cartoon, and THAT scares the business out of him.  He drapes his arms around me, having asked for a hug, and his grip is tight because he’s not letting go.  I refuse to pull away and leave him with his arms open and empty, so I just sit there, waiting for him to say something like, “You know, mommy?  Superheroes protect us.”  And then I say, “Yes, but policemen do, too.  And so do the walls of our house, and Molly, and Mommy and Daddy do, too.”  And then he asks where the naughty guys live, and I tell him they live far far away.  And he says, “In the woods?”  And I think hard, because everything matters, and there are woods around our house, so I say, “No, not around here.  I’ve never seen a naughty guy.”  And I lie like that until he feels safe enough to loosen his grip, to give me his kiss.

God.  And he’s just three.

So my husband was snoring beside me last night, and I thought, what if I were Mabel, the mother from my story?  It is something I hesitated to think, but my mind had already gone there.  What would I miss most?  Mabel is consumed with the Lindbergh baby, and so my mind wandered to that, how the family was unaware their child had been kidnapped from his bedroom window.  When I hear on the news that that’s happened, I turn skeptical, imagine the parents are neglectful, drunk, or involved somehow.

My mind reeled around the conversation I had with Johnny before bed, and then Sammy, my other boy, who’s just learning to sit still while I read him bedtime stories about fireflies, that his thick fingers turn the cardboard pages for me.   How, when he curls up to go to sleep, he still pushes his butt high up in the air with his knees underneath.  For security.

Every night, before my husband and I go to sleep, he peeks in on the boys and latches their doors closed.

I got out of bed before I could stop myself, and tip-toed down the hall to see for myself that everything I’d imagined about my boys asleep was true, that they were there.  And they were.

I left their bedroom doors open, not worried about noise, wanting to hear everything that happened in their rooms, every breath even.


dandelion skeletons

Don’t pretend you didn’t know what these were.  The stems were too wilted and short to braid into a weeded crown to place atop your head.  And your too-chubby, five-year-old fingers fumbled with the stems until you gave up, flipped your thumb and said, “Momma had a baby, and its head popped off!”  The yellow pom-pom flew through the air.  Instead of pretending you didn’t understand the magic of dandelions, pretend it isn’t disturbing that you repeated this gleefully, day after summer day.  One day, the hue of your child’s blond hair will echo the buttery mop of the dandelion, but you didn’t know that then.

Now, you’re older.  Think more.  It’s not okay for your child’s head to pop off–or for you to even imagine it.  The days of prodding at potato bugs with sticks to watch them curl into a ball are over.  You don’t play hockey with the little charcoal bugs, tapping them back and forth between popsicle sticks in your left and right hand.  I dare you to remember the days of worms wriggling between your index finger and thumb.  Don’t shudder when you remember how they sometimes bulged in one place.

Rarely, flowers bloomed in your parents’ backyard.  Your mother was too busy to plant blossoms every year: taking care of your knee-scrapes from afternoon bike rides, slapping peanut butter sandwiches together when the daily noon siren sounded from the fire department.  The neighbor had wild gardens that gave image to the word “bountiful,” and you spent days playing with her daughter in their backyard, but now, when you look out your mother’s kitchen window, they have built privacy fences like castle walls between the yards.  Your mother has said, “What? Do they think they own both yards?”

Your son runs through their backyard now, and your metal swing set with the rainbow stripes is long gone.  He can’t flip over the bars, or hang upside down with the metal bar in the crevice of his knees like you did, your hair scraping the dirt beneath you.  Show him the dandelions in the heat of the summer months.  Tell him, say, “Look, dandelions are everywhere.”  He says, “Grandma says it means Papa needs to mow the lawn.”  The time has come for you to agree, but you won’t.

Finally, after a day or two, the dandelions ripen, and then turn into skeletons of what they’d been.

Remember your small fist, how you gathered them into bouquets, puffed your lips, blew the feathery strands away, wishing for the ice cream man to bring you your Pink Panther Pop after lunch, or for your mother to make macaroni and butter for dinner.  When all the strands floated into the humid air, they left behind a congregation of belly buttons, little outies reminiscent of the circle on your Cabbage Patch Kid’s belly.  The seeds landed amidst the itches of grass.  You didn’t worry.  If you resisted popping the pom-poms off the new crop, there would be more wishes in a few days.

You began to see the terror in that phrase you repeated without thought, didn’t you?  “Momma had a baby, and its head popped off.”

Soon enough, your son finds his way to the dandelions, leaving behind his bubble mower.  He plucks dandelions by their stems, and you borrow one from him, drawing a yellow streak from his wrist to his elbow.  “I’ll make yellow on you,” he says.

And you let him, on both arms.  He’ll wish, too, before long.  Before he plants weeds.


Annuities

visualparadox.com

Somewhere, there is a person with my maiden name who has a structured settlement.  I receive her mail– it arrives in express envelopes, making me think it’s something relevant that begs my attention, others come in the form of neon postcards.  They all say the same: Sara Lotze, please call us to collect your structured settlement.  My parents receive multiple phone calls per day and tell the structured settlement companies that Sara Lotze isn’t me, that I’m not receiving any money.   And it’s true, I’m not.

Never mind that my name is spelled with an ‘h.’  Or that my married name is Cedeno.  What if I call these companies to collect?  What if I, Sara Lotze, collect on someone else’s tragedy?  Some sort of pain and suffering settlement? Or a wrongful death lawsuit?  A civil case where I am the plaintiff and am missing my right arm or my nose?  It almost seems as if multiple companies insist that I accept these funds.

Sure, I would have to know Sara Lotze’s SSN at the very least, but can’t I wonder?

Perhaps I am owed some insane amount of money.    My son, John, who asks for his old daycare friends Henry, Jaysen, and Lincoln on a daily basis, could return to the center he bumbled and fell and swung at because the more-than-my-mortgage-payment tuition would no longer be too much to handle.

And I would have time to hole up in my purple study and write.  Expanses of time, because my mom would quit her job at the balmy campus cafe to watch my four-month-old spit and giggle and adore.  I could pay her more than her job where there are no windows for her to gaze from, in the basement of a building that is beautiful outside and on the floors above. Her little legs would carry her, an arm outstretched and dangling a cigarette, far far away from the cafe.

I could cancel classes on the days my ms boggles my thoughts and my speech or the days when I feel like the world is a scary enough place to want to stay home.  I could be the kind of lazy I always wanted to be if I’d had the courage.  Dishes would pile up in my farmer’s sink until I paid someone to come wash them.  I would not shudder to leave the knife from my son’s peanut butter sandwich for longer than a half-hour because I wouldn’t have to clean it.  My husband would pretend I inject the medication that shields my brain like Teflon because he would have a check, a fat check that blames the disease and absolves me of self-destruction.

Maybe, just maybe, I could be Sara Lotze.


Title this.

Lately, Johnny only wants to wear super hero shirts. He would wear them in the tub if I let him.

When I put him in time out, he says, “You can’t put me in time out–I’m Superman!”

He walks up to me while I’m making breakfast and says, “Mom, call me Spiderman.”

After calling him Spiderman for a few days, I said, “John, you are not Spiderman. You are my son. We named you John.”

“So you can be Spiderman’s mom,” he said.

He gets that he needs a total transformation. To him, it is not enough to simply be called Spiderman.

It’s just a title. But how important are titles? I can’t help but wonder. The first piece I had published, “Spent,” was titled something else, and the editors didn’t like it. A poem I worked on for a friend’s anthology needed a new title, and though it won’t be in print for a few months, I still don’t know if he kept the original title or not. Does the title transform what it is?

In workshop, I say, “Yes.” Yet for me, it is hard to label anything. Perhaps I can’t blame my students when I write title? at the top of their papers where the blank space is.

I had no problem naming my sons, who were so abstract at the time, and yet now are creatures on their own. Neither could have any other name.

My sons’ names: John Alexander Cedeno. John, after my father. Alexander, after my husband and his father’s middle name, and obviously, our family surname. Samuel Joseph Cedeno. Samuel, after many hours searching the baby name book. Joseph, after my father’s middle name, and again, our family surname. I am too stubbornly raised in tradition to keep my maiden name, Lotze, though I feel a quiet sigh in me every time I see my old name somewhere.

On Ancestry.com, I type in ancestor’s names, and the slight misspelling or mispronunciation during a census can cause me hours more research. Also, the difference between a maiden name and a married name creates a ditch in my path. I notice a wealth of Jr’s and Sr’s, and growl that it makes research confusing, but I have neglected creativity in the naming of my sons. Though, I’ll argue it’s for tradition.

I don’t ever recall referring to my mother as, “mommy,” or my father as, “daddy.” I was way too sophisticated (I thought), mature (I thought), independent (I thought), to use those cute names. It’s Mom and Dad. Perhaps it’s my parents’ influence. They only ever refer to each other as “your mother” or “your father.”

To Johnny, I am no longer “mommy.”

“Mom,” he says in confidence. Sometimes he places “mom” like bookends or parenthesis around his sentences.

“Mom, I want some cheese, Mom,” he says while opening the refrigerator door.

Sometimes he’ll draw out ‘O’, trying to figure out how to be, how to get his own snacks and not hurt my feelings. How to put on his shoes, how to ask me anything, how to be two-going-on-three. “Mom,” he says, and looks at me. And then, nothing.
(P.S. Even now, as I’m about to submit this post, the blog is telling me: “Enter title here.”)