I’m a busy woman.
It started back when I wasn’t yet able to read, which was part of the problem.
Dad worked as custodian at a mountain retreat. In early spring, mid-week, there were no strangers around, so I got to play on the hillside between the main building, now empty, and the weaving workshop.
Nothing bloomed there. Black skinny branches laced sand without leaves and only a few thorns. I knew about the silky blue flowers over in the forest, but I had to stay put where my dad could see me.
Now I got really busy. I had to do everything myself. I had to be princess, prince, and dragon.
Princesses, I was told, didn’t do much. So, as princess, I typically parked myself somewhere to dream and wait and let the other two have at it.
As prince I waited, too, but I was alert and my imaginary sword gleamed with imaginary sparks beneath the real sun.
As dragon I was furious. Understandable, really, when you’re always considered the bad guy. So I rushed about and roared and fumed and spewed imaginary fire. I was undaunted, though, despite the probability that I would one day be defeated.
Not much has changed. The last straw is that I’m expected to love myself. I mean, does loving yourself even count?
Category Archives: Beate Sigriddaughter
“I love you,” Elaine wrote. “I always have.”
But when I wouldn’t give her my phone number because her frequent unplanned hour-long phone calls had exasperated me in the past, she once again broke off all communication.
What worried me besides my limited cell phone minutes was this: Eliane insisted that in 1991 when she visited me after a spat with her girlfriend, the two of us made love. I happen to know we didn’t because I had really wanted to. I am convinced that if we had made love I would have noticed and remembered. Instead I remember sitting on the swings up in the park by the city dump after she left, flinging myself high into the blue New Mexico sky, regretting that she had decided to go back to her unnerving girlfriend without ever giving me a chance.
Now, twenty years later, she wants to shame me into remembering things her way. “I take it I wasn’t very memorable,” she challenged me. How was I expected to respond? “OK, OK, you did make love to me,” so as not to hurt her tender feelings?
What really worries me is of course how many other people make up stuff about me against my will. How many folks imagine and insist on my reality the way it never happened?
I’m living in a fairytale, I guess, though this isn’t how I imagined fairytales.
Already uneasy about so much, especially her weightlessness, she happens to read about an experiment where rats were raised with regular electric shocks. They lived.
She remembers a boyfriend who gave her honeysuckle blossoms, but always only ones that had fallen off voluntarily, not ones deliberately plucked. He spoke once of the horror of trying to explain in the clinic that the doctor had ordered only one side for shock treatment, not both. The medical staff only sneered an impatient “yeah, yeah” into his petrified face.
Back to the rats. When they were grown, their cage doors were opened to cages in which there was the same amount of food, but no electric shocks. The rats were allowed to move from one cage to the other freely. They explored the new situation. Then, one by one, they returned to the devastating comfort of the familiar shocks.
She wants to cry. She talks to her husband instead, tells him about the rats. “It’s so sad,” she pleads.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says, looking up from his computer screen. “The way they use those rats in labs.”
“That’s not it,” she whispers. “What’s sad is that they returned to the pain.”
“Oh,” he says. “I thought you were sad because you cared about the animals.”
Her energy freezes, expands into silence, a thing she knows well. She aches for the wrong reasons.
This was no dream. I was familiar with the open scent of silence. On my flight home to life I failed to decipher the zigzag of letters my mother wrote some fifty years before in German script to my father.
I wanted to know. I couldn’t imagine what.
In life the extent of our courage amounted to weather reports exchanged and assorted animals, my cats, the ducks on the water, fillies in June, some foxes, one year pelicans on City Park Lake, another year amazingly two eagles in the suburb.
Before I ever moved my language was already foreign.
For years I called my widowed father every Sunday. His hearing got worse. The hearing aid didn’t work. He blamed the batteries. I was tempted to say he never understood me anyway. He asked about my cats and my husband’s friend’s tarantula.
I stood at their grave site and threw in three red roses and thank you, thank you, thank you ticked from my heart like hemlock needles falling, for the love, the spark, the living kindled.
Then came the Sunday when I was at home and had no call to make. The last card I sent, a tiger carrying its baby in its mouth, lay in a salver in the hallway of my oldest brother’s home, still in its envelope and destined never to be read.
I anxiously remembered when my mother was a little girl, her father had a dog named Senta.
“Why do you hang with Ned?” Solveig had asked her husband Alan once.
“Because he’s my friend.”
Now Ned stood in their living room, running his finger, as though absent-minded, across the wooden book shelf. “Do you think you’re doing the right thing?”
“Of course.” She willed herself to not stare at the shiny trail his finger left in the dust. “The scholarship pays for everything.”
“It’s bigger than Alan’s, I hear.”
“Well, it’s California versus Minnesota. Things cost more out there.”
“Aren’t you afraid of hurting Alan by competing with him and doing better?” Ned asked.
Solveig hugged herself. “I’m not competing. I’m merely good at what I do. Not better.”
“Graduating eighth in your class to his eleventh?”
Solveig shot a glance at Alan who was busy uncorking wine. He had told Ned that?
“Obviously made an impression,” Ned said. His eyes were slits for a moment.
“Well, Ned, Alan doesn’t want me to sit around knitting and watching TV or reading romances and mysteries.”
A cockroach began a solitary march across the dinner table already set. Solveig felt like laughing, throwing up, or both. House-keeper par excellence.
“How do you know?” Ned asked.
Three pairs of eyes followed the cockroach to the edge of the table where it disappeared. For the first time Solveig felt a stir of hatred for her husband who said nothing, not even in justification of the cockroach.
Halfway up the mountain a grown man sits, solemn, in a patch of daisies. A moment later a preoccupied black bear lumbers in the distance, first toward a clutch of trees, then out of sight. At the top I can see Mt. Baker to the east and twelve ships out in English Bay to the west. And far beyond.
On the way down, the sunset pierces me exactly where my longing lives. I ache for Venezuela waterfalls that I will likely never see, for a polished amage in Buenos Aires, for this year’s crop of yellow-centered forget-me-nots in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, for this year’s horned lizards zipping through the Gila Wilderness.
I am ashamed of days when sunsets came and went and I stood stapling minutes into board meeting packets till dark. And I am not ashamed, too. It was expected and I had agreed to it. Now my job is to see what I can do to help out God whom I have sometimes blamed for being blind.
In my dreams, my mother sings to me: “Das gibts nur einmal…” I shall wear red to honor the unseen.
Peace isn’t easy. Especially in fall when red leaves float down.
My first rival was my father, by far the favorite child in the family. The rest of us were easily eclipsed by his colorful tantrums. At breakfast over honey rolls, mother explained she had deliberately chosen him. We were more accidental.
I couldn’t wait to grow up. I planned to go to the ends of the earth to avoid rejection.
I had a date for the prom in February. In April he fell head over heels for Nola, lead actress in the senior musical.
“I’ll still go to the prom with you,” he nobly offered.
“No thanks,” I said and imagined them dancing.
My best friend with Joan of Arc hair and violet eyes was summoned to bed by the man I wanted as we were sitting at the foot of the stairs, talking of immortality and oranges and a certain fairytale fox. They left me with moonlight and Green Chartreuse.
A husband left for a long-legged creature on the brink of first bloom.
An old lover’s new love already swept his front porch as I walked by.
My favorite T-shirt is yellow and tattered: a wanderer, a woman, walks on a mountain bridge. I dream of the inside of gold lit windows I sometimes see at dusk.
I have come full circle. I am grown up now. My young son is already more important. Earth has no end.
A photo of her hometown, 1945. The castle in the background, standing. The church transparent with boldly missing chunks of stone, but the basic structure is intact. The rest is rubble, ragged stones that no longer look manmade. One five story façade stands tall, facing the market with nothing behind it, no depth, no life, no commerce. All back to nature almost, with grass already growing wild between the tumbled bricks.
However, the market square is filled with striped umbrellas—red and white mostly she remembers, though the picture is black and white. There commerce has resumed with eggs and vegetables and, yes, a few flowers for those whose life continues. Women with shopping bags, men striding with produce or purpose, children quite possibly laughing. One perky umbrella has polka dots.
She used to play in the ruins nearby. Splendid places for hide and seek, always provided there were no longer any not yet detonated bombs.
The rubble patiently sits in the grass awaiting the future. Peace at a cost. The work of the good guys.
Not her favorite photo, perhaps, but one that haunts her with importance and impatience until women and men will have the courage to persuade each other that priceless peace is better than even what the good guys do.
It was summer. The flavor of Italy was lemon sherbet. She was fifteen, I was thirteen, and both of us were beautiful.
I don’t remember how we met, probably because of a smile. Her family stayed at the opposite end of the camp ground from mine. She only spoke Italian and a few words of French. I only spoke German and a little English. Still, I learned her name, Daniela, and she learned mine.
Each day we walked together on the beach, bent over pretty shells and pebbles and scuttling crabs, murmuring in our languages we couldn’t understand. We also drew pictures in the sand and knew all we needed to know.
She liked braiding my hair. Her own was long and blond, and her eyes were dark brown. She had tiny freckles scattered on her nose.
One night she went out dancing with her Italian teenage friends. I wanted to go, but my parents said I was too young. She stopped by our tent so that I could admire her white dress.
The morning my family left, she came early with three daisies and a smile. I also smiled. Nothing could be saved into the future, not even the logic of shared phrases. I only learned one word of her language that year: “amica.” I could have learned more. It wasn’t necessary. When I think of her I feel as though my eyes are filled with sun.