Grief and Other Eating Disorders

When I met L,  he told me I was trapped inside of a Raymond Carver story. I read them all but still couldn’t find a way out.  I clung to the belief that, by looking carefully enough, all of life’s answers were already written.   I didn’t know yet that it was up to me to write my own way out.  The same goes for you, in case you’re here searching.


Grief & Other Eating Disorders

I wake, grasping at the liminal sensation of running across ice-encrusted snow as a kid.  My brother and cousins sink into the soft powder.  I cross, joyfully unscathed.  Because I am small.  Because I never stop moving. 

I rise, alone in a king sized bed, barely indenting it.  The house is freezing. 

I slowly dress and drive the hilly, sleet covered streets to a bank appointment that I don’t remember making.  I prop myself up in a corner, and am startled by my reflection in the foyer glass.  A medical skeleton, gaping at the tellers’ assured, bright motions. Her own unsteady hands clutching a red folder marked “Finances”.  

“Hello!  How are you today?  I’m Lori, the loan officer.   We spoke on the phone.” She is brunette, her face seems kind and worried.  I shake her hand and consider the acceptable responses to stranger when you are starving yourself into madness.  I am invincible and utterly broken.  I am beyond all fucking reproach.   “I’m OK. A bit tired.”  

She leads me to a gray cubicle where I notice her name plate.  Thank God, because I’ve already forgotten. 

“I am not sure, yet, about anything, Mrs. Malone. I just want to understand my options.  If I stay, alone…”  

Lori smiles sympathetically as I pause to gather my thoughts.  She knows a lot about me already.  Small town divorce. 

“What would mortgage rates look like… adjusted with a single income?”

She hands me a packet of detailed paperwork and launches into an in-depth explanation of the process.  I am too distracted to follow her.  The horrible “ALONE” I mumbled earlier flits about the room and alights on her name plate, shimmering.   

M A L O N E

“You have amazing credit.  No matter what you decide to do, you are in a favorable financial situation.” 

I imagine myself mummifying in that ice-cold cream colonial on the hill.  Alone, sealed in and sacrificed in the fetal position.  Future bankers would find me in-situ with this impeccable fucking credit score fully intact.  And then what, Lori? Tears form in the corner of my eyes and I avoid her gaze.

Lori slides her card to me.  I enter her number into my iPhone as Lori “The Lone Loan” Malone.  I smirk, still teary-eyed.  This is the closest I’ve come to laughing in months. 

I shove the papers into my red “Finances” folder.  “Thank you!  Wonderful.  I’ll look at this and give you a call in a few weeks.  I need time to think this over.” 

Lori walks me to the door, a motherly hand on my shoulder. “I have no idea if I would be able to hold it together so well if I were in your situation.”

I throw up a little in my mouth.  It turns to a laugh, near the end, barely outstripping the pain.

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Ash Wednesday

priests used to awe me
thumbs dipped in black,
edging grainy smudged crosses
on each upturned forehead


d
r
d r a a g
a
g

our pew of tartan skirts
a chain of firing synapses
squeezing the hand of the
next girl in restive waves

the weight of mass lifts
we chase one another across
the frozen school parking lot
gathering about the washroom mirrors

plaid-frocked, self conscious
comparing ash marks
we all envy one smudge
an honest to goodness cross!

for what cannot be wrought
into suffering?

amen.

Dead Man’s Curve (I-90 Eastbound)

when i read the painted lane warnings
|SLOW|SLOW|SLOW|SLOW|
or hit the rumble strips
SLOWDOWN SLOWDOWN SLOWDOWN

i hear my brother teasing, as we peek through
the windows of our two-tone blue van
“uh oh, here comes dead man’s curve!

i see me, skeptically scanning the sleet-laden
shoulders of the wintry interstate, boldy
declaring: “i don’t see any dead bodies!”

(i assumed the city of cleveland left casualties
of car crashes as guide-markers for others
to avoid mishaps. like on mount everest.)

i picture my brother’s face, shocked at my naivete
and mom scolding us both: “stop being morbid!
don’t take things so literally all the time!”

i still don’t see any dead men
except this fool in front of me
that doesn’t know to punch it
through the second half of the curve

How to Select the Perfect Two-Step Partner

he will be tall in a white cowboy hat
backs up a horse trailer on the first try
hog ties a calf in a few seconds flat

not just some dime a dozen Dallas brat
shoot for one six-two in boots, or just shy
he will be tall in a white cowboy hat

some strong, dark ranchhand with no trace of fat
a mischief-eyed wrangler telling a lie
hog ties a calf in a few seconds flat

your man has the proper two-step down pat
a bright and floating denim butterfly
he will be tall in a white cowboy hat

he will be nothing more than a tomcat
whispering bull beneath the prairie sky
hog-ties a calf in a few seconds flat

he may ask you to dance, tobacco spat
a Shiner in hand and one on his eye
he will be tall in a white cowboy hat
hog ties a calf in a few seconds flat

Woodworker’s Blues

Uncle Carl passed away last year, before the holidays. He made wooden crafts of various animals, fishing lures, ornaments, trinkets. My dad inerhited his winter hat, cowboy movie collection, and six large wooden silhouttes of geese. Dad kept the movies and gave the rest to me, figuring I’d use them best. “My lover of weird fashion, my artist.”

I wore the ushanka a lot that winter. The geese were painted white, their peach beaks halved by a crooked black line into knowing smiles. Carl’s style was always very bold.


I was freshly divorced, and living alone in a three story WWII era rental. I kept the geese in the attic, stacked on top of a box Great Grandma Daniels’ china. My family’s mementos were adjacent to a box of my ex’s antique Christmas lights. He promised to pick these up “eventually”. It felt right to keep the heirlooms in their own corners, where I knew they were safe.

Where I was safe from confronting lost time and mortality.


A whole year has passed. I lug the box of my ex’s Christmas decorations down to the living room. “Eventually” has arrived, a final untangling of our wordly possessions. I upset the pile of geese in the process. They scatter, smiling up at me – and I realize something: They are just templates. Carl intended to do more, but couldn’t. He left behind a pattern and it’s my job to build something from it. I prop his plain, smug goose on my mantel and carry the rest of the gaggle down to my workspace.

What I make is not necessarily the point. I have learned in my own weird way: cherish what you have, leave what you can, and trust that others can build upon it.

Winter Solstice Blues

December is a hard month. Days short of light and patience.

It won’t snow. The cold rainy mist aches my bones.

Christmas feels tacky and cheerless.

The darkest night creeps by.

Mini strands of lights flash

on a crooked three foot

plastic tree. We’ve

got this, I say to

the dog. We

will make it

to spring,

some-

how.

*

Adoration

I wear my husband’s denim work-shirt to pick through the blackberry thicket. Thin thorns carve hairline scratches into my forearms.  There are not enough ripe berries to make a pie, but I fill a small bowl.  A surprise for when he gets home later.  I pace the lawn and identify wildflowers: Sourgrass.  Moth mullein.  His car rolls up the driveway after sunset.  The dog and I run as fast as we can to greet him –  the ghost of him.

“You look like hell.”

The next day he tells me about a girl who looks at him like I used to- with adoration.

He’s often late that summer.  I wait up for him after a gig in Buffalo.  Dinner sits untasted in the kitchen.  I try to picture reasonable scenarios for the delay.  He eventually calls near midnight, stalled in his friend’s car, on 90 West, not too far away.  I leave the house fast – lights on, doors unlocked.  I load a fuel can from the garage into my hatchback.  I feel sick from the fumes, even with the windows rolled down.  I wonder if he told his friends about the girl.  If they condone it.

She pulls behind the stalled car and maintains a helpful, wifely veneer.  “Don’t get out.” Her husband says as he pops the hatch.  I peek my head into her passenger window to chat while he refuels.    “Hey, thank you so much!  We tried to fill up but the station was closed! ”  “You’re welcome.” She says “There’s a lot of food waiting at the house, if you’re hungry.”  He puts the gas-can back into her trunk with a firm “Let’s go!”

My husband schleps his music shit through the front door.  His friend follows me into the fluorescent blaze of the garage.  I set the empty fuel can on a shelf and try to read his eyes.   Dark, wide-set – kind as always.  No trace of my pain, no weight of witnessing a failed partnership.

“What’s happenin’?” he drawls, opening his arms wide.  “It’s so good to see you!”   I step across the garage and allow myself this comfort, resting my head against his neck. He smells sweet of sweat, cigarettes, ferns.  Blackberry leaves steeping in the hot decline of summer.  I hold him and try not to cry.

I follow her through the side door, where the dog loudly wags his tail against the washing machine.   “There’s lots of food in the kitchen!” She says, as we kick off our shoes.  The dog brings us gifts: old blankets, discarded paper towel rolls, cereal boxes.  We gather them graciously and make a fuss, laughing at his simple self-satisfaction.

I want to keep her laughing.  I want her to stop searching my face with pleading, fearful eyes.

My husband must’ve told him about the girl.  Our friend is too conversational, too animated.  Excited about the food, praising the blackberry crumble pie, describing people he met over the weekend.    The three of us stay up late at the kitchen table, talking.

“I realize now that I want this someday.  Marriage, a stable home.  I admire you both!”

Shit, he doesn’t know.  I get sick for a second, force a smile.  “Oh, honey, no.  This is so much work!”

I flash my eyes towards my husband.  “Did you have any epiphanies in Buffalo?”

“Not really.”

“I think, I finally got the hang of dancing this weekend.  Can you two-step?”  I gently lift her hands and lead her from the table. I patiently teach her, while the husband stares in disbelief. She’s clumsy at first, then delighted.

We skitter fast across the surface of her grief – an impossible, weightless freedom.  The dog paces back and forth with endless offerings, scattering cardboard tubes at our feet like roses.