In Which Christina Tries to Find the Poetry in “Breaking One’s Ass at the Bowling Alley”

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Spoilers: There is no poetry in breaking one’s ass at the bowling alley.

And even sadder, this was not even my most epic fail.

So, picture it– the Ft. Leavenworth Strike Zone, moments after leaving a child home with her father, in a fit of rage and tears and possibly blood because the toy she’d ordered with her piggy bank money and which was scheduled to arrive that day did not in fact materialize with her sibling’s order. (This is an entirely different story of pain, anger, and ultimate redemption.) “I’ll just take Auggie and Mal,” I said. “It will be fun,” I said.

My lovely friends had set up the bumper lanes and there was an adorable little alligator slide for Auggie to push his ball down. We donned our stylish shoes and set up our screens. Then I proceeded to burn 4,000 calories whilst deflecting my youngest son’s attempts to bowl everyone’s turn, lift 10 pound toe-crushing balls, eat various snacks that did not belong to him, and essentially run betwixt and between every other human’s legs while they tried to send heavy orbs spinning down the intensely waxed lanes. All while trying to remember to cheer for my oldest son’s valiant efforts to hurl a ball only slightly heavier than his own person down a narrow lane using arms the length of a bald eagle’s wingspan and the width of a walky talky antenna.
Remember that “intensely waxed lane” part. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

So, all went All-American-Family well for about 8 minutes. And then Auggie decided he must and WILL follow the pink ball to its destination. The child may be shaped like an overstuffed Peep but he’s surprisingly fast. I honestly don’t remember anything but trying to grab his shoulder and taking 2 or 3 rapid steps when suddenly all was silent, I was closing my eyes, and the briefest of thoughts scrolled across my brain like a banner flying behind a retro bi-plane that I remember soaring across the cloudless sky when we would go to the beach as children: “ooooh maaaaaan, this is going to huuuuurrrrttt…”
I was not wrong.

I’ve fallen on my tailbone three times. Each marked by significant humiliation. The first time I had to pay my brother a dollar to go across the street and tell my mother that I was hurt and couldn’t stand up. (It may or may not have been payback for that time I broke his collarbone.) ((Bygones.))
The second time was in an English farmhouse at the lovely party of a dear friend. I had just reached my post-baby body goal and was wearing a darling vintage-inspired tea dress with my favorite seamed stockings and platform shoes. I remember every detail. I was carrying a beautifully delicate heirloom china plate to the kitchen, relishing the sound of my awesome shoes clopping across the old wooden floorboards, thinking how amazing I must look when–Lo there did I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they did call me, they bid me take my place among them, in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever.
For I knew: I was going to die.
My friend’s two bulldogs. At a dead run. Where are they going? And why with such swiftness? I thought briefly as I continued walking toward them, as one continues toward impending doom. ‘Tis inevitable. ‘Tis fated.
Later, I would replay it countless times. I do to this day, 7 years later. There was nothing I could have done, save dive out of their path and into a curio cabinet or innocent bystander. My main concern at that moment was to preserve the plate. I don’t know why. In the same way I don’t know why singing Ole’ McDonald Had a Farm during labor helps me focus.
With each step, my shin met a solid, speeding animal. Two legs, two animals weaving betwixt and between them. Allow me to break it down for you: in the course of 2 strides, my legs made contact with a dog at least 4 times so that my body had no choice but to both pitch forward and then rear backward. And the whole time, my eyes were focused on that china plate. I watched it reach forward, rise up, and then float above me, ever connected to my hand, ever safe, ever preserved.
Not so my dignity.
Moments later, seated and swatting mortified tears from my eyes as stealthily as I could while assuring people–all the people–that I was fine, Sam showed up. Conspiringly, he leaned in, “Did you hear about the poor girl who fell? Legs up in the air and everything, poor thing.”
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The coccyx. Apparently a vital part of our anatomy. Having an injured one inhibits many activities, such as rising from a seated position at any speed other than glacial, bending down, picking up, laying down, lifting, etc. Standing is fine. Walking is fine. So essentially, I’m like the bus in Speed. I just can’t ever, ya know, stop. No problem.

I’ve tried blaming Amazon for this. Why couldn’t you put BOTH Dinotrux in the same effing box? And the United States Postal Service. Why couldn’t you put BOTH boxes on the same truck? Then we could have all gone bowling together and maybe Auggie’s impulse to run down a waxed-to-hell bowling lane would have been thwarted. But then…what if Sam had been the one to try and catch him? What if he’d been the one to fall and had reinjured his spine?
So let’s say this: I’m glad it was me.
Let’s also say this: We’re not taking Auggie bowling again for quite some time.

Dorian’s Palette

042414Made of failure,
constructed of disappointment,
she is set down before Beautiful
with her empty bowl
and her crushed being.

Twisted and untruthful,
plank-eyed and a great arm for stone throwing,
she is brought to Beautiful
and placed on her mat,
given her bowl.

Her portrait is a glossy masterpiece
in Vermillion
in Prussian Blue.
The brushstrokes are masterful–
a rich blending of evil
of intention
of all the good colors.

She holds out her bowl
to take up the collection,
the things she needs from others
to cover up her own contributions.

All her betrayals
and every dead thing
she’s made or believed
go into this bowl
as she sits on her mat.

At night she brings out her mortar and pestle.
She brings out the linseed oil.
She grinds the contents of her bowl into
lovely pigments
to correct her portrait.

But each morning she must
be carried out again.
Unable to stand,
she is set down.
She holds out her bowl.

Until she hears,
Look at me.

And she does.
Then.
Beautiful looks at her.
Beautiful takes her hand and
pulls her up.
Beautiful is where she’s always been.

Standing up,
her knife is no longer flat and dull,
no longer for mixing facade.
With the new blade
she can destroy her portrait.

When they ask her what has happened,
she will say,
I looked up. It is Beautiful.

Sword

From under the stones-
in a flurry of sticks-
the weapon bursts outward.
The weapon is singing a song.
The mission has a soundtrack.
Lists, signposts, a return address:
they mark the map I follow.
I want to hold the weapon–
for protection
for promise
for prosperity.
It seems to have new batteries though.
The weapon goes out into the fray.
I follow at a distance
out of respect
and safety.
But the song it sings is catchy.
I need to hold the weapon–
because of danger
because of defeat
because of death.
I feel disgrace when I lose sight of its shadow
and am left only humming the tune I’ve learned.
My hands want to hold the weapon.
But then I look around the field
where I’ve been in the fray
and realize the weapon has been holding me.

How To Be Christina Fishburne On Monday

Find yourself planted for three years in a place people typically stay for only one.
Congratulate yourself on all that personal growth you did in Hawaii.
Think about all the people you know who might have cancer.
Plan a productive day.
Damn the constantly dirty floor to Hell.
Think about writing.
Go to the gym.
Preemptively grieve all the friends who are leaving this summer.
Start crying because people you love might have cancer.
Want another baby.
Vacuum.
Forget to buy more bagels.
Think about writing.
Think about painting.
Think about cancer.
Think about being pregnant.
Damn elliptical machines to Hell.
Vacuum.
Decide not to have another baby.
Wish you cared more about politics.
Wish you cared more about history.
Wish you cared more about Power Rangers.
Damn cancer to Hell.
Vacuum.
Think about writing.
Think about babies.
Think about wine.
Think about the people you know who have survived cancer.
Wish you were Diana Gabaldon.
Wish you were Claire Fraser.
Wish you were taller.
Wish you were better at conversation.
Wish you had a plan for dinner.
Pick up crumbs with a wet napkin.
Hold Malcolm’s hand when he offers it.
Thank Sam for doing the dishes.
Listen to Bella’s detailed plan for her birthday party half a year away.
Laugh at how Auggie says new words wrong.
Think about not wishing for more.

Perfectly Imperfect

When we first heard that Harper Lee was publishing another novel, my brother and I  immediately started text-exchanging potential titles: To Revive A Mockingbird; Scout’s Honor; The Lawyer, The Bitch, and the Chifforobe; Yule Tide: Vengeance Is His… I was so excited. Nothing quite glorified sibling alliance like To Kill A Mockingbird and I was pumped to hear the rest of the story. That it was written first intrigued me to no end.

I refused to read any reviews before I read the book, so afterwards, finding out that pretty much everyone vehemently hated Go Set A Watchman made me feel like a tool for liking it. I feel pedestrian for loving the “string of anecdotes,” as one review called it, so much that it made me actually MISS the romanticized oppressive heat of the Alabama summertime. I feel like a chump for latching onto Jean Louise so intensely from the first page and letting her drag me around, clinging to her ferociously, through the book. She is MY Scout. How dare anyone speak a word against her?

~

Bella reminds me of Scout. I have always loved the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird— Those kids are perfect. I identified with them as a child. I identify my own kids with them now. Malcolm is a gentle soul with the huge imagination but talks big and has an underlying protective streak. Bella…one night she announced, while standing on a chair with her hands on her hips, that she wanted to live by herself because I always tell her what to do, and then proceeded to eat her Cheerios topless. Malcolm has his moments, but he’s happiest humming to himself while building Lego creations. Bella… Let’s just look at this photo, shall we?

Auggies dedication

The only photographic documentation of my baby’s church dedication

She exasperates me to no end. But she’s exactly the kind of character I adore in books. Which delights me.

~

I savored the first page of Go Set A Watchman, positively GLEEFUL at being reunited with Scout and Jem. I loved them in the book. Pretended to BE them in the movie. I couldn’t wait to see them grown up. I had it all planned out: Jem would have been to the war and back. He’d have a couple of kids who’d be adorably similar to him and Scout, but with even better one-liners. Scout would have this awesome relationship with them and would banter with and rank on Jem as they did when they were children. Stuff would happen in the story, but for me, it was all about Jem and Scout.

Silver-Linings-Playbook

Me, finding out Jem is dead

Unceremoniously Dead. It took me quite sometime to get over that. I couldn’t even concentrate on what was going on because I was so shattered. Cuz, Jem wasn’t Jem. He was my brother. He was my son. Scout wasn’t Scout–she was me. She was Bella.
The fact that Atticus is not Gregory-Peck-Awesome-Atticus bothered me. Of course. But honestly, Dead Jem is more disturbing. I had wanted to name my baby Jem or Atticus. Seriously. I’m glad now that Sam shot me down on those. The names have been a bit ruined for me with now with disappointment and grief.

~

A childhood friend passed away unexpectedly. I hadn’t seen him in many years, so he remains 12 years old in my memory. It still sneaks up on me and I tear up and can’t breathe right. He’s not my brother or my son, but I can imagine how I would feel if he was. Photographs are both treasures and weapons. Memories are comforting but unspeakably painful. On intense days I’ll look at a shoe or a toy and have to suck oxygen into my lungs as if I’d been underwater for too long. And my kids are only at school. I can pick them up soon.
And then when I do pick them up, more often than not, all I do is yell at them or make them do homework or tell them no, they can’t have another snack cuz it’s almost dinner time.

~

I love the beginning of stories. The possibility, the “anything can happen-ness,” but I also love the excellent twists.

Not seeing something coming, bsg_s3e20_crossroads_2

the pleasant surprises, the redemption of chaos, the puzzle coming together. Love it.

Not so much the unpleasant surprises…

Siggy-Dying

NOT. COOL.

But that’s life, right? You can’t have an excellent twist if there is no set up to begin with. So we have to risk the unexcellent twists. The disappointments. The griefs. People aren’t who we thought they were. Good guys die.

Should Go Set A Watchman ever have been published? Did she really want it to be? Is To Kill A Mockingbird ruined now? It happened first, but with this taste left in my mouth, does it change who they were that summer? I loved that Harper Lee wrote the perfect story and then stopped. It was If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler perfection. Cuz it ended.

~

A few weeks ago I noticed a suspicious looking freckle on Bella’s jaw. I thought it should be checked out. Then preemptively stifled any panic that might even be THINKING about rising. To prove a point (to myself), I did not take any action. After a week, at which point the freckle was the only thing I could see when I looked at my daughter, I released the hounds. There was all kinds of panic. So much so that from the time I decided to terrify myself as I gave her the plate of frozen waffles at around 6:30 to the time I left her at school and was driving home at 7:40, I was crying, bargaining with God, FREAKING out because as I was wheeling and dealing with the Almighty an ad for Queen’s Medical Center’s new CANCER WARD came on the radio, and had already resolved to shave my own head so that we would look the same after her chemo. I anticipated that Sam and Malcolm would be on board as well. That’d either be a damn inspiring sight or

Alien_Nation

This

 

I had taken a picture of the freckle and emailed it to our doctor as soon as I got home. Then proceeded to wait for the response. It’s a good thing Bella’s powers of perception have not quite reached telepathy (though they are close). She could have had ANYTHING. I was all over her. Hugs, crafts, snacks, tv shows. The next day I heard from our doctor. It was a very common discoloration. Watch it, but no cause for alarm.
She was in time-out for insubordination a few hours later. All was right with the world.
On very introspective days I wonder why I did this to myself. Why did I want children if all I’m going to do is worry about them and perhaps grieve the loss of them one day? What if I’d never had them? Would I necessarily miss them if I’d never known them? Is it easier to go through life wondering what it’d be like to have something, able to invent emotions and investments, or is it less painful to actually have the thing, experience the love, humor, fulfillment, all the good things, but risk losing it at some point?

~

I’m pretty ticked that “everyone” seems to have hated the book. Questioning “Nell’s” wish to publish it at all. Judgement on her skill as a young writer. Yeah, there are long diatribe-y parts, and the characters make choices that we don’t like. But good grief, did anyone read The Finkler Question? I want to scream just thinking about it. SO BORING. And “everyone” sang its praises. Anyway. All the anticipation and expectation put on Go Set A Watchman was possibly unfair. I’d still read it again. It’s not perfect. Nothing is. No one is. And that doesn’t change the fact that she’s MY Scout.

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Surf’s Up. Time’s Up.

So I had a dream the other night.
I was out in the ocean, catchin’ some waves…on a boogie board. Sam was with me. The waves were really REALLY huge. Like, Hollywood-cataclysmic-natural-disaster-movie huge. Sam was trying to teach me how to “do it right”—where to catch the wave to ride the greatest distance. I wasn’t doing well. Then this huge scary tidal wave rose up underneath me and I knew it was going to be bad. I was going up too high. I could see the cities in the distance. The beach was way way below me. But I was not afraid. Just mildly apprehensive.

This summer has been great. Nobody broke their back. Nobody was dry heaving into the toilet every morning. There were planned activities and whatnot. There was moderately good parenting. It’s been an absolute delight not rocketing out the front door at 7am in a flurry of backpacks, lunch boxes, mewling infants, and armfuls of stuffed animals that MUST NOT BE LEFT BEHIND. I’ve had no extra curricular responsibilities. I’ve had assistance. But all that is about to change. School is starting.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think we’ve all had our fill of quality time together. But it means Real Life is happening again.
Yes, Yes, I’ve had real life for the past 3 1/2 months. But in my mind, (which is apparently still 12 years old) Summer kind of doesn’t count. If I feel stress, it somehow doesn’t register at full strength. It doesn’t make sense. Much like my believing every time that growing my eyebrows out WILL INDEED make me look younger–just like the magazines say. In my mind I see this:
daenerys-targaryen-images-11
In the mirror I see this:
o-FRIDA-900
But somehow the months June, July, and August still trigger a big fat forcefield around my brain, rejecting all logical argument that I am accountable to long term consequences.

As I felt the wave cresting and I started to come down I thought, “huh, this one will surely take me all the way in! Good job, me!” but then immediately in front of me another tidal wave began to rise up—over me—and started cresting toward me. I had a Han Solo very bad feeling about this. Yet wasn’t terrified. Just disappointed that my epic ride to the shore was about to be ruined. The second wave was tipping on top of me. I knew I was going to be pounded. Was going to have to go underwater. Which I can’t do comfortably without holding my nose. There would be no time to hold my nose. And I’d need both arms to get back to the surface. There was nervousness, but no real fear.

School– with all the taxiing, homework, and afterschool schedules. School, where my son will be expected to have made significant progress in reading and math because I was supposed to have him tutored and work extra hard at home to get him ready for the next level.
Photo on 8-18-15 at 12.50 PM

Bible Study will be starting again as well, with all the phone calling angst and pleasant yet time-consuming preparation and emotional energy expenditure.
So, clearly, now is the time to start an online business venture! Yes! One that requires much monitoring and tallying and keeping track of different groups and people and orders. And math. Definitely. Let’s do THAT.
And let’s join a book club! Cuz, ya know, IDLE TIME.
What’s that noise? Oh it’s the BABY crying. Good thing he doesn’t require much attention…
I am not even remotely as busy as my friends. But this small list is debilitating to me when I stop and think about it. And because I feel incapacitated at the thought of any additional responsibility, I assume that it’s probably necessary to do it–all of it– in order to be a Grown Up.
I want to be a grown up. But I also really REALLY want to sit on the couch for hours and hours at a time looking out the window, listening to the chimes, daydreaming, and eating cake. With no expectations of me to do anything else. Do grown ups do that?

other than her…?

other than her…?

My parents visited for a gloriously long yet not long enough time this summer. I got a taste of the good life again. That life where my mama does my laundry, gives kids a bath, puts them to bed, brings me snacks, etc. And tv. Oh, the TV! I got to watch my Korean Dramas again. And they are just as brilliant as I remember. I blame Misaeng (Incomplete Life) for my sudden interest in being employed. It’s a show about an office full of business people. That’s really all it’s about. Except it’s also about LIFE and the SOUL. Anyway– my parents are not here now. I have to be the parent again.

My dreams

My dreams

Just as I felt myself simultaneously rising up and being covered under the shadow of this enormous second wave, I closed my eyes. Then for some reason I was moved smoothly from the first rising wave right onto the top of the second one. I had a Leonardo DiCaprio Top of the World moment. I could see everything. I was rapidly approaching the shore. And then I was on the beach. With my boogie board.

The reality of the situation is: I love my life. I love it so much and am so grateful for every syrup covered, crumb coated, vaguely diaper smelling aspect of it. Forcing myself to do grown up things is hard. And by “grown up things” I mean, interacting with adults who have mature expectations of me and upon whom I cannot unload a laundry basket filled with excuses as to why I’m late, in a bad mood, and un-showered. But it’s like exercise. It gets easier the more you do it and the more you do it, the stronger you are.
I have not exercised since May 21st.

I looked back at the surging water and could see Sam still out there. I knew he was fine but was worried about me. With telescopic vision I could see him or feel him asking with his shoulders or arms if I was ok. I tucked my boogieboard under my arm and gave him a thumbs up.

Hello! My name is…wait, what was the question?

I need lots of positive reinforcement. Every once in a while I’ll google my name to see what comes up, both in images and in links, but always with my maiden name–because without the “Rauh” all I get are the menacing facial expressions of one Laurence Fishburne. A few years ago I bailed on a self-publication right before it was to be actually published and right after I had made my last of 4 nonrefundable payments of 500 dollars. Because, if you’re gonna face-plant in shame, go all in. Anyway, I can’t even look at those 6 copies of that book without seeing that could have been a Tiffany’s bangle scroll through my mind and hanging my head under the disgrace of it all, but thanks to the indifferent colossus that is Amazon.com, it appears online that I am a real author. So every few months I pretend that it’s true. Recently, googling my name presented me with charming pictures of myself and my family, lots of Korean Drama actors, the obligatory random Laurence Fishburne stuff, and a starkly black and white phrase clip art: “Eat Shit And Die.”
Huh. Interesting. I could have been quite confused by this. Should have been. But it almost made sense that day. My name conjured that weird collection of images. This was a trail of where I’d been, an acid trip pirate’s map of people I love, my interests, and cyber-wanderings. If a stranger, say a renowned publisher looking for undiscovered mediocre writers to take under his wing and sky-rocket to heights of fame and recognition previously undreamt, were to use my name as a search for clues as to my character, “Eat Shit And Die” might be off-putting.
But do I look like I care?

teacup

Does it bother me that my name should bring up such a command? No. Not really. Know what bothers me?

THIS.

THIS.

And also that my hair is falling out in a post-pardem cascade of horror.

***

I printed out Boss of the Bathroom on my printer. Used up valuable black ink for this. Black ink that I will not be able to replace unless I also replace all three color ink cartridges at the same time. Color cartridges that are perfectly fine. I find the needless replacing of still full ink cartridges to be inordinately infuriating. BUT ANYWAY–Boss of the Bathroom. I started the story when I was in third grade. I finished it after Malcolm was born twenty years later.
This is not War and Peace, people. It’s not so much that I am a meticulous writer. My stories do not require hours of detailed research. It’s more that I am really slow to process my thoughts, easily distracted, and kind of don’t really have anything to say for long periods of time. So I keep it in the back of my mind that I have this finished story (!!!) and I will self-publish it when I’m at a low point to make myself feel productive. Just printing it out on my stupid little printer made me feel like the day wasn’t a complete wash. It flashed me back to the times in the computer lab at school, printing off a completed (!!!) story for workshop, and feeling all optimistic and clean and full of promise. Printing Boss of the Bathroom at my little desk in the kitchen that day made me feel full of promise again. I was 8 years old again. I was 27 again. It was all in front of me.

I am 36 years old. That’s almost 40. That’s, like, a real adult. I’ve always imagined 36 year old women have real problems and expensive purses. They have places to be. Responsibilities. Baggage.
So far, I feel ok. Though, the hair thing is disconcerting as hell.

What I see in the mirror after washing my hair.

What I see in the mirror after washing my hair.

I am old enough now that I can “look back” at my life and see a relatively interesting story. The Web Images that come up in my Life Google are flashes of a great childhood, painless (in retrospect) High School years, dramatic wartime romance, travel, beautiful babies, wonderful friends, essentially: a happy and fulfilling life. A daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother. But there’s always a little nagging feeling. A small blank space when I scroll through the images. Something is just not there that I feel needs to be there. It’s like looking in my rear view mirror at the NEVER centered baby seat mirror. I know (because of the screaming) that something is not right but all I can see is that his left knee is perfectly fine. This nagging is not a spiritual emptiness–far from it. It’s that I’m supposed to be doing something and I’m not doing it. I am indeed this wife and mother and friend and sister and daughter that people know, but there’s that “aaaannnnnnddd?” in the back of my mind.

***

My sweet first born child had a lapse into hooliganism a few weeks ago. Who knows why, but he thought it would be a great idea to etch his name into a teacher’s car bumper. Now, there is nothing good about this, but I can at least be grateful that the bumper in question had already been in an accident and is about to be replaced so the restitution required will be covered by a 7 year old’s allowance savings and a week of Anti Scratch Scrubbing during recess. Was it peer pressure? Was it showing off? Was it art? Doesn’t matter. It was what we in the business call “A Bad Choice.” But along side the embarrassment and concern that this episode is a foreshadowing of future visits to local penitentiaries comes the completely inappropriate chuckle. He was doing something wrong but was still innocent enough to choose his own name as the carving.

Adorable. But not a bright future in trade craft.

Adorable. But not a bright future in trade craft.

I’ve got all these perfectly fine ink cartridges but the thing I need to communicate won’t print. I know who I am. I like who I am, and my friends and family like who I am. That should be enough. What is it that makes me want my name to mean something to people who don’t know me? What is compelling me to write this? There’s no way on earth I’d ever SAY these things to anyone. The idea of it just made me take a deep calming breath. I don’t talk about my feelings. I can think of nothing more terrifying. But apparently I can write about them all day like an absolute fool. And actually HOPE someone reads them. When it’s out there I feel both relieved and shy. A risk taken, but safe. It’s singing loud, but only if sure of being drowned out–like say, belting out Gershwin show tunes while vacuuming. I’m not saying I do that. Ever.