Unsupervised, my dreams would lead me into forests where, merged with the memories of my hound who sleeps next to me on colder nights, I would run and leap over werewolves and accountants alike, nazi smelling lawyers, who reek of cognac and onion and starch.
Instead though I wake at twelve, or two, three thirty, and make breakfast at five. I cook dinner too, because thats a nice time to smell meat cooking. I remember waking up in the middle of the night one winter in Phoenix, Arizona, to the most wonderful smell and the muffled voices of my father and sister in the back yard.
I had been reading The Odyssey, and the feast of Homer’s rivals and the seas and the swords made that invitation to breakfast all the more exciting. I was eleven years old, The Beatles 65 was about to become forever old, 1966 was coming and The Road to Ram, a song by a local band, was playing on the radio the night before when I closed my eyes. Three upon the road to Ram, one a boy and one a man, a voice called catch me if you can… The Odyssey and a leg of lamb in the back yard.
Father had gotten a good job, a better job, when we moved into this new house. I am not sure why we moved there, it was kind of a better neighborhood, a new school, but mostly I think mom wanted to get away from the house where Danny had had his accident. It was down by the Bethany Theater, by Glendale Avenue, (why is Glendale always a sad part of town?) we had, or I had, grown up in this square mile… But now we moved in the direction of downtown, a few miles east I think. And some strange things happened in this house. Mother had her teeth pulled out. My sister came back to live with us. And our neighbor poisoned my cat, Sugarfoot, whom I had since I was six, and whose murder was so inexplicably cruel, because she came there to drink water? I don’t know why they killed her, but with Danny in his wheel chair, his head bandaged and his spastic movements that only seemed to communicate rage or more rage, why would anyone want to hurt us anymore than we were hurt?
I had been an AAU swimmer. I was training to be an Olympic athlete, for the past year and a half I had woken before school to train for an hour and after school for an hour and a half. An old friend from my Bluebird troupe, back when my momma ran the troupe, she was in Dick Smiths gym too, a lean and fast swimmer, very quiet and kind of standoffish. Some people just seemed to have more I Am Important than me. They just knew how to say no I don’t want to have a coke with you. I almost always said yes to anyone who asked, still do. So already, you see, I have a blow to my self esteem that has taken place in the past three years. What is it?
Danny’s accident made fathers condition much worse. He would come home some nights drunk and yelling. I don’t remember seeing him that much, really, when I am little. He is off on Bekins trips, or he is napping all day and we cannot make any noise on fear of decapitation and severe looks. No, but something’s really frightening about him and I am not sure what. He had spanked me once… So I kind of liked him better when he was drunk, he was friendlier to me anyway, and sometimes he would sing or want to do things. It was my mother, she was so mean and angry when he was drunk. She caused the fights, thats how it looked to me. I wonder what she was protecting us from. She’s always somehow geting us out of the room and then.
So he had begun drinking more and more, and the fights were louder now. We had started having dinner together on Sundays. Oh the dreaded sunday dinner. Father would usually cook. And the table would be set perfectly. And I put on a nice dress and Danny would be at one end and father at the other. I would spill my glass of milk. I got slapped once. And then the next time mother didn’t slap me, but I remember feeling like I, if I made a mistake like that, I was hated. Just hated. She didn’t hit, she’d hate. Well, I guess she hit sometimes too. But that training by disapproval, that would have worked except she never gave it up. She stayed mad, she did not forgive. There may be the simple source of the self esteem issue, to be hated by your parent for spilling your milk, or WHATEVER, that is very hard to recover from. That may be part of it. This particular dinner, father made beef stroganoff, spectacular, the most delicious thing I ever tasted. I didn’t want to taste it though I didn’t like a bowl of sour cream. I remember Danny saying “whats that supposed to be” AND us cracking up and Daddy walking over and hitting him. Did he hit him? Did he want to hit him? He was still in his bandages. It was a tense time in the Jones household.
My stroke had begun to slow. I put on a pound or two. White Bear, the name my Phillipino coach Moonie had given my younger male partner, had overtaken me, and my shame at not being able to beat him anymore was unbearable. I starting swimming non AAU, I was fast butterfly, and could win most of those races easily. I tired the Arizona record for boys 12-14 during practice one day. And then began to lose the races, Washington High School swim club, bad coach, it was over by the end of summer. I tried to go back to Moonie, but when he quit stepping on my hand on the edge of the pool when I did not make my flip turn, I knew he was losing interest in me. I began to lose heart, and I quit swimming. Puberty came, my period. It was all bubbling now, and this night, Janet had returned, my cat was dead, you had to go through Danny’s room to get to the back yard. When I woke up, my sister Janet smiled at me so nicely, and made a “shoosshh” sound with her finger, and we tiptoed through Danny’s room.
As the meat cooked, Daddy told stories, and Janet seemed to reel him in. She was good at cooling him out. As I write this it sounds like a passage in so many incest survivor stories, the older daughter who “manages” the father. And I don’t know about that at all, but she did “manage” him in these drunken times, either by not doing what mom did which was to yell at him and accuse him, or by whatever means I don’t know. But we were happy there, that one night, dark out by the clothes line, the smell of lamp and the neighbors chlorine pool, the pool that killed the cat. Mother said she died from chlorine, (did they tell her they poisoned her?) green stuff all over her soft, mommy soft black fur. She was stiff by the time I found her. I came home from school and mother said “Rickie, your cat is out on the porch. I think she is dead. I haven’t moved her, I was waiting for you to come home.” I went out to see her, cooing to her as I approached her there in the bushes. Calling her to come kitty kitty kitty but she was dead as a doornail, stiff and she died in excruciating pain, my cat. I picked her up and rocked her and sang to her for hours. I did not know how to put her down. How could you put her down? That would be the end of the line. This is the end of my childhood. This is the end of all the years we had together. When I set you down, I will never be able to hold you again. When I picked you up, on the other side of the walk to get you, I did not know you were dead. I am still connected to that moment as long as I hold you.
But I was getting tired of sitting there. And I knew I could not go back and had to go forward. And that is how my cat died. “Danny will bury her” mom said. “Do you want Danny to bury her?” It had always been Danny’s duty to bury our dead animals. I guess there was a certain “grave” satisfaction in him still being able to perform this job. Yes, let Danny bury her. I think she’s still there, somewhere, by the dog house where dad kept the hound that died for six months while he trained it to retrieve. I donÕt know, those men were taught to be cruel to things. “DonÕt touch that dog or you’ll ruin him” he’d say. Don’t touch the dog? So then the dog howls and pulls and becomes unbearable and then I don’t like the dog. It’s like this with people too. People who are abused become unbearable, it’s hard to fix that cycle. Takes so much will and love and patience, one dog at a time. Daddy did eventually go hunting one day with the dog. He would tie barbed wire around a stick to teach the dog to hold the stick softly. His World War 2 pal Barney raised these German Short Hairs, and he’s the one who taught him how to train a hunting dog.
I remember sitting there some years later, in KC, listening to Neil Young singing OHIO in a big BBQ place in the last summer of 1969. They got records out fast back then. I say last summer as if there were many summers that year, and there were. And this was the last one. But here, on this night, we were laughing out loud, who cares what the neighbors think? I brought the lamb home, a whole huge part of the animal, not just a leg, I been working for that club and saving the guests from indiscrepancies and doing a class act there and for what? What do I get? I like to bring in Marlon Brando here for “just a little bit a something” speech on the rooftop in ‘On The Waterfront’ or was it in the cab? Anyway, father was that guy by now. And who cares? You stole it? My father stole something? Hmm. No, my father doesn’t steal. He’ll replace it tomorrow. He said. And I don’t care I will sell my Beatles records for a piece of that meat. It was ready, and he put it on our plates, just meat. And I ate mine with my hands, talking about Homer, and probably father telling us another war story and my sister winking. Then my mother opened the back door and said keep it down. What, you couldn’t invite your brother?
Now notice this was directed at either my sister or me. And the fire glare that came my eleven year old way told me that I was being implicated in this accusationÉ and what it meant was how can you laugh, ever again, in this house, where your brother lies with his foot in a stump sock and his head in another stump sock, trying to learn to talk, or write, and he will certainly never finish high school now much less run for president. How can you ever laugh?
I tried to stay there, I know my dad was like, don’t let her do that to you, but that one moment in our lives where, for a second, we could laugh out loud as if no matter how awful things were, you could get up in the middle of the night and cook a lamb or a chicken and nothing mattered but the smell of the food and the easing of the war inside your heart. I would say that this hour, maybe, in the dark green grass of the year where I had my first kiss ( birthday party kiss round the corner) and my Father cooked a leg of lamb in the back yard, that was the greatest, closest hour of my family. That father was there and mother in bed, probably laying there listening, and we were so glad cuz she was always so angry, please don’t get up and spoil it, and Danny was asleep, but welcome, we would have loved his laughter too. That was the me-thinks-she-doth-protest-too-much part. We did not exclude anyone, I woke up, so I sat down. If he woke up, he could have made a noise and we would have wheeled him out there. She would always see him now as excluded, a victim, not welcome.
This ticket she would give away for free to all the familyÉ my little sister collected plenty of them, like they were lottery tickets. If you would be weak, a victim, mother would have a lot of time and sympathy, she would help accuse and solve problems. But if you were not a victim, if you could not or would not be that, stand in that light, she just didn’t seem to love you as much. Her love was tethered to sympathy. I said to her one day in the few years before her death, mother, they are all gonna fall apart when you die, you have to find a way to cut Pam loose. She is so dependent on you. But it was too late, Pamela had developed another part, but it was no healthier than the victim part, the other part was the entitled part. My giving mom money for my sister didn’t help of course, and eventually all my gifts became expected, and when they were no longer given I received hate mail Ð even from my brother. Somehow my wealth meant that I was obliged. I had paid rent for twenty years, sent college tuitions, backstage passes, all that. Today I couldn’t get a back stage pass to Cats, much less Springsteen but back then I could and did, no, not really ever never for me, but for my little sister, or a niece, and her wedding and her rent and bla bla. All through mother’s efforts, because she did not see my little sister as capable, and so that was the only relationship they had. So lovely of Pam to be that for mother. Against my stardom, what other way did she have to compete, she would say, if she could, maybe. But I adored her, her own generation of goofy hair and terrible music, my career tied to that era of Stix and Supertramp and Elvis Costello.
I cannot retrieve her, my sister is lost to me for now anyway, steals and lies to me, a check book, a rent check, the whole thing. Who is she now? Probably a felon. I loved her so, the gentle strain of DNA that wraps around both my sisters’ touch, and strangles it out of them, and replaces it with the bravado of word power, the terrible things they sayÉ and they are both stronger than me, taller and bigger, and wrangling on the steps pulling hair and knocking out teeth, or worse, stealing mother’s ashes, my mentally ill older sister still able to direct the scenes from whatever motel or institution she is confined to. I paint it dark? It’s darker than I could ever paint.
Still, not without form. For there were brilliant novas, and they leave their skeletal ghosts, their refracted negatives, their imprint inside upon the eyelid. You can find them there, as long as you have a body, and when the body is gone, they will be there in the eyelids of your dog, who sleeps with you on colder nights, and shares the same dreams… although in dog language, maybe sung in different tempos, with memory of chasing herds of buffalo and elk, the bursting suns sizzling lamp fire, the rivers freezing and rising to the pulling and tugging of a chain by a dog house over a grave, whose grass is damp with the coming tide of dreams. I will always remember, father. On this, the day after my mother’s birthday. We who try too dang hard to control a life gone out of control, to weave back into the fabric a family that cannot be made whole ever again, but the tenacity and perseverance has become the very ground upon which I walk, mother. I believe that one day there will simply be a house, I will not have to build this house. And in it I will find my own footsteps, yes?
It is the house within which I have always lived, so large and stately, so patient, motherly and still, this house loves the laughter and the prayers, and waited as I waited, to be filled, and be loved for its emptiness, to be looked out of, and found from the outside one day, or maybe found one day from within. Hear that sound? That is the ocean. Have you ever been to the ocean? Hear every single father who has taken his baby’s hand and walked them to the sand there, the terrible roar and curve of the sea. Feel the sand, it gets into everything. The little crabs, did he show you how to catch them? And then let them go? Where is your mother? See her, she is almost pretty. Watch now as I unleash her beauty. She should have showed you, long ago. It was not only made from her masculinity and humor and survival, not just survival. She had passion. She should have let you see. Well, see this rock, and feel the small patch of water hit it again and again? Who do you think made that? No. Not your mother. The war made that water. But it was your mother who danced the boogie woogie while the canons fired and the children fell. She kept the fire of dancing alive, and what is there to fight for if no one is to dance at the end of the war. Someone must keep dancing as the others die. It’s just that, once the war is over, the dancers are, unable to walk. The goofball from room to room in some fit of despair and hate and their children, beautiful women and healthy young men, walk into the room like someone owes them something because they are not quite good enough.
The miracle of one of them being able to hold her head up, careen pass the cootie lined lunch trays and the oogling eyes of “a” group soc’es into the spiral of prophesy, the Venice Speedway alleys, the bongo and congas and 1973 child dogged days that I cannot get back to, and I hate it here, I hate it. I am so lonely, and my life seems to be just a bundle of garbage cans no one will pick up. And I think I might have put something in there I didn’t want to lose. And who cares anyway. It just doesn’t matter. I miss you mother. I have no one to remind me to do things, how important it is that I might do a thing. In your eyes, I felt kind of snappy. I stand in no one’s eyes now. And time seems to be running over. I am listening to hear if there is a thing all things hear just before they die. If we kept accurate records would we all find that we notice, just over our left shoulder, the shadow of four things, dots or squares or dogs? Would you say that you heard two bars of music, and that those two bars are expressed in some way, through passing car or plane or radio or voice, to all who are about to leave? I know there are so many things to discover, so far outside of science, which concentrates only on things that can make money. If Our Time discovered an angel, they would try to figure out a way to make money or use it politically.
What if we start a co op and refuse to use money? What if we use the money. Someone has to set up a thing outside of society which operates in a new way. It has clean energy. It does not say “okay can you see, we can make MONEY this way.” It says “quit chasing money, people.” They keep you looking over there and you cannot feel the sun of God. “Listen, we are the white cells. There is a terrible cancer and it is eating us. We keep in reserve many to fight the cuts and bruises of the rest of the blog, but before we know it, this terrible cancer will have taken over. It may be ebola, it may explode us from within. It may ingest us, or enter us and, unable to make us one of itself, simply destroy us, and itself in the end. This is the new Republican, the new American, Business before person, money before love, profit before earth. And we say, “but if you destroy that water, your money won’t matter for you will have nothing to drink.” But they seem to not care, greed has addicted their weak souls. They employ people who just need jobs, and this weakness and fear keeps them fed. We must stand up to them. You will die anyway. What do you fear?
We, the White Cells, have to fight back, and even if many of us are killed, it is our duty to fight back. But If we don’t, all run to this place, this hurt place. Keep some in reserve, we may be able to learn what it is we need to become, in order to stop ourselves from killing ourselves. We are like the galactic three year old, and all we do is try to kill ourselves, we don’t make sense, we have no logic. If we can stop ourselves from killing that which we love, smothering our kitten, eating pretty poison, making money from the torture of anything, and keep ourselves alive by harnessing our greed and controlling the part Will that ravages and hurts others, we may be able to project God into a greater – and soon – higher Power, like Mozart, We, He, It, will begin to compose the most glorious of days, with understanding and willingness to be with other living things. I pray that all our dreams and hopes can be so fulfilled. IN my own internal story, and in the greater one we all sing this sunday morning.
to the nova, and the yard in which it fell. Raise up, my cat, from the rooftops of hell.
And the chain that tortured that poor red dog tattooed upon Rickie’s morning blog.