Pimp My Lent/Day 14
From college buddy and Oklahoma native Leigh McGee
When I knew that accounting for an oil company was NOT my life’s work, I quit, bought a Volkswagen bus, and set out on a year-long journey to see America and figure out a new path. That year changed my life in countless ways. I realized that we are all connected and only visiting.
On my journey, I had no schedule, no plan, and no one to please. One afternoon as I walked around Seattle, I lingered for a while in a coffee shop. I loved the music and thoroughly enjoyed the people visiting there. I found myself listening more to the Irish folk music that was playing than the people. The young shop owner proudly told me that it was Luke Kelly and The Dubliners. She enjoyed that I loved her music so much. We talked a while and she played me all of her favorites. When it was time to go, she handed me a bag full of her Irish folk collection. She said “send them back when you get to where you are going.”
Her music made me happy for months as I traveled. My favorite song of all was “The Night Visiting Song.” The opening and closing verse become my travel motto – “I must away now, I can no longer tarry. This morning’s tempest, I have to cross. I must be guided without a stumble into the arms, I love the most.”
Note… Leigh’s story was so beautiful, and the song so lovely and haunting. I considered posting exactly what she wrote and saying “Thank you, and good night.” I let her words and the tone of the song set with me last night, and almost all day today, and then finally, sat down in a quiet room and was surprised when the muse began to speak in the voice of Emily, Cricket’s mother.
What follows is an email from Emily to her older sister Ginnie. I don’t know a lot about these two women yet – other than both are military wives, and the daughters of a career army man.
Here’s the email …
Hello, from Sardineville. Yes, we are all still packed into Quinette’s house in beautiful Cache, U.S.A. The transfer of the CWO who was supposed to vacate our quarters has been delayed indefinitely because his wife slipped on a french fry in the PX food court and broke her leg, so now he’s on leave and she’s in rehab. Maybe Ben will meet her there! If he ever gets in! Because of course, he’s only a corporal and she’s the wife of an officer.
I am not going to sit here and be bitter and angry. I am not going to do it.
Because of Ben’s medical issues – and there are many – and our lack of reliable transportation, we have to be closer to the hospital and rehab, so the Quartermaster “guaranteed” us the next available quarters. They told me today, “That no matter what it is, no matter where it is, regardless of rank, the next house that comes up is yours.” So, please join me in praying that 1) he’s not “jerking up my chain” or whatever Cricket always says, and that 2) tomorrow a full-bird colonel gets transferred out! Or not. I would die to get into those two-story duplexes within walking distance of the commissary, PX and library. Remember those? The quarters that we lived in when Daddy was stationed here are gone. Torn down for the fancy new BOQs. Those bachelor officers, they have all the fun. (Especially now that their quarters are co-ed!)
Well, it’s 0218 and I am sitting here battling mosquitoes at the picnic table in the backyard with my laptop, hoping that the battery holds out so I can finish and send this email. Quinette got sick of my kids bitching about not having Internet access, so she went out and “Got the damn thing, and the thing to work on it with [this laptop] so you kids’ll shut the hell up about it.” We love her, our Quinette.
This is “my time for me” today. I am low in rank and high in demand. I do not understand how this could be, as I am commissary, aid & comfort, confessional, housekeeping and maintenance engineer.
I am not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself.
I am not going to admit, no matter what, that you were right and that Douglas should not be allowed to sleep with me while Ben was gone. I refuse to admit it that it’s my fault that Douglas can’t fall asleep unless he’s in our bed, that he refuses to stay in his own bed, and that when we try to ignore him and let him wear himself down, he sits in the hall outside our bedroom and weeps/wails/whines until I am so livid I can’t trust myself to speak civilly to him. Rightly or wrongly, Ben and I often let him fall asleep in our bed, and then I carefully pick him up and carry him to his bed and laaaay him verrrry slowwwwly as so as not to wake him. (Ben says I look like a bomb-squad guy carrying ordinance.) Most nights, I don’t even bother. There’s no room in our bed for three butts, even if two of them are skinny, so being the not-skinny butt, I go sleep in the recliner in the living room.
I am not sitting here feeling sorry for myself. And I have not had a beer tonight. I have had three. So there.
But even tipsy, I certainly will not sit here and admit that you and Quinette were correct in insisting that I should have weaned Savannah months ago. Her new thing: demanding to nurse any time Ben gets close to me. He thinks it’s hilarious (of course). He’ll grab me and tease her, saying, “Back off pal, those are mine!” just to get her goat, and it works. Savannah goes ballistic. It drives me nuts because I have to calm her down, but then again, Ben’s so rarely in the mood to tease, I’m halfway grateful.
Back to our story… On Saturday, we were invited to Roald and Paula’s (from Fort Hood, remember them?) for a cookout. Adults are outside talking, while the kids are inside playing, the back door’s open so we can monitor/circumvent disasters. Everything’s great, fine. Ben and I are snuggled up in the glider and Savannah comes outside, comes straight to me and pulls up my shirt. I tell her no, and remind her that she’s a big girl now and that we only nuh-nuh (wipe that smirk off your face RIGHT NOW, Virginia Sue!) at home, at night-night time. Savvie pulls up my shirt again. I hold her hand, tell her no. She does it again, making her mean face. I tell her, “No, ma’am.) And what’s Ben doing? Ben is sitting there, elbow on arm of the glider, back of his hand pressed against his mouth so Savvie can’t see he’s cracking up. She tries again, I tell her no, and she spanks my hand and bellows, “Mama! Flop our your titty!”
Roald had the grace to turn towards the grill before he lost his shit. Paula turned away too, biting her lips. Ben was just gone, full out collapsed over on the side table, laughing so hard he about hurting himself.
It is, unfortunately, illegal in Oklahoma to kill your children.
Where did she hear the word “titty?” To my knowledge, nobody’s ever used the word in our house. She doesn’t go to daycare. Has to be Quinette, though Q denies it. I asked Lexi and Cricket. Just at hearing me say “titty,” Lexi blushed so hard I thought her head would explode. Cricket, she just shrugged. Hmmm…
I used to think Cricket was my biggest challenge as far as discipline, but I usually can tap into her unending desire to please and entertain in order to bend her to my will. Savannah’s sole desire is for the rest of the world to entertain and please her. There is no bending her. I told Ben “Laugh now, asshole. We are doomed.” Right now, he thinks everything the kids do is precious, brilliant and/or hilarious. I cannot wait until that pink-cloud dumps him on his bony butt.
Everything we do must be focused on restoring Ben to good health and regaining his strength. His back is healing; he’s seeing some improvement in range of motion and pain there. His leg is so full of pins and metal, he’ll never go through another airport without being strip-searched. The face is still iffy. The skin grafts are doing good, but he’s got surgery after surgery ahead.
And with all this, I am evil and mean and impatient and wanting him to step up and be the father, instead of Fun Dad and Hero Dad. Then again, we are talking about Ben Cameron. He is Fun Dad. He is Hero Dad.
It’s still not fair. When do I get to be Fun Mom?
Okay, enough whining. Roll call:
LEXI. She’s grown so tall and thin; she’s almost as tall as me. And my god, but doesn’t she look just like Mom? She talks like her, too. Remember how Mom would walk around singing under her breath? Lexi does that! Sometimes the resemblance is so uncanny that I look at her and think “Is this some weird reincarnation thing? Is my mother now my daughter?” Lexi is very pretty, but very “airy-fairy” as Quinette describes it. The girl has no idea that she’s beautiful, which is both good and bad in that it’s good that she’s not conceited, but she’s so terribly insecure it’s painful to watch. (How must it feel then on the inside? Poor Lexi.) How to work the girl towards the center, some balance? All hints and advice appreciated. So far, we don’t have too much pre-teen happening, but oh, she has her moments – I know I told you about the whole door-slamming/door-removing thing. That was a fun month, let me tell you.
CRICKET. Cricket is Cricket. The amazing and terrifying woman-child. Today (Friday) I picked them up from school, and she gets in the backseat, buckles her seatbelt, and stares out the window, hand on her chin, tapping her fingers against her face. Lexi’s in the front with me, sighing about all the cool stuff – phones, iPods, etc. – that allll her friends have but she doesn’t. The usual. Cricket’s just sitting back there, silent. (Unbelievable, but true. She is capable of silence) So I say, “So, what happened at school today that was interesting?” Which usually launches her into some long story. But Cricket just says “nothing,” and keeps looking out the window. I say, “Really? Nothing at all interesting happened at school today?” Then she looks up at me in the rearview and says, “Two girls in my class are having slumber parties. Some girls even got invitations to both. I didn’t get invited to either one. If that interests you, then there is your news for the day.”
=Drive to house in silence.
=Park in driveway.
=Watch children go into house.
=Wait in car until able to lift heart from floorboard before following them inside.
=Resist urge to telephone daughter’s classmates’ parents and call them fucking morons.
=Resist urge to tell injured daughter that any girl who would reject her friendship is a fucking moron.
=Pray for insight and the perfect thing to say to injured child.
What do you do with stuff like this? Do your boys go through this? I mean, I know you guys have been stationed at Carson for a long while now, you’re more established there, but still…. Girls are just so frigging cruel. It wasn’t like this when we were kids. I don’t remember it ever being like this, except maybe when we were in New Jersey. I know neither of us were ever in with the popular kids, but – Jesus Christ!
[Battery died. I had to come inside and plug in the laptop. So I am now sitting on the floor in Quinette’s kitchen because the only open three-prong plug is behind the cookbook shelf. The view from here: same old yellow linoleum curled up at the edges. Same olive-green stove and refrigerator. Same birdcage – but no more Pete & RePete the finches. Now we have Roy & Dale, brave budgies who survived Savannah turning the cage over three times before Quinette and I finally zip-tied it the bookcase.]
SO. Speaking of Jesus Christ…
Sweet sister, you are not in trouble, okay, and I don’t want you to feel bad about any of this, but…. I need to bring this up. Becca Wingate’s sister Teresa – you set it up for Teresa’s daughter Jeanmarie to be Cricket’s pen-pal, remember? You were 100% right about the pen-pal – Cricket loves it, loves having someone to write to, and thankfully Jeanmarie has been good about writing back. Although Cricket complains that Jeanmarie’s letters are only one page, whereas Cricket in true fashion goes on and on and on.
Hmmm. Wonder where she gets that from? How could it be thus?
Anyway dear, dear, dear sister. I have, to date, received sixteen voicemails and too many emails to count from Teresa. Apparently, Cricket mentioned in her letters to Jeanmarie that we don’t go to church, and that on Sunday mornings, we often go out to the mountains and enjoy the quiet, and she’d said how I said something like God is in nature too. I don’t know exactly what she said. I don’t have a copy of what Cricket wrote as she was using a typewriter then. (Hours and hours and hours of the child hunting-and-pecking on a typewriter? Forget waterboarding, send in Cricket and the Selectric.) So, I don’t know exactly what was said, but Jeanmarie’s mother took it wrong. She is obsessed with the idea that I am a pagan, and that I am risking my kids’ “eternal souls” by taking them to the mountains on Sundays.
(Virginia Sue, stop cackling – I swear, I can hear you from here.)
At first, it was funny, then kinda funny and kinda annoying. Since Ben’s come home, and he’s having so much trouble sleeping (as are we all), I’ve asked Teresa to please stop calling. She’s complied, although the last voicemail she left is really creeping me out because she accuses me of “exposing your children to dangerous and godless Eastern influences.” Somewhere, in some recent conversation between the pen-pals, Cricket mentioned Douglas’ new obsession with all things Pokémon. Ben and I thought Pokémon was just the new Thomas the Tank Engine, but no, apparently Pokémon is the new Pol Pot!
Seriously, I am half-afraid she’ll report me to social services, and half-afraid that I should be reporting her to social services.
Becca’s your friend – will you let her know what’s going on? Maybe she knows already, but just in case…? I don’t want to get tangled up in somebody else’s family drama as I have plenty of my own. I don’t want to spoil Cricket’s friendship with Jeanmarie, either. I read every letter now – trying not to censor but also making sure that Cricket doesn’t mention saying ANYTHING about God, Jesus, or going out to the Wichitas.
Okay. This is ridiculous. I have written a novella instead of an email. So sorry. I guess this is what happens when there’s a three-month gap between communications. How do we let it go so long? We used to check in every-other DAY.
Time to wrap this up. You want to know, how is Ben and how am I?
Ben is himself, and then he’s a thousand miles away. If he’s awake, he’s in pain or he’s doped up to the point where he feels nothing much at all. His emotions go from zero to euphoric, or on the other end of the spectrum, zero to so low it’s scary. We don’t see much in-between. And all the medications that he’s on don’t promote stable moods. He is fixated on the kids, and worries about them constantly. Not without reason, of course. When we – both of us – saw how traumatized Cricket was with the surprise thing – I thought they were going to have to check all three of us into the loony bin! It totally freaked Cricket out, took weeks to get her back to herself. She’ll still bring it up now and then, “Hey, remember when you brought Dad into my school and made me cry and mortified me in front of everybody?” Ben was bereft at having hurt her, and I was all-the-way ready to give all four kids up to the state and brand BAD MOTHER on my forehead and go wander the desert.
We’d all kinda got over that when Savannah’s first birthday hit and instead of Fun Dad, we got Very Sad Dad. Marking her first year when he’d missed most of it – it was more than he could deal with. Savannah’s is the only birth that he wasn’t there for, and that haunts him. He obsesses about it, worrying that it has “irrevocably ruined” (his words) their bond as father and child. He is especially tender with Douglas, who, thank God, finally stopped clinging to me or Quinnette and whining every time Ben looked at him or spoke to him. They are buddies now, and it’s sweet to see. Ben and Lexi seem fine together, and of course, Ben and Cricket – I swear, they are two halves of the same soul.
He told me this morning that he is not a soldier anymore. I am scared to ask him what this means.
So, how am I?
Emotional. Tired. Fat. I am all PMS and lack of sleep. I have not had a cigarette in over 10 years, but this morning Ben fell when I was getting him out of the tub. It hurt both of us as he fell on me, and after I got him settled into a chair, I wanted a cigarette so badly that I drove to the store and went in with every intention of buying a pack, taking a couple out, and throwing the rest away. (You know, exactly how I started back smoking a pack a day the last time I thought I could just take two and throw away the pack.) Since a pack of cigarettes costs the price of a meal nowadays, I got the next best thing, a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips. I am 26 pounds heavier than I was when Ben was deployed. Yes, I went through pregnancy, yes, I need to cut myself some slack, but TWENTY-SIX POUNDS? Ben weighs less than I do right now. That’s just wrong.
I am lonely, stressed about going deeper in debt thanks to the new car that we will soon need. I am way under-sexed (slight improvement from completely unsexed, but still…). I am angry all the time, or so it feels. I am buying far too many bags of crunchy, fatty, salty foods and consuming them in the car.
It’s selfish to the extreme to say this, knowing that so many women (and men) never get their loved one home at all, but…I miss my husband. The “big dude with the ‘tude” – remember that guy? He hasn’t made it back yet.
Last night in my lonely recliner bed, I dreamed that I was in the backseat of a car, going somewhere on some country highway. Dad was driving, and Mom was in the front passenger seat. I was so glad to see her, but she was rail-thin and so frail. She reached her hand up over the seat, wanting my hand, and when our fingers touched, I thought “she’s going away.” I woke up then, and Ben was sitting in a chair by the recliner. He said he’d been watching me sleep. He took my hand, and his fingers were so slender and smooth and cool to the touch. I realized it was him in my dream, not Mom, and that he is the one that I am afraid is going away.
Oh my god. It’s almost 0400. I am going to be one sorry mommy in a couple of hours. Savannah wakes up ungodly early, and once she’s up, it’s go, go, go.
Virginia Sue, please, let’s not wait months before our next email exchange, okay? Ben says maybe once we’re on base, we can get set up to use Skype. I hear it’s awesome. Write me back! And meanwhile, I will break open the kids’ piggy banks and hire myself a wife so I focus all my time on writing you another novella while she works, cleans, drives, cooks, nurses and nurses, and does not have sex.
Give my love to the boys, especially your jar-head husband. Tell him that I said “Go Army!” heehee