What We Did
Surfed, swam, ate tacos, drank, read.
What We Didn’t Do
Work, wear makeup, bother with much more than swimsuits, be cold, worry.
What We Did
Surfed, swam, ate tacos, drank, read.
What We Didn’t Do
Work, wear makeup, bother with much more than swimsuits, be cold, worry.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on November 9, 2013
Not sure what this is exactly. Not a story, just a collection of characters, a variety of vignettes. Happy to deviate from my relationship/dialogue standard in any case.
What a time to start daydreaming, flying down the coast highway, sunlight turning the Pacific gold, fruit stands and vacation condos lining the roadside. Then again, what a perfect time to start daydreaming. Anything was possible with a view like this. She laughed out loud, the wind ripping the sound from her throat to deliver elsewhere, miles down the road perhaps, to someone, she hoped, someone who could use it.
The wind tousled his hair, tickled his ears. He could have sworn he heard laughter on the breeze. He could use a laugh after a day of selling strawberries to tourists. The worst ones wanted to barter, as if his brown skin eliminated the need for the American tradition of paying what the price tag read. “How about $1.50?” they’d say, hungry to save that 50 cents. Sometimes he’d play along, say “No habla ingles,” and shrug. Game over, they’d throw down the two dollars and stomp off. He remembered a particular woman from earlier in the day, a tall blond in an oversized sun hat, god forbid she expose a single cell to the rigors of aging, who’d been dragging her Ken doll husband around the stand, poking at the melons, tsking at the oranges, beginning every sentence with, “When I was on the mainland…” She’d come up to him, tossed her hair. “Como esta?” she began. With her, he took an opposite approach. “Sorry, Miss, I don’t speak Spanish. Habla ingles?” He spoke in the clipped Boston accents of his Harvard schoolmates, the ones who’d have been shocked to see him helping out at his family’s fruit stand. What could you do? Family. The blonde’s face had dropped, her chance to show off her comfort with the natives destroyed. “Oh,” she’d said. “Just the strawberries.” He laughed, remembering how distraught she’d been.
A few miles north, the road twisted into a canyon, funneling the breeze into something heavier, a weight that blew the smoke backwards down the chimney and into her living room. Goddamn wind, she thought. Why do we live here? As always when that thought occurred to her, she took a look around, absorbed the fine wood architecture of her home, windows opening to endless pine trees and a small but bright flower bed, the boys’ treehouse and knew, again, she was doomed. She poured more Chardonnay, laughed without mirth.
He shivered as a gust blew leaves about his feet. Stupid wind. Making everything cold. Tricking a person into thinking the day was warm because the sun was out but nuh uh. Cold. And now he had to rake up the stupid leaves because he’d told his mom to shut up. He looked up as she opened the door. Maybe she’d take pity on him, but no, she was just letting his dog outside. His dog who bolted straight into the pile of leaves raked into a perfect pile, now, suddenly, perfectly destroyed, leaves blasted into the sky and drifting back down to settle into his hair, onto his shoulders, around his shoes. His dog skidded to a stop in front of him, tongue out, tail wagging, ready for love, unaware of the mess made. He had to laugh.
She hit the brake as the sun touched the ocean. Parked to face it, looked not quite exactly at the bright circle making its way into the Pacific. Turned the car off. Shut the radio down, sorry Paul McCartney, because yesterday, all my troubles seemed much closer, but today, they are so far away. The sun had passed the midway point. She looked to the side of it, above it, below it, careful to avoid direct eye contact. Lower, lower. The tip, she saw through her peripherals, hovered. This is it, she thought, please. And then the last bit of bright slipped below and bam, she saw it. The green flash. Dream into reality right before her eyes. She hollered, actually whooped with delight. And then started the car, eased back onto the highway. Hit the gas. Grinned big, giggled until the giggling erupted into peals of laughter, rolling back on the wind, mile after beautiful mile.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on October 30, 2013
It’s been a while.
Between Facebook and once again writing regularly for the North Coast Journal, I don’t turn here as often as I once did. And since my children have – for the most part – grown too old to use as fodder and since I am no longer chronicling my surf sessions, well, what would I write about?
It’s been quite a year.
But aren’t all years? Not one year of my life has passed after which I thought, Oh, wow, what a nice, dull time. This one started with our wonderful yellow mutt reaching the end of her 14 years. The following month marked the termination of a decade-long friendship. An important family relationship turned inexplicably distant. My youngest child graduated from high school, the middle one moved on to Santa Cruz and college. In June, I received notice that my beloved job will officially cease to exist as of Dec. 31. Another friendship fell apart. The endodontist says I need two root canals and the dentist found nine cavities in my son’s mouth and I have no idea how I’m going to take care of all this when the insurance only covers a percentage in the first place and time before losing what little coverage I have is running out.
Insert obligatory #firstworldproblems acknowledgment.
Of course, a stream of good things happened, too – they always do, preventing me from sinking too far into self-pity. Foremost, my children are alive and relatively well. I reconnected with old friends during one visit to Long Beach, another to Portland and yet another to San Diego. We reminisced, as people do, about the crazy things we did – that trip to Ensenada where she ended up in the closet with my future husband’s roommate and I broke the top off a Cherry 7Up bottle in my desperation to quench my hangover-induced thirst. That time I was super stoned and pulled what I thought were eyedrops out of my purse, but it was lotion and I didn’t realize it until I’d squeezed globs on top of both eyeballs – a story that apparently never gets old in the retelling. Those days we stayed past close in the bar, too blown away by some great band that had played to stop drinking – or because we needed to vent about how shitty the band was and how annoying the NA crowd could be with their ceaseless demands for coffee refills and emptied ashtrays.
Despite differing political and social views, visits with family members were lovely and free of debate. My previous writers’ group stopped meeting years ago due to the demands of children, husbands, jobs, life, but the women who made it up continue to be on the other end of late night/early morning emails most notable for being pleas of Help! How do I cope with this crisis? How do I get through another day fraught with too much to do and people going nuts? They always have answers – or for the unanswerable, comfort. I needed a lot of that this year. My new writers’ group delights me. Who am I to deserve such an abundance of smart, kind, funny, creative people populating my world?
From the people I work with – at all my various endeavors – to the people who showed up for my husband’s ridiculously fun 50th birthday, I am, for lack of a less hackneyed word, blessed. (Thoughts on friendship distilled here.) My job, albeit ending, has provided a leg up in the world and experiences I never expected: Taiwan, for example, adventures in D.C., even more intimate knowledge of our coastline, a hand in creating concrete protection for it. Health care. Experiencing what being able to pay one’s bills is like. I’ll miss it desperately, sure, but future opportunities are promising and for the time being I’m still privileged to write, occasionally, for both the Lost Coast Outpost and the NCJ. Those days when keeping all the magic going threatens to send me sobbing into anxiety-riddled nervous breakdown, I can still walk out my front door to the beach. Life is so very much work and yet continually proves to be worth it.
And I’m leaving for Mexico tomorrow.
This trip will be only my second out of the country (not counting ill-fated teenage trips to Baja), made possible by the generosity of a friend with a house there and judicious use of frequent flyer miles. To say I’m excited is to say a hummingbird is bit of a speedy creature – my heart is beating faster than those wings with anticipation. I wanted my husband to come so that we could have a shared adventure, celebrate this dawning new phase of our lives in which our children are grown, but alas, his desire to avoid flying supersedes his desire to trip along with me to exotic locales. The consolation option is no less wonderful, however – lieu of romance, I have two of my best girlfriends accompanying me, both so easygoing that my only concern is now I’m in danger of being the uptight one. I’ve wanted to travel forever. And I’m leaving both cell phone and laptop behind, so ready to disconnect that keeping focus through the day seems nearly impossible. I have a stack of books. Oh, to read novels again!
I fear I’m too happy about this.
Sometimes I’m compelled to reiterate, it’s not easy, this life. It’s much easier now that I’m not working 60 hours a week between two jobs that still didn’t pay enough to cover life’s expenses, fun as they were. A living wage directly improves one’s world, no question. But a lot of struggling and stress existed between finding myself pregnant at 19 and finding myself landing a dream job 20 years later. (I’m always finding myself!) Even under ideal circumstances, raising children challenges the most patient of adults. Our circumstances were far from ideal, lacking in both family support and cash, our son diagnosed with an as-yet incurable disease. And I am not patient. But – to get hackneyed again – love keeps getting us through.
So I can’t write about my kids very much because they’re adults or very nearly. (Also – disclaimer – because I hope to contribute a column to the NCJ’s new “Offsprung” series, so I can’t go on too much about how, despite what a vast number of well-intentioned people say, having adult children does not, in fact, make a parent “done.”) The nearly-adult status of my son also means I can’t write about my son’s diabetes like I used to. For the record, it’s still scary. Scarier in some ways because he’s opted to take on more responsibility for his care. He now inserts his own sets, checks his blood sugar on his own even in the early morning hours. I have not stuck a needle in the kid for months. Hardly a thing to miss – but like all aspects of letting go of controlling a child’s life, one that brings anxiety along with the relief. Who will take care of him if not me?
And since, for the first time since I began surfing, I’ve stopped counting my yearly surf sessions, I have no obligation to chronicle them here – by permitting myself the freedom from tracking, I inadvertently did away with a steady writing prompt. Alas. I have surfed and not surfed. Weeks pass and I freak out and suddenly I’m zipping down the spit, truck loaded, blood racing, my need to be in the water as primal as hunger. I don’t do things for a while and then worry I’ve forgotten how to do them. Surf. Make pancakes. Read. Write a blog post.
Thanks for bearing with me.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on October 18, 2013
The ball whirled down the lane, marbled pink rotating toward the waiting pins. I held my breath. Please, I thought. No, I thought, as the ball’s angle shifted from parallel to the gutter to inching toward it. I was spared, this time, not spared as in a spare, that would have been cool, but spared from the humiliation of another gutterball. My pink 8-pounder knocked into the far right pin, which dominoed into the pin next to it. Two pins down. Better than nothing.
I rubbed my bicep, sore from the morning class at the gym. I’d overdone it on the medicine ball slams, picturing his face on the ground, motivating me to slam the ball hard, harder, hardest, until I feared it would pop.
My pink ball popped out of the return. I stuck my fingers and thumb inside, wondering if I should have chosen something heavier. The old guy at the desk practically insisted I use this one, one of many they kept around “for the ladies.” But I’ve been working out. I can do push-ups, 15, and five pull-ups on my better days. I launched the ball down the lane, imagining that something heavier would better stay the course.
It was my fault. It was my fault. It was my fault. I’d been daydreaming of love for months, was primed to crush on the first guy who feigned interest in me. The fact that he happened to be entirely full of shit was a risk I should have better assessed. He talked up my wit, my popularity. That second one should have clued me in that I was about to get involved with a guy who’d fuck anyone vertical and breathing with more than four friends on Facebook.
So it goes. And there went my ball, truer than I expected, smashing into the remaining pins so hard they flew. A spare. I whooped, I’m slightly embarrassed to say. Threw my shoulders back, grin twisting my face, bowling shoes an inch above the ground.
That’s when he caught my eye. He raised his pint at me. Nice, he mouthed. I curtsied back, my success making me magnanimous. He was lucky. A gutterball and I would’ve smashed his perfect smile into bits. That pretty pink marbled 8-pounder would have been just the thing.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on August 29, 2013
I’m stretched out on a guest bed in a Santa Cruz home, bits of sand still clinging to my feet, contacts dry against my eyeballs, belly full of Brie and strawberries, asparagus and mojitos. The sun worked me over today, bright heat radiating off the pavement as I trailed my daughter and her friend down the sidewalks. Sweat slicked my body, gathered in the small of my back. Where was my ocean breeze? We’d started the day shrugging on jackets when the morning coolness caught us unaware, then spent hours complaining about the heat — I believe it topped out in the low 80s, at least 10 degrees warmer than our Humboldt-acclimated bodies can handle.
Duty called in the form of work (needed to write the Hum), sleeping (required), socializing (coffee with my generous hosts) and getting on with the day (showering and meeting up with Kaylee). Thirty-six hours later, I’m back, tucked up on a motel bed, fan cranking to cool off this too-warm room, fat and gross from eating lousy Italian food last night, already concerned about the inevitable hitting of traffic on the drive home.
But my larger concern remains finding her a place to live. Possibilities exist more tangibly now that we’ve trekked down. Searching a competitive and expensive market from 350 miles away wasn’t working. I’m glad we’re here. I’ve also been able to introduce her to friends we have in the area, my way of saying, Here is a small safety net.
With so much to attend to on a practical level — Where will she live? With who? How will we get her stuff down here? Will she need a toaster? — the emotional reaction to relocating my darling daughter to another part of the state lingers untapped for the moment. My older daughter, Chelsea, left home several years ago, returned, left again, has been happy in Long Beach for the past year-and-a-half. Kaylee spent three months in Italy and another in New York and Los Angeles — it’s not as if I haven’t said hard goodbyes before. A few weeks ago I passed through SFO’s international area, walked past the gate where I’d waved goodbye at K as she went through security, Italy-bound. My heart lurched at the memory.
Being a parent is visceral. Love and worry manifest as kicks to the gut, a punch in the face, the sensation of not being able to breathe. I get so busy and then something reminds me they are a part of me, and I fall to the floor, pulse pounding, head bursting. Not literally, of course; I have things to do and must get through the day like a responsible adult, but a part of me flees to some sort of internal panic room until it’s safe to come back out.
I am more proud than worried, thrilled to have her take responsibility for her own life, understanding that her dad and I are increasingly background on the stage of her life. But I have been a parent my entire adult life. Bobby and I have never lived alone without children. Nick is also out of high school as of June and about to start CR. He’ll be at home for a while, but the idea that some day Bobby and I may have the house to ourselves is startlingly real. And odd. Our own grand adventure. The thought dizzies me. So much transition!
Time is short, so dwelling on these changes is not something I can do. I just wanted to write enough down to remember. Now I need to roust the girl, get on with the day, focus on more practical and immediate demands. Housing. Driving. Staying up on work. Figuring out where to eat. Connecting with another friend.
By the end of today, we’ll be back on the road, aiming for Humboldt, fingers crossed against traffic jams. A week from now, I’ll be making the same drive back, only alone. That will be the one for tears.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on August 26, 2013
The sink exploded. A geyser erupted from the hole left from the disengaged faucet and handle now lying impotent in the basin. Water rushed across the counter, puddled on the floor. Fuck, Matt thought. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He threw a dish towel over the spray, pulled open the cabinet doors, shoved the trash can, the dishwashing detergent, the four thousand smashed up plastic bags aside and twisted the knob until the water slowed to a trickle, stopped.
Lanie had asked him, told him, to fix the faucet. He’d said he would. He’d said, of course. He said, I’ll get to it. He’d said, no, you don’t need to hire someone. He said, I’ll take care of it. He’d said, maybe if you would stop nagging me for one goddamn minute I’d remember to do it.
I’m sorry I said that, he’d said.
And now. Here he was. What a mess. He stood, backed up to survey. Water, water, everywhere. Matt pulled more dish towels out of the drawer, mopped up the counter. He lifted the faucet up to the light. Stripped and cracked. OK, so he could just run to the hardward store, get a new one. Lanie wouldn’t be home till after six. He still had time. Car keys in hand, door pulled tight behind him, Matt left.
An hour later, he returned, replacement faucet in a paper bag handed to him by a clerk whose skepticism rode so close to the surface that Matt had to fight to keep from assuring him he knew what he was doing. Not that he knew what he was doing. But how hard could it be? He twisted the new faucet into the place of the old, ducked back under the sink, held his breath as he released the water. Above the counter, the water poured out orderly, as water should.
“Yeah!” Matt yelled, fist-pumping his way through the kitchen. “Yeah!” Hey, he thought, if he cleaned up quickly enough, Lanie would never know about the semi-disaster that had prompted the at-last sink repair. Water mopped up, dishtowels in the laundry, he should make dinner, he thought. A complete diversion.
Onions, garlic, pinto beans, corn into the skillet. Blood red tomatoes, brilliant orange serranos into the blender. Salt. Grated jack. Chopped cilantro. Corn tortillas or flour? He could never remember which kick Lanie was on.
Six fifteen. Burritos assembled – he’d gone with the flour tortillas – presented with a spicy orange smear across the top and a sprig of cilantro tucked underneath. Lanie adored cilantro, couldn’t believe some people didn’t like it. It’s a genetic thing, Matt had said one time. That’s stupid, she’d said.
The door opened. Hey, she announced, kicking off her shoes, hanging up her coat. The air behind her rushed in, chilling the house, smoke from the neighbor’s fireplace flavoring the air. Matt held his breath. Ugh, Lanie said, what a day. She strode to the bedroom. He closed the front door, waited. She returned, sweats on, bra off, hair let down. You look so pretty, he said, reaching for a kiss. Please, I’m disgusting, she said. What’s for dinner? Burritos? Huh.
They’re really good, he protested.
I’m sure they are, Matt, she said, it’s just. Nevermind. She sat down, poked her fork into the hot sauce he’d made. He watched her bring it to her mouth. He’d tasted it repeatedly, so many times he’d lost sensation in his tongue. She licked the fork and smiled. It’s great, she said. Thank you.
After, she cleared the dishes, piled them in the sink, turned on the water. Hey, she said, did you fix the faucet? I did, he grinned. Wow, honey, that’s great. She twisted to him, wrapped her arms around his neck, pulled him close. Thank you.
Matt watched as Lanie finished the dishes, loved the way she kept pushing errant strands of hair behind her ears, how she kept singing Beast of Burden because he’d mentioned the Rolling Stones to her earlier and the smallest mention or snippet would cause a song to occupy her for hours. He loved that he knew that about her. He loved the way her ass looked in her sweats and more how it would look when he tugged them off, which his hands were doing now.
Hey, she said, but not in that way that meant stop. He slid one hand between her legs, the other one across her stomach, pulled her tight. Her breathing quickened. Matt, she whispered, then Matt! Jesus! Stop! She shoved him away, bent over, hands clenching between her legs. Jesus! Oh my god, do you still have hot sauce on your hand? Oh, god! she cried, grabbing a dishtowl from the freshly laundered pile and reaching for the sink. She yanked the handle to cold. The water burst forth. She stuck the towel into the stream just as the faucet shuddered, tipped, popped off, the geyser returning as the faucet gleamed useless on the bottom of the sink.
Lanie shook her head and sobbed against the fridge. Matt eyed the damage, stuck a finger in his mouth. Beside the taste of Lanie, he loved the taste of Lanie, the slow burn of serrano etched its way orange across his tongue.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on August 7, 2013
The sun glinted off the river. She stepped up the rocks, reaching a hand to steady herself, wishing she were the sort of person who could just skip up and down mountain trails and stacks of boulders with equal ease. But she was always reaching to steady herself.
Just yesterday she’d grasped the shoulder of a man in the elevator when the lurch to a stop had sent her off balance. “Whoa, there!” he’d said as he removed her hand from his suit jacket. “You okay?”
“Sorry,” she’d mumbled, the red heat swelling into her face. She couldn’t make eye contact, could only glance in his general direction as she affirmed her apology once again. He responded with some words she couldn’t make out over the blood pounding in her ears, but they had a certain tone of reassurance. She didn’t breathe until he’d stepped out of the elevator and it had continued on its way.
The rocks stacked against each other, a stone staircase or, in some places, a stone ladder or, in some places, she discovered, a stone slide, impossible to climb up except several people had come this way and continued skyward so the journey must be possible. She hovered on her toes, fingers clenched into a crack splitting one rock and the other hand pressed against a waist-high rock. The heat moved through her in waves, the rock under her hand alive with it.
He’d spoken in awe of her heat, the first few times. “Your whole body,” he’d said. “It’s like your temperature goes up ten degrees.” They’d been lying naked on the bed after, sweat-drenched and exhausted. She couldn’t stand him twining around her, couldn’t handle covers. She was a supernova. He tugged the duvet over his waist. “Good night,” he mumbled. The breeze shuttled in through the window, ocean cool and salty. She closed her eyes. Months into winter she would still leave the window open, a different heat radiating from her body, her arm curved around her belly.
She placed a foot on the lower rock, pressed upward, balanced on her knee as she clawed her way over the hump. From here the rocks merged with the cliff into a trail that slanted at an angle that gave her pause, but was a trail nonetheless. She picked her way forward.
He was born two weeks early, healthy, but a touch on the small side. The best, one of the nurses whispered. “It’s that much easier,” she said, “and you don’t have to feel any guilt because look at him! He’s perfect.” She noted his worried expression heightened by his barely-there blonde eyebrows, his arms flailing as if still unused to having this much room to move. “Shhh,” she said, drawing one thumb softly, butterfly softly, across the bridge of his nose, smoothed his brow to make him appear less vexed, calmer. “You’re close enough to perfect for me,” she whispered. Love rocked through her, more than love, a fierceness flooding her and she knew she would die rather than let him suffer, ever.
The last few steps were the easiest or at least the gentlest. The path leveled off at the top. She found herself poised a good twenty feet over the river. A group of kids laughed among themselves, the sound nearly drowned out by the river’s murmur. Her skin blistered in the sun, her vision blurred, heat waves emanating off the rocks, the world distorted into a haze green, gray, blue. She closed her eyes until the moment passed, imagined her center of gravity low, in her ankles. Don’t fall, she told herself. Don’t fall.
She used to tiptoe into his bedroom to make sure he was breathing. When he was a baby and again when he was a teenager. She’d wake in the night needing to pee or fetch a glass of water and then worry would doom her to insomnia, her imagination taking her down the very worst of roads until nothing but seeing him in the flesh, mouth gaped open, sheets moving up and down with his breathing, would reassure her that her panic was silly, the tears gathered in the corners of her eyes, useless. She’d inch downstairs and breathe herself slowly back to sleep.
Someone else was clambering up the rocks. The plateau did not offer room for two. She couldn’t think about it any longer or she’d find herself crawling down the cliff face, a failure. Deep breath, arms outstretched, a shriek she didn’t mean to happen, she jumped.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on August 7, 2013
I love my writers’ group. The camaraderie, the talent, the way having a weekly date keeps me exercising a part of my brain I don’t always get to use. Even if I never write that novel or collection of short stories, the act of breathing life into characters, crafting words into stories, brings comfort to me. I can still do this. Not always well, granted. Sometimes the exercises result in mechanical results, sometimes a glimpse of inspiration wanders in. But writing is always better than not writing. Tonight’s exercise did not bring me new ideas. Nonetheless, writing, focusing, creating, reading, to be lost in words for a time – all that inspires, regardless of the outcome.
The assignment was a combination of the theme, “Church for sale,” and using 14 random words within a story. What I wrote feels contrived and cliché, but then again, it almost always does so let me rephrase: it feels like an exploration of what I really want to write, a first draft maybe, or a summary of what might be interesting in more talented hands. The proverbial shitty first draft. So here goes.
Callie arrived late, just slightly. He’d already taken up a table, plugged in his laptop and his phone, both drained, no doubt, by the constant texts, Facebook notifications, Twitter updates, calls. She waved, ordered a soy latte, shoved a hand through her disheveled hair, tangled from the wind. Outside the café, hollyhocks battered the window, pink flowers bruising with each smack.
“Hi,” she chirped at him.
Don’t chirp, she scolded herself.
And don’t ask him about the other women.
And don’t drop that line about how finding out has soured your once-sweet memories.
Definitely don’t think about how he’s played you.
Or cave into the self-loathing that being played has triggered.
Steel yourself against those fathomless brown eyes.
Do not recall how he used to look at you after, your head on his arm, your hand stroking his chest, his hair, his cheek, all defenses dropped.
Do remember those were not exceptional moments for him.
Don’t, don’t, don’t be hateful.
Because you have to work together.
“Do you want anything?” she asked as she sat down. He’d ordered nothing, just sprawled out, plugged in. He shrugged and reached for her latte.
“Not really,” he said. He took a sip, set it down, pinned her with his gaze. “Look at this.” He turned the laptop toward her so she could see the unique visitors number rising.
“Great,” she enthused. The top post was one that Laurel had written. “I need water,” Callie said. She bolted up, stepped to the condiment table, poured water from a pitcher, lemon and ice tumbling into her glass. Deep drink. Deep breath.
“Great,” she repeated as she sat back down. “So,” she said. “So.” He looked at her. She glanced at her latte. “So did you and Laurel have a thing?” she heard herself ask, sure of the answer already, mentally adding another notch to the tally.
He shifted his gaze to her. “What?” he asked.
Callie knew this trick.
Steadying breath. She had a right to ask.
“Did you and Laurel have a thing?” she asked again.
His mouth opened. “Did Laurel and I have a thing?”
He looked at his computer screen, shook his head, turned back to her. “There was a dalliance,” he shrugged.
Her stomach pitched. But she managed a grin. “So, the site’s doing well?”
He shook his head. “Callie,” he began. Then stopped.
Callie arched her eyebrows. “Yes?”
He shook his head again. “Nothing.”
Exactly, she thought. Nothing.
Later, driving home, she saw a For Sale sign and turned in the direction of the arrow. Maybe she’d buy a house, she thought. Maybe she’d start a new relationship with some real estate. At least if it depreciated in value, Callie thought, it would be strictly financial, not emotional. Another sign, another turn and there it was, not a house, but a church. A small one, roughly the size of a two-bedroom, with a “For Sale” sign swinging in the wind.
She pulled her Sentra against the curb, dug in her purse for gum. Peppermint exploded in her mouth, stifling the leftover coffee breath. She strode to the church door, hands in pockets, stood on the porch – was “porch” the right word? Callie thought. It’s a chuch, does it have churchy names for pedestrian places? – and after a few moments admiring the metal work and stained glass, pulled a hand from her pocket and knocked.
She knocked again.
The wind picked up. A piece of hair caught in her mouth, stuck to the gum she was still chewing.
Jesus, Callie thought, pulling the gum from her mouth and the hair from the gum.
It was at this moment the door swung open.
“Hello,” a bespectacled bald man said. He wore a dark robe and white collar. Callie stuttered, “Hello,” gum still in hand. Memories of Catholic school flooded her.
“Are you open?” she asked.
He wrinkled his face at her. “Open?”
The wind brought honeysuckle between them.
“Come in,” he said, holding the door wide.
Later, of course, she’d realize it was a dream. But at the time, the comfort of confession seemed so real. At last, someone to tell the whole sordid story to. A clear punishment, a series of Our Fathers and Hail Marys, then absolution. It was only when she woke, the scent of honeysuckles coming in through her own open window that Callie remembered the guilt, the regret, was something she still had to live with.
Absolution was not yet forthcoming.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on July 17, 2013
I’m with friends, heading back from a perfect day at the river, the kind of day that opens blue and holds steady through the afternoon, hot enough to nudge a person into the water several times, but mild enough to allow stretching out along the sandy bank for an hour, snacking on chips and guac, sipping sweet iced raspberry tea, catching up on gossip and more serious matters until the water calls for diving in once again, the coolness pure pleasure – oh, to swim! That temporary escape of gravity’s hold, the sun, the river, the breeze, the smooth rock providing a launching pad for diving – fire, water, air, earth, all the elements combining to spill joy out across the scene.
And then, the ride back, laughing as the iPod shuffles Katy Perry, Cake, the Be Good Tanyas, the Dixie Chicks and Flight of the Conchords into a soundtrack by turns silly and sentimental. It was into this moment, passing through the brief cell service window in Willow Creek, that my phone lit up with a New York Times alert about George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty in the Death of Trayvon Martin. The words dulled my happiness for a moment, but before I could tap for more, we’d traveled out of service again and so I set the information on the back burner of my mind.
At home, I opened Facebook and Twitter, assuming links to the most relevant writings would be filling up my news feed. They were, along with the outrage – opinions pouring forth into the gaps between funny videos, weekend hilarity, Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter. I sought out Ta-Nahesi Coates, of course.
I read the smart stuff, the pieces that elegantly analyzed why we are still where we are when we are. I read re-posted tweets from Trayvon’s dad, quotes from his mother and thought about my own 17-year-old son, a white boy in a white town in a white part of California, whiter than anywhere I ever lived before – we have our own sort of lawlessness, a result of being rural, remote and economically dependent on an illegal product, but of all the things I worry about my son getting into trouble over, being targeted for the color of his skin has never been one of them.
I confess, I was once one of those people who said ignorant things like, “I don’t pay attention to what color people are! We’re all people!” In my defense, I was trying to find a way to separate myself from the casual racists of my hometown. At least I was a step ahead of the people who started sentences with, “I’m not a racist, but….” One year a race riot broke out at my high school. Some white boys, the story went, had jumped a black girl in the cemetery adjacent to the school, had carved the word “nigger” on her stomach. How much of that was true never came out, but what did emerge was fury and a desire for retribution, all of it erupting into lunchtime chaos violent enough to make the newspaper and cause the school to shorten the lunch hour and increase security.
I escaped that town to Long Beach, where folks of all different backgrounds, sexual preferences and ethnicities lived on top of each other. I didn’t have to teach my daughter about how “We’re all people!” because we lived it, bound together by geography and class. I still didn’t have a clue about exactly how insidiously racism pervades the lives of those targeted by it – and then the L.A. riots happened.
My neighborhood bordered the line between the “good” and “bad” parts of town. We didn’t see much firsthand, but a store a block away suffered vandalism and rioters burned the Long Beach DMV down. I couldn’t go to work because I worked at a bar and a city-wide curfew forced closures of late night businesses. Tension suffocated the city. Those few days following were the only time in my life when I had a conscious gut reaction to brown skin. I’m a girl – I’ve had many instances of instinctive fear of men and, sure, inadvertently walking through a bad area has concerned me, but this was a different beast, this fear.
I was on the bus two days after the riots. Three unsmiling young black men climbed aboard. Blacks and whites had just been at war and even though I was a conscientious objector to that battle, nervousness shot through me. Were they going to do something? They didn’t, of course, and I recall that feeling with shame that my good intentions were so easily dismantled – and I wonder if that’s how racists feel all the time.
When we, reluctantly, moved back to the desert, a temporary stop on the path to a better life, a prison had just opened on the outskirts of town, bringing an influx of black families with it. I waitressed at a diner in a neighborhood that, as my customers complained, “had gotten pretty goddamned dark.” I was poor, had three kids to feed, needed the tips, so I didn’t always speak up – I never indulged racist jokes or slurs, but I didn’t climb up on the soapbox as often as I could have either, didn’t initiate conversations about why the unfairness of our legal system has created a situation in which a disproportionate amount of those serving time in prison are of African-American descent.
They were old, these guys, and in bad health from living on chicken fried steak, so mostly I just looked forward to the day when all the racists (and misogynists and homophobes, etc., etc.) would die off and tolerance would bloom across the land.
Finally, in a Native American studies class at College of the Redwoods, an epiphany – or at least the beginning of one: the ignorance of saying color doesn’t matter. Like saying gender doesn’t matter. Notes on the culture of assimilation. That if I really wanted to do right by all people, especially those who’d been traditionally oppressed, abused and/or maligned, then I needed to listen to their stories, understand how our experiences differed, where they matched up, ditch the white guilt for something deeper, more useful. I still don’t have it figured out. Race issues are complicated ones, especially since issues and aspects overlap – race, gender, class, context, history.
But what I do know is that racism, overt or subtle, is always wrong. People with guns creating situations that lead to killing someone is wrong. A 17-year-old boy was killed by a man whose actions sprang from a place of prejudice and fear combined with too power in the form of a gun and the misguided “Stand Your Ground” law. Because someone opted to deliberately ignore common sense, common decency – instead channeled racism, vigilantism, accusation, violence, all the bad things combining until blood spilled out across the scene.
In the New Yorker, Jaleni Cobb writes, “Trayvon Martin’s death is an American tragedy, but it will mainly be understood as an African-American one.”
So what do we do? As individuals, as Americans? How do I, as a 43-year-old white chick, do more to eradicate these entrenched ways of thinking? Besides clicking “Share” and “Retweet”? Write Five Things To Know Before You Neighborhood Watch A Black Kid in a Hoodie? Is it presumptuous to even write this? I’m thinking out loud because I don’t know what else to do – and my heart demands something to be done.
I have no elegant ending.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on July 14, 2013
PROMPT: “It’s that kinda town,” he said.
“It’s that kinda town,” she overheard him say as he giggled his way through the door. “What kind of town is that?” she asked. They’d converged on the doorway, so she’d felt it was fair to ask. He held the door open, this broad-chested fellow in a too-tight T-shirt that boasted the name of, she thought, some rugby team or another.
“Oh,” he stammered, “They want to go to a strip club.”
She raised her eyebrows and slipped past him. Not that the idea offended her, but neither was she compelled to divulge that yes, in fact, a strip club existed, just outside city limits. Let them work for it, at least a little.
For several months she’d booked pedicures at an upscale salon where, she’d learned quickly and despite her ambivalence about knowing such things, which is why she always scooped up a gossip magazine on the way in, all the better to lose oneself in, murmuring, “Mmmmhmmm,” when asked anything, that the young woman doing her pedicure was also a stripper, sorry, exotic dancer, at the one strip club in town.
“So, anyway,” Monica (stage name: Cherry) would say, “this has been a really busy week! It’s great to have the regulars, but always good when the tourists come in.”
She was never sure how to respond. The curious writer part of her wanted to ask a shit ton of questions: Do the tourists tip more? Do the regulars expect more? How did you get into this line of work? Do you have an alternative plan for the future? How much time do you spend planning out your routine? How do you decide what to wear? What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened? Is it weird to have sex after everyone has already seen your lady junk on display?
But she was raised to be polite, so what she actually said was, “That’s great. Always helpful to have some extra funds on hand.” And then she’d hand over the polish she’d chosen, usually something blue or green, a bold color for such a conservative gal. Having someone else wash and scrub her feet, clip her toenails for Jesus’s sake, all that made her antsy. She didn’t understand how having a pedicure was supposed to be relaxing, she was tense the whole time. If it wasn’t the white stripper girls, it was the racist overtones involved in going to the Vietnamese place. Well, she thought they were Vietnamese. Maybe they were Korean. Fuck. She really was a clueless, privileged white chick. She didn’t mean to be. It’s just, well, there weren’t a lot of people of color. And she’d grown up here. It was that kinda town.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on July 10, 2013