I am including the painting titled "Mary Looks at the Future." It is quite large, 4' x 6', and resides with my friend Dirje. Painted in "dot style," is based on a religious icon, one that repeatedly drew my attention because of the look on Mary's face, as though she somehow knew how things would eventually unfold.
(Funny... this intro sounds sort of like one of those on Turner Classic Movies. Here is my story.)
Just Wanted to Say
I admit I have been greedy in my quest for love. Like water thrown wasted on the floor before a thirsty beast, my faith spreads thin and in the end evaporates. But I will settle for the dregs of last morning’s dew, for I have been told by those who know that you have always been the one who holds the answers.
Thank God your gaze is elsewhere focused, for to face your vision under the gravity of such sight would surely signal the end of life as I have known it. And I have known it. I have learned that pain contained can be diluted, allowed to seep from day into night, night into day. And I’ve grown tired, yet I cannot sleep…
* * * *
I went to a funeral yesterday, and after only moments in the church, I was snared by the organized beauty of religion’s patterns. Admiring even the placement of the choir chairs in the loft, I became confused, as usual, by the difference between aesthetics and grace, as I was transported to that childhood place where light once shone so sweetly from a promised shore.
I was twelve, the age of accountability, and the church still held substantial mystery for me. But promises were followed too closely by demands, so, growing cold, I turned deliberately toward the pursuits hinted at by the new boy four rows back.
No cushions on the seats made squirming inevitable, and the wooden pockets on the backs of the benches were always empty of visitor cards. Since we didn’t do that introductory thing, (where visitors remained seated, and regulars, like falsely reassuring, if somewhat curious aliens, stood, turned in all directions, and sought reluctant hands for the shaking) I knew I was on my own when it came to making contact.
I’m not sure what happened to the boy’s real mom, but he had a nice new one with blond hair and soft, petal-colored clothing, perhaps a little too polished to be proper for church, but her husband was an usher and their family always sat near the back. I think I was drawn to them, because I, too, was shiny. Having buffed myself almost raw, I thought that taking off the rough edges would somehow make me less visible. In effect, I had developed a patina that screamed for the whole world’s attention.
But back to the boy. Eddie. More precisely, Edgar Howell, and how he looked at me covertly in the beginning. But then he made friends with the other guys and when they all sat together, they looked at me from what seemed like all directions at once until I felt like a compass, spinning slightly from side to side as though vibrating from unseen forces.
We went on, content with this pattern for a while. But things change. As Eddie grew tall and handsome, he acted more interested, especially when his friends fanned the embers of our smoldering infatuation. And at least once every Sabbath evening that fall, he issued me a personal invitation to accompany him behind the church. I blushed and half-pretended not to hear or understand, until his taunting demands for attention pushed us both off a bit off center and I said, “Okay.”
The audience, astonished, withdrew.
It was November and the wind was cold, and though I think what he really wanted to do was escape to the safety of the sanctuary, he had to follow through on his implied threats of what he would do to me if he got me alone. So he got me alone. And he kissed me with what would surely be described as expertise, until we were both a little breathless and immediately giddy with our newfound guilt. (I like to think the reality was too much to share with his friends and that no one has ever mentioned that moment until now...)
So we met halfway, two rows up for him, two rows back for me, where every Sunday, we shielded each other from friends and family, as we held hands religiously.
But things change. Even memories. And I wonder if I’ve remembered the truth. Maybe I’ve dropped important sensory data along the path on my way to today. And over-edited reality has taught me there are truly moments that should not be taken for granted. So I thought today about that kiss, and how it made me late for Bible class…
I thought about the teacher named Birdie, and how I remember liking her because she loved her husband, tall and quiet and slim… She seemed afraid of the rest of the world, but I could tell she had no fear of him. She was a tiny, dark woman with finger-waved hair, and I liked to watch her, not because she was spectacular, but because she had no need to watch me.
They had the most beautiful daughter in the world. I decided she was a model maybe, because she almost never came to church. I assumed her job kept her busy, you know, traveling the globe, tossing back her glowing, golden hair, shoulder length, and gray-blue eyes that moved calmly from face to face never moving away too quickly. She had a small dark mole beside her pouty mouth, and she was tall, with nice ankles and soft hands. I remember pretending she was a mirror reflecting the real me.
I grow sad thinking of Birdie and her husband and her kids. I remember one Sunday in particular, when Birdie’s die-cut felt Zacheus refused to stick to her die-cut Sycamore tree. She tried over and over to make it work, but the fourth time he fell to the floor, she started to cry. Very quietly. And somehow I knew that her son, whom I had never even seen, would not be coming home from Vietnam.
I wanted to touch her hand that day, but I didn’t, and since I was developing the habit of living without words, I couldn’t tell her that somewhere, someone knew how she felt. All I could do was pick up the felt pieces, lay them neatly in their precisely cut storage places, and hope they would be ready to stick the next time she pressed them on the sturdy tree.
And, Lady, I have to admit, sometimes when I talk to you, it’s really Birdie’s face I see, and well, I just wanted to say, how sorry I’ve always been about your son.